Wrestlers past and present will tell you there is no place quite like the NCAAs. I was lucky enough to attend session two of this year’s tournament. Now, from experience, I can tell you too.
There is no place like the NCAAs.
For the sixth time in the past seven years, Penn State wrestling brings home another national title. This makes seven total for the program’s history.
Friday afternoon at the end of session five, heavyweight Nick Nevills took fifth place. With his final win, Penn State had officially clinched its seventh national title before the final session.
If that wasn’t enough, Penn State took home five individual titles in weight classes 149-184. The night started at bout 197 since fans voted the 184 match to be the last matchup of the night.
Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf were both seeded No. 1, obviously favored to win their matchups in the finals, which they did. Retherford beat Missouri’s No. 3 seed Lavion Mayes with an 18-2 tech fall at the 6:42 mark for his second NCAA title. Nolf followed with a 14-6 major decision win over Missouri’s 157 No. 3 seed Joey Lavallee. This is Nolf’s first national title.
My personal favorite match of the night came next.
Redshirt freshman, No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, faced two-time NCAA champion and undefeated Isaiah Martinez from Illinois. Martinez beat Joseph the past two times the two met. This time, Joseph was ready for him and he was riding the momentum from his teammates’ back-to-back victories.
Martinez struck first with a quick takedown-escape exchange. Penn State coaches challenged the call, but it stood and Joseph trailed 2-1. Action continued and the second period ended with a score of 5-4 in favor of the Nittany Lion. Joseph chose down to start the third and quickly escaped. The two locked heads and hands in the middle of the mat. Martinez looked as if he was going for a low shot and Joseph reacted. Joseph locked up Martinez, picked him up off the mat and took him to his back.
Joseph got the pin as Martinez looked up in disbelief. The crowd erupted. Joseph went running to find his parents in the stands and said “three more to go.”
True freshman No. 5 seed Mark Hall went next against Ohio State’s No. 3 seed machine, Bo Jordan. Last time these two met, Jordan beat Hall in the final seconds of sudden victory in the finals at the Big Ten Championships. After Joseph’s win, anything was possible.
Hall worked the edge of the mat and countered Jordan’s shots. He looked more conditioned and ready for this rematch. He used good clock control to take the 5-2 victory and earn his first national title.
Last, but not least, No. 2 seed Bo Nickal faced Cornell’s No. 1 seed Gabe Dean for the spotlight of the show. After last year’s loss in the finals, Nickal was not ready to let that happen again. The two exchanged shots in the first and second periods. Dean escaped early in the third to make the score 4-3 in favor of Nickal. The two continued to shoot and scramble. One scramble almost put Nickal on his back towards the edge of the mat, but action went out of bounds. One last scramble as the clock wound down and Nickal was able to maintain control of Dean’s legs for the 4-3 win.
- Penn State- 146.5 (school record)
- Ohio State- 110.0
- Oklahoma State- 103.0
- Iowa- 97.0
- Missouri- 86.5
Penn State’s showing was pure dominance. And, they won the whole thing as a team before the final session without one of their key guys on the mat (Suriano).
Even better, all but one wrestler in the Nittany Lion lineup is back next year. Jimmy Gulibon leaves an open spot at 141. Hopefully, Jered Cortez will make his return to 133 and the Lions’ lineup is completely stacked yet again.
After each of the Penn State wrestlers won their final bouts, ESPN interviewed them and asked how they did it.
They all said, “I just went out there and had some fun.”