Penn State increases its lead in NCAA wrestling tournament
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal came to Penn State after the Nittany Lions had already seized control of college wrestling. The dynamic duo helped them tighten their grip.
Nolf (157 pounds) and Nickal (197) ended their careers with individual championships hours after the Nittany Lions claimed a fourth-straight NCAA team title and their eighth in nine years.
“They’re both just all in,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They do everything right. I think that pays off in big moments like this.”
With help from 285-pound champion Anthony Cassar, the Nittany Lions totaled 137.5 team points to top second-place Ohio State’s 96.5. Oklahoma State was third with 84, followed by Iowa (76) and Michigan (62.5).
Penn State has used a simple approach to distance itself from all competitors in the grueling, three-day tournament. Keep attacking, pile up points and put as many opponents on their backs as possible.
Nickal embodied that on a weekend the Nittany Lions totaled nine pins, seven major decision and two technical falls. Nickal had three pins before beating Ohio State’s Kollin Moore 5-1 for his third title.
“There’s so many people that have just put so much time and effort and energy into me,” Nickal said. “And I’m incredibly grateful for it.”
Nolf beat Nebraska’s Tyler Berger less than two months after the Cornhusker tweeted he planned to “bring five heads home” from the NCAA tournament, mentioning Nolf’s specifically.
The Penn State veteran shrugged it off then, preferring to let his offense fly one last time when they squared off on Saturday. He came away with a 10-2 major decision.
“Sometimes you can take it for granted and kind of expect that it’s going to happen,” Nolf said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go work hard for it, and everybody individually has to do their part.”
Cassar decided to bump up to heavyweight after he was beaten out by a teammate for the starting 197-pound spot a year ago. He got Penn State started with a 10-2 major over Oklahoma State’s Derek White in the first final.
Nolf and Nickal, who are first and second in total pins for the program, joined former Penn State star Ed Ruth and Zain Retherford as the only Nittany Lions to win three titles.
Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125), Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis (141) and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (175) all repeated. Lee beat Virginia’s Jack Mueller 5-0 while Diakomihalis snagged a takedown in overtime to edge Ohio State’s Joey McKenna 4-2. Valencia beat Penn State’s Mark Hall 4-3 in a rematch of last year’s title match.
“This is a gladiator sport,” Lee said. “We’re tough guys and we put everything on the line. And props to Jack Mueller; he put everything on the line.”
Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault became Rutgers’ first NCAA champions with wins against Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, respectively.
Ashnault took control with two takedowns, two back points and 2:49 in riding time for a 9-4 win. He had placed three times before, but never won a title. An injury last season put his collegiate career at risk, but he was awarded a sixth year of eligibility.
“It’s everything that I’ve worked for up to this point,” Ashnault said. “I try not to idolize wrestling, but a big part of my life was focused on getting a national title.”
Suriano’s 4-2 win wasn’t without controversy as Oklahoma State coaches thought the Scarlet Knight grabbed Fix’s headgear to leverage the winning takedown. The takedown was upheld on replay review.
Virginia Tech freshman Mekhi Lewis (165) was seeded eighth but brought the Hokies their first title with a 7-1 win over Penn State two-time defending champion Vincenzo Joseph.
Drew Foster (184) won Northern Iowa its first title in 19 years with a 6-4 win over Cornell’s Max Dean.