As good as the morning session was for Penn State, things got even better as the first day of the NCAA championships closed Thursday night.
The Nittany Lions lead the team-race with 30.5 points after finishing 15-1 inside the Scottrade Center. None of Penn State’s eight wrestlers were eliminated, and seven remain alive for their respective individual titles.
“Overall, the guys are wrestling well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They are having a good time. Big day (Friday). Every match, it gets bigger.”
Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), Bo Nickal (184), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) were perfect on the day to reach the quarterfinals of their respective weight classes.
Jimmy Gulibon (141) won his first-round match but fell in the second round to drop into the consolation bracket. Still, Gulibon’s teammates didn’t hesitate in voicing their excitement with the overall performance.
“Our team is fired up and wrestling great,” McCutcheon said. “We got a lot of guys doing well. Jimmy wrestled well — he just has to come back through for us now. We just got to keep going one match at a time.”
Retherford, Nolf and Nickal remained the consistent forces for Penn State. They made up for more than half of Penn State’s bonus-point victories, as they combined for five technical falls and one pin.
Retherford had only two takedowns in his 18-2 first-round dismantling of Arizona State’s Josh Maruca in 4:55. In the second round, Retherford rattled off 16 unanswered points for the win over Princeton’s Jordan Laster in 5:43.
Nolf was dominant as usual, shooting in on takedowns several times and finishing. He gassed out North Carolina State’s Thomas Bullard (22-7) and Bucknell’s Victor Lopez (24-9) en route to a pair of wins.
Nickal didn’t mess around either in his first-round match with Northwestern’s Mitch Sliga. The redshirt freshman tallied 15 unanswered points in 3:20 for the win. He kept things rolling with a pin of Binghamton’s Steven Schneider in 5:33.
McCutcheon, Hall, Joseph and Gulibon tallied the other bonus-point wins for the Nittany Lions.
McCutcheon, who might have been the surprise of the first round for Penn State, was caught in a scramble with Purdue’s Christian Brunner midway through the first period. McCutcheon came out on top and got the fall from the neutral position in 1:53.
In the second round, McCutcheon used three takedowns to take care of Penn’s Frank Mattice.
“It felt good,” he said of his day. “I got to my shots this time. I just got to keep firing away and finishing quick.”
Hall and Joseph, both freshmen, also won their first two bouts. Joseph opened his day with a 5-1 revenge win over Stanford’s Keaton Subjeck, who beat Joseph 18-12 in a November dual meet.
“Both had tough matches,” Sanderson said of his freshmen. “Mark has had a couple of good guys. Vincenzo had a tricky first-round matchup. He did a great job. Big matchups in the morning so we are looking forward to that.”
Nevills took on a familiar foe in Lehigh’s Doug Vollaro in the first round. Nevills used a takedown with 42 seconds left in the third period for the 4-2 win. He then used three takedowns in the second round to top Edinboro’s William Miller 6-2.
Gulibon started the day for Penn State with Michigan State’s Javier Gasca III. Gasca pinned Gulibon in the Big Ten quarterfinals two weeks ago — but, this time around, it was all Gulibon.
The senior tallied seven takedowns and used two near-fall points to earn an 18-3 technical fall in 7:00. Gulibon couldn’t keep the momentum going, though, as he suffered a 6-3 loss to Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik.
“First day, you hope to get a few more pins,” Sanderson said. “Guys are still wrestling well. Again, it’s going to come down to those big matches (Friday). If you want to be a national champion, (Friday) is part of that process and you got to wrestle well. These points are very small compared to the points that are awarded in the next two days.”