If the Big Ten championships indicate what’s in store for the NCAA championships in two weeks, Penn State fans won’t be too happy.
Yes, the Nittany Lions crowned three individual champs Sunday, but they lost in the team race to Ohio State inside the Breslin Center. The Buckeyes’ 164.5 team points outdistanced Penn State by 16.5 points.
Zain Retherford, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal all stood at the top of the podium when their weight classes finished wrestling. The Nittany Lions also had two other finalists in Vincenzo Joseph and Shakur Rasheed. In all, Penn State will have nine representatives in Cleveland with Nick Lee, Nick Nevills, Jason Nolf and Corey Keener joining the five finalists.
“Ohio State just wrestled really well. They won the tournament,” Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think the guys wrestled well. These are matches they’ve got to win, if they want to be national champions in a week and a half. We just got to make a few adjustments.”
Retherford faced a familiar foe in Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in the 149-pound finale. It was the sixth time Retherford took on the Hawkeye, and he remained perfect.
This time around, though, the senior was unable to get his offense going. Retherford rode Sorensen for the entire second period, used a third-period escape and finished with 1:36 in riding time for the 2-0 win — his third straight Big Ten crown. However, he won’t be celebrating it any time soon.
“Nothing to stop and enjoy yet,” said Retherford, who became the fifth three-time Big Ten champion in Penn State history. “Big Tens are awesome, but I know we are focused on the NCAA tournament. Not to discount this (Big Tens) at all, we are grateful for this, but that’s (NCAA Championships) what we train all year for.”
Retherford, who was named the conference’s wrestler of the year, also made some other history with his 89th straight win — which passed the all-time mark set by Kerry McCoy. McCoy rattled off 88 straight victories from 1994 to 1995. McCoy, now Maryland’s head coach, praised Retherford’s accomplishment and actually thought it would’ve been broken sooner by either David Taylor or Ed Ruth.
“He’s a monster; he’s much better than I was,” McCoy said. “I mean, the way he’s dominating through these past couple years, making the world team, all that stuff, he’s just doing all the stuff he set out to do. The difference for him is that he bonus points his way through it. I won 88 straight matches, but I might have had 30, 40, 50 bonus point wins, but he’s in the high 70s.
“He only has one or two matches that have gone without bonus points. So not only is he winning, but he’s winning in a dominant fashion, and that’s awesome for wrestling.”
Hall and Nickal each had to work for their Big Ten crowns too.
Nickal took on Ohio State’s Myles Martin for the eighth time in their collegiate careers at 184 pounds. Nickal recorded a takedown in each of the first two periods.
He tacked on two escapes and a riding time point for a 7-4 win and his second conference championship. Nickal improved to 6-2 against Martin but looked disappointed in the win.
“I think he was upset he gave up a takedown,” Sanderson said. “You got two great wrestlers. It was like a reshot to the reshot’s reshot. They were just going back and forth and he got taken down. As long as we are wrestling and you get taken down, that’s fine. I thought Bo wrestled well. It was a great match.”
Hall scored the first points of his 174-pound final against Michigan’s Myles Amine on a second-period escape. In the third period, Amine hit a reversal, but Hall escaped and hung on for a 4-3 win. It was Hall’s first Big Ten title, one that he’s glad he got.
“Finally,” the sophomore said with a smile. “It only took two years. It feels pretty good.”
Joseph and Rasheed made the finals for the first times in their careers and came up just short.
Joseph took on Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez, whom he pinned in last year’s 165-pound NCAA finals. Martinez scored four points in the third period on an escape, counter takedown and riding time for a 4-1 win over Joseph. The Nittany Lion scored his lone point with an escape in the second period.
Rasheed looked over matched against Ohio State’s Kollin Moore at 197 pounds. Moore tallied four takedowns — two in the third period — for an 8-4 win.
Lee (141 pounds) and Nevills (285) started their days winning their consolation semifinals matches and went on to finish third.
Nevills nearly pinned Iowa’s Sam Stoll in the second period of their match but used the near-fall points for a 5-2 victory. Lee’s 15-5 domination of Purdue’s Nate Limmex stood out to his head coach the most in his Big Ten championships debut.
“I thought he wrestled better as the tournament went along,” Sanderson said. “His best match was his last match.”
Notes: Penn State’s Carson Kuhn came up just short of automatically qualifying for the NCAA Championships. In a 125-pound field with 10 automatic qualifications, Kuhn finished right outside the field in 11th place. But after losing the automatic ticket to Cleveland with a 6-4 loss to Michigan’s No. 8 Drew Mattin, Kuhn ended his short Penn State career on a high note with a pin in 2:21 of Wisconsin’s Johnny Jimenez. Kuhn could still conceivably make it NCAAs, should one of the top-10 placewinners be unable to compete. … Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello and Martinez became the 15th and 16th four-time Big Ten champions. Martinez was also named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler … Michigan finished third in the team race with 118 points. … Buckeyes’ head coach Tom Ryan was named Coach of the Year with Iowa’s Spencer Lee earning Freshman of the Year.