Molinaro earns Olympic team spot with 65kg crown

Frank Molinaro looks on before wrestling Logan Stieber in their 65-kilogram freestyle match at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Frank Molinaro looks on before wrestling Logan Stieber in their 65-kilogram freestyle match at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. The Associated Press

The pinnacle for a wrestler’s career is to compete on the Olympic level.

Penn State assistant coach Frank Molinaro and current Nittany Lion Zain Retherford began that journey on Saturday.

The pair, along with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club’s Eric Thompson, took to the mats in the U.S. Olympic team trials inside Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Molinaro had a big day, reaching the 65kg freestyle finals. He squared off with 19-year-old Aaron Pico in a best-of-three series and won the title, earning a spot on the team.

In the third match, Molinaro trailed 1-0, but hit a four-point takedown to claim the lead. The four points held up as the pair tied 4-4. As Molinaro did all day, he advanced on criteria with the four-point takedown.

In the first bout, Molinaro trailed 2-0 from two push-out points for Pico. Molinaro picked up a takedown that was originally awarded four points, but review brought it back to two. With 25 seconds left in the match, Molinaro went for another takedown, but Pico fought it off with a counter and scored the 4-2 win.

Molinaro stayed alive with a 4-3 win in the second bout. Molinaro trailed 2-0 but two straight takedowns gave him the lead. Pico earned a stall point, but it wasn’t enough.

Molinaro began the day with a 14-1 technical fall over Kellen Russell. His next two matches came down to criteria.

In the quarterfinals, Molinaro pulled off a stunner over No. 1 Brent Metcalf. The pair finished the match at 3-3, but since Molinaro scored the first takedown, he won.

In the semifinals, Molinaro finished his match with Logan Stieber tied 5-5. As in his quarterfinals match, Molinaro scored the first takedown and the win on criteria.

Retherford also competed in the 65kg freestyle class and finished third in the class.

His first match came against James Green, who is the No. 1 wrestler at 70kg but moved down a weight clas. Retherford dominated Green for a 9-2 victory.

In the quarterfinals, Retherford got a rematch with Stieber, who he beat in his freshman season. Retherford led 4-0 early, but four straight unanswered takedowns from Stieber was enough for the 8-6 win.

Retherford dropped into the consolation bracket and wrestled his way back to the third-place match. He opened with a 7-2 decision over Jason Chamberlain.

Retherford followed that with a 6-3 win over Jayson Ness. Retherford then moved directly into the finals after Reece Humphrey suffered an injury in his semifinal loss to Pico.

In the consolation finals, Retherford and Jimmy Kennedy finished tied 2-2. Retherford earned a takedown to Kennedy’s push-out and stall point for the criteria win.

Thompson started the day with an 8-3 setback to Connor Medbery. He rebounded nicely with an 11-0 technical fall over Anthony Nelson to open consolation wrestling.

Thompson then advanced by holding off Justin Grant 9-8. In his consolation semifinals match, Thompson’s team trials came to an end. He suffered a 12-1 technical fall to Dom Bradley.

Current Nittany Lion Nico Megaludis (57kg) hits the mat Sunday morning. Megaludis will start his day against Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello.

Joining Megaludis are former Nittany Lions David Taylor (86kg), Ed Ruth (86kg) and Dan Vallimont (74kg). Nittany Lion Wrestling Club’s and Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner (97kg) will also compete.

Nate Cobler: 814-231-4609, @ncoblercdt