Friday night at the NCAA Wrestling championships in 2018 was a lot like it was in 2017.
The only difference — the Nittany Lions didn’t lead the team race.
Penn State’s five returning national champions all reached the finals again and the Nittany Lions took over the team lead.
Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) are now just one win away from defending their crowns. Not only are those guys alive, but Nick Lee (141), Shakur Rasheed (197) and Nick Nevills (285) will also be All-Americans for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions began the session 13.5 points behind Ohio State. When the session was over, they led the Buckeyes by 11 — 120.5 to 109.5.
“Well, those are big matches, semifinals are big matches, big points,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “But there’s still a lot of points available tomorrow, so we’ve got to just keep scoring points.”
This time around Penn State didn’t use bonus points as Nolf and Hall were the lone finalists to score them.
Nolf was the most dominant and it was his win over Ohio State’s Micah Jordan that gave the Nittany Lions the lead for the night.
Nolf was late coming to the mat but it didn’t matter as he recorded the first takedown and then turned Jordan twice with a power half nelson for two sets of near-fall points. Nolf led 10-0 after 1.
In the second period, it was the same thing, Nolf took Jordan down and cranked on another power half for the final points in a 16-0 technical fall in 4:28. Nolf advanced to take on North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay — a Mifflin County graduate.
“It’s just something that presented itself,” Nolf said of the power half nelsons. “I knew that I could do good on top, so I was pretty confident in my top game today, and it just worked out.”
Hall, meanwhile, got a pin that Nolf chased in his match. Leading 6-2 to start the third period, the defending champ was locked up in upper body with Missouri’s Daniel Lewis.
The two went to the mat. Hall hipped Lewis over to his back and stuck him in 6:22. The Nittany Lion sophomore now gets a rematch with Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia.
“I’m just doing my job, go out there and give my best effort, and that’s what we’ll all do every time,” Hall said. “There’s consistency. The majority of us just really want to compete our best and wrestle our hardest, and whatever that entails, whatever happens out of that is what happens. We just control what we can control.”
Retherford, Joseph and Nickal all controlled their matches.
Retherford led 6-2 over North Carolina’s Troy Heilmann after one period with three takedowns. He added an escape and another takedown for a 10-4 win. Retherford will look for this third straight title against Lock Haven’s Ronnie Perry.
Joseph put up three points in the second period. Those points held up in a 3-1 defeat of Virginia Tech’s David McFadden. Joseph’s win set up a rematch of the 2017 finals with Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez.
Nickal rattled off two first-period takedowns on Michigan’s Dominic Abounader for a 4-2 lead. He got an escape and a riding point for the 6-3 win. Nickal will take on Ohio State’s Myles Martin for the ninth time in their collegiate careers for the 184-pound crown.
“It’s awesome,” Joseph said of being part of Penn State’s “Murderer’s Row.” “We love watching each other wrestle, which is probably the hardest part because if I’m out there watching Jason wrestle, I get a little too excited. I’m sure (the) same thing with Mark and Bo whenever we’re all coming up. That’s kind of the hardest part is not being able to watch your teammates, but it’s fun to got out there and just win two matches in a row like that.”
Lee has done nothing but battle his way through the consolations and is one win away from wrestling for third place. He will be the next-highest finisher for Penn State, as Rasheed and Nevills will both wrestle for seventh.
Lee opened the day with a 5-0 win over Central Michigan’s Mason Smith and followed that with a 13-5 major decision over Indiana’s Cole Weaver. He moved into the consolation quarterfinals with a 13-6 defeat of Bucknell’s Tyler Smith and earned a 12-4 major decision over Eastern Michigan’s Sa’Darian Perry. Lee takes on Missouri’s Jaydin Eierman for a spot in the third-place match.
Rasheed and Nevills fell in the quarterfinals but rebounded with wins before losing again.
Rasheed fell to North Carolina State’s Michael Macchiavello, topped Penn’s Frank Mattice and then lost to Ohio State’s Kollin Moore for the second time in two weeks.
Nevills took a loss to Oregon State’s Amar Dhesi, defeated Campbell’s Jere Heino and then lost to Iowa’s Sam Stoll in sudden victory.