Another season has come to an end. And again, Penn State remains atop the college wrestling mountain.
The Nittany Lions went 4 for 5 in their finals matches on Saturday night to claim their third straight crown. They recorded 141.5 points and beat Ohio State by eight. It was Penn State’s seventh title in the last eight years.
Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Bo Nickal (184) were all successful in repeating as national champions.
“I’m obviously very proud of these guys,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think they put forth a tremendous effort throughout the whole year. And a great day today, great day yesterday. And just proud of them and happy for them, more than anything.”
Nickal pins Martin to clinch individual, team crown
The last time Nickal took on Ohio State’s Myles Martin in the NCAA finals was two years ago in New York.
Martin came out on top that year.
“I think about that match every day almost,” Nickal said. “It’s something that sticks in my mind. One of my goals was to be a four-time national champion coming to Penn State. So not being able to accomplish that, it hurts.”
Saturday night was a different story.
The duo started with a flurry of action. At one point, Nickal almost came off the raised mat trying to escape a Martin shot attempt.
Martin shot in and earned a takedown with 41 seconds remaining in the first period and nearly stuck Nickal. Nickal, though, stayed cool, sunk in a reverse half, flipped Martin over for a reversal and stuck him in 2:29.
“I’ve been doing that move for a really long time,” Nickal said. “I try it a lot in practice, just messing around and play wrestling with guys and stuff like that. So it’s a position that I’m comfortable in. And I knew what I was doing. I didn’t have to think too much about it.”
The win gave Nickal his seventh over Martin in their collegiate careers. For his efforts, Nickal was named the tournament’s most Outstanding Wrestler.
Retherford ends historic career as 3-time champ
Retherford kicked things off for Penn State’s stretch of five finalists against Lock Haven’s Ronnie Perry.
Few doubted Retherford wouldn’t repeat, it was a matter of would he score bonus points for the team race.
Perry put up good hand fighting and kept Retherford from scoring but in the end the Nittany Lion senior won 6-2 to cap his career.
“This year, the only difference was I knew that was the last time I was going to wear the (Penn State) singlet,” Retherford said. “I think it was definitely fun and it’s kind of sad this is the last time I’m wearing this.”
Retherford started off feeling out Perry to see where he could get his offense going. He struck 53 seconds into the match with a takedown. He’d tack on one more takedown in the first period to lead 4-1.
Retherford earned an escape in the second period for the only points. In the third period, Perry escaped and looked for the magic he had all tournament long.
However, the magic ran out for the Bald Eagles’ wrestler as Retherford added a riding-time point for the final score.
“It’s not easy to come in every day, give your best,” Retherford said when asked about being so dominant. “You’re going to have performances where you don’t feel your best, but you just gotta roll with it. That’s part of this sport. You’ve gotta do the best with what you have in front of you.”
Retherford’s career ends with a 94-match winning streak. It tied him with former Iowa coach Dan Gable for fourth longest in NCAA history. He also ends his career tied with David Taylor and Josh Moore with 53 career pins.
“Zain’s such a special guy and just what he’s done for this program for the past four years,” Taylor said. “Even as a true freshman in the way he competed and how he carried himself every time, his name should be on top of the record book, that’s just the kind of guy he is and the way he competes.”
Retherford though isn’t concerned about his legacy.
“I hope people were excited to watch me wrestle,” Retherford said. “I hope I was fun. But at the end of the day, I can’t control that.”
Nolf tops unbeaten Hidlay for 2nd title
There was plenty of speculation on the health of Nolf’s knee coming into the championships.
He answered those questions by topping North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay, a Mifflin County graduate, for his second straight NCAA title. Hidlay was the nation’s only undefeated freshman coming into the bout.
“Hayden has really good defense. He stays in a really good position,” Nolf said. “I just fought my match. I lifted my life up to the Lord and said, ‘It’s in your hands now.’ Definitely felt real spiritual out there and just grateful.”
Nolf came out and recorded the first points of the match with a takedown just over half way through the first period. He added one more for a 4-1 lead.
In the second period, the lone point was a Nolf escape. Hidlay tacked on an escape in the third period. Nolf kept to his defense and added a riding-time point for the 6-2 win.
“That one was a little bit closer match. It felt better,” Nolf said comparing this title to last year’s. “Maybe that’s why I got more excited at the end. I didn’t really mean to get that excited over it. But it happened.”
Nolf’s victory handed Penn State the team lead by two — a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Joseph beats Martinez for 2nd straight year
Joseph got to take on a familiar foe in Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez for a shot at repeating as a national champion.
Joseph topped Martinez last year by pinning him in the third period with an inside trip.
Well, Joseph got Martinez again with the inside trip in his 6-1 victory to defend his title.
“I think they were both kind of similar,” Joseph said comparing the two title matchups. “He got on my legs a few times. I was kind of swatting his a little bit. I was able to get two quick back points today, which really helped out.”
Joseph tripped Martinez with 13 seconds remaining in the first period. He then barred up an arm and rolled Martinez over to pick up two near-fall points. Joseph led 4-1 after one period.
Martinez scored an escape in the second period, but he let his frustrations get the best of him. He gave up a penalty point for headbutting Joseph in the chest and the score was 5-1 through two periods.
Joseph tacked on an escape in the third and kept Martinez’s offense at bay for the win.
“We both came out aggressive, trying to score,” Joseph said. “I kind of wanted to push the pace a little bit and make it work a little bit in my favor, that’s what I did.”
With the win, Joseph becomes the only opponent to beat Martinez twice. The only other blemish to Martinez’s career comes from Nolf.
Hall unable to repeat
Hall took on Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia in the 174-pound title for the third time in their collegiate careers.
The two squared off in last year’s semifinals with Hall coming out on top. In the preseason, Valencia topped Hall 3-2 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s All Star Classic at the beginning of November.
Saturday night also went to Valencia but by a wider margin.
The Sun Devils’ wrestler jumped out to a 2-1 lead after the first period. Hall had an escape in the second period and the two had a crazy scramble that ended up with no one scoring off of it.
Valencia did add a takedown late, though, to hold a 4-2 lead after two periods. In the third period, it was all Valencia. He had an escape, one more takedown and tacked on a riding time point for the 9-2 victory.
“I’m incredibly proud of Mark Hall. I think he wrestled a fantastic tournament,” Sanderson said. “(He) just had a tough match there in the finals against a very, very good wrestler. It hurts. But he’s going to get right back up and keep plugging away and move forward because that’s the kind of kid he is.”