When asked if there was any match besides his own he was looking forward to Friday, Penn State sophomore Devin Schnupp smiled and laughed.
“I think we all know what match that is,” he said earlier this week.
Friday’s nationally televised dual between No. 1 Penn State and No. 15 Arizona State could feature four bouts between ranked wrestlers, but the one everyone will have their eyes on is the rematch of last season’s 174-pound NCAA final between Penn State’s Mark Hall and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia.
Valencia got the better of Hall in that match with an 8-2 decision. The season-ending loss was a rarity for Penn State’s then-sophomore, considering he won the NCAA title as a true freshman in 2017 and a state record six individual Minnesota championships with Apple Valley High School before that. (He won twice during middle school.)
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Yet only minutes after suffering the defeat to Valencia, Hall ran back out to the Quicken Loans Arena mat to congratulate teammate Bo Nickal with a slap on the butt, clenching his fists and jumping around in celebration after Nickal clinched the team national title with a pin over Ohio State’s Myles Martin.
Although it looked as if Hall was able to quickly put the loss behind him, smiling from ear to ear on the second-place podium, he admitted earlier in the season that it did take a little while to process.
“To me it was just another match. It took me a couple days to realize that, but at the end, that’s all it was,” Hall said. “It’s just wrestling. I just put my best foot forward and if it works out it works out, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t, I’m not big on the winning and losing — just giving full effort.”
Just a few days ahead of the rematch, it appeared Hall was still operating under the it’s-just-wrestling mentality and not focused on revenge. The junior was busy practicing Tuesday and was not made available to the media but, according to his teammates, this has just been a week like any other for Hall.
“No, he probably wouldn’t prepare any differently than he would for an other match — it’s just a wrestling match,” fellow junior Vincenzo Joseph said. “Maybe he might be thinking a little differently going into it, but I doubt it. Mark’s a pretty levelheaded, even-keeled guy who doesn’t let things get to him much.”
Jason Nolf and Schnupp echoed Joseph’s observations of Hall, saying he’s been “pretty chill” and has not been talking about the upcoming match.
“He seems normal,” Nolf added. “He’s just doing the same thing we always do, sticking to the plan and sticking to the program, and he seems confident.”
Although this might be “just another match” for Hall, he has said in the past that his goal is always to be a national champ, and to do that, he has to first get through Valencia. Despite that added pressure, coach Cael Sanderson said he doesn’t expect anything different from his wrestler.
“I think Mark understands and expects to be his best regardless of his opponent, so just because he has Zahid, who’s the No. 1-ranked guy in the country, returning national champ, it shouldn’t change his effort,” Sanderson said. “His effort should be great regardless of who and where and when he’s wrestling.”
Friday will mark the third official meeting between the pair, who are 1-1, with Hall beating Valencia 4-3 in the semifinals of the 2017 NCAA tournament after a controversial headgear call. Valencia then bested Hall 3-2 in an unofficial matchup in the NWCA All-Star Classic at the start of last season, before winning again in the NCAA final.
Valencia, who’s had only one loss in his entire collegiate career, is currently ranked No. 1 by InterMat in his weight class — and has certainly earned the distinction of being one of the best. He even showed his freestyle chops this summer, dismantling two-time national team member Alex Dieringer 2-0 in a best-of-three series, giving up only one point, in the World Team Trials, before falling 2-0 to eventual gold medalist Kyle Dake at Final X in State College.
“He’s just tough,” Sanderson said of Valencia. “He’s good, he wrestles hard, he’s very confident, he tries to score a lot of points and I think his offense has just improved over the past couple years. He just keeps getting better.
“But Mark’s really good too, so it should be a fun match,” he added.
Regardless of outcome, fans can expect to see an exciting match, pitting one of the nation’s best defensive wrestlers in Hall against one of the most prolific shooters in Valencia.
The scramble between the two in the national final in which Hall rolled from off his back to avoid giving up any points is one that won’t soon be forgotten by wrestling fans across the spectrum. And Friday’s match is sure to be a memorable one too.
The only question that remains is who will win this time. But Joseph didn’t even need to think twice before answering.
“I don’t doubt Mark ever, never will,” he said. “So I think Mark’s going to come out on top.”
No. 15 Arizona State (1-2) at No. 1 Penn State (3-0)
When: 6 p.m., Friday
Where: Rec Hall, University Park
Radio: ESPN Radio 1450 AM
TV: ESPN2 (18)
|Nittany Lions||vs.||Sun Devils|
|125: Devin Schnupp (4-3)||vs.||No. 5 Ryan Millhof (9-0) OR Brandon Courtney (2-2)|
|133: Roman Bravo-Young (6-0)||vs.||Josiah Kline (9-3) OR Josh Kramer (5-3)|
|141: No. 4 Nick Lee (8-0)||vs.||Cory Crooks (6-5)|
|149: No. 12 Brady Berge (5-0) OR Jarod Verkleeren (6-2)||vs.||No. 11 Josh Maruca (7-3)|
|157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (7-0)||vs.||No. 16 Christian Pagdilao|
|165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (7-0)||vs.||No. 5 Josh Shields (8-1)|
|174: No. 2 Mark Hall (7-0)||vs.||No. 1 Zahid Valencia (9-0)|
|184: No. 4 Shakur Rasheed (7-0)||vs.||Kordell Norfleet (7-1)|
|197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (6-0)||vs.||Austyn Harris (5-5)|
|285: No. 5 Anthony Cassar (6-0) OR Nick Nevills (3-1)||vs.||Brady Daniel (4-5)|