Penn State didn’t stay behind Ohio State for long.
The Nittany Lions advanced six wrestlers to the quarterfinals and took the team lead by the end of the first day of the NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden.
After Penn State started the day with six bonus-point victories, it added three more. They were two pins and a technical fall.
Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157) and Morgan McIntosh (197) each accounted for two bonus-point victories. Joining the trio in the quarterfinals are Nico Megaludis (125), Jordan Conaway (133) and Bo Nickal (174).
The Nittany Lions lead the team race with 27.5 points over Ohio State and Oklahoma State. The Buckeyes and Cowboys trail Penn State by 3.5 points. Nebraska and Iowa round out the top five.
“I think we wrestled well,” Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson said. “We’re excited. We came here to wrestle and we still got a lot of wrestling to do. It’s a great team race. It’s set up to be very exciting as I believe we all have the same amount of guys left.”
McIntosh started the day with an 11-3 major decision over Rider’s Ryan Wolfe. He had a scare in his second-round match with Kent State’s Kyle Conel. The Flash wrestler tallied two takedowns on McIntosh and led 4-1 early in the first period.
“I think I do it a lot, I’m slow to start,” he said. “I gave up some really dumb takedowns that I shouldn’t have given up, but you just got to keep wrestling. I don’t like to get taken down at all. It does get under my skin a little bit and makes me want to step it up.”
McIntosh did step it up and took a lead that he wouldn’t give up. He tallied nine points in the second period to lead 11-5 going to the third period. With 59 seconds remaining in the match, McIntosh caught Conel and picked up the pin.
“It’s nice,” he said. “You don’t want to have to come from behind. It’s a good feeling to come from behind and get a win like that. It’s nice to know that you’re in good shape enough to finish a match like that.”
McIntosh opens Friday’s action with Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker.
Retherford opened with a 21-6 technical fall over Cal State Bakersfield’s Cole Hammond. He moved to the quarterfinals with a pin of Edinboro’s Patricio Lugo in 6:37. Retherford gets Central Michigan’s Justin Oliver in the quarterfinals.
Nolf needed just 3:35 in his NCAA Championships debut to pin Chattanooga’s Kamaal Shakur. He then advanced to the quarterfinals with a 25-10 technical fall of Penn’s May Bethea. Nolf gets a rematch with Oklahoma State’s Jo Jo Smith. The paired squared off in the Southern Scuffle finals in January.
“It’s been awesome,” Nolf said of his experience at the championships. “I love competing and I love watching my teammates compete. I think I’m peaking right now. Hopefully, I’ll be peaking on Saturday.”
Conaway had a tough road to his quarterfinals match with defending 133-pound NCAA champion Cody Brewer of Oklahoma.
If Nittany Lion fans weren’t awake for the noon start on Thursday, Conaway woke them up. He fought off Central Michigan’s upset-minded Corey Keener 6-5. He went on to face Wisconsin’s Ryan Taylor, who two weeks ago topped Conaway twice in the Big Ten Championships.
Tied 4-4 with 1:30 to go in the match, Conaway picked up a takedown to claim the lead. He tacked on one more takedown to salt away the 8-5 win over Taylor.
“That’s a tough kid,” Sanderson said of Taylor. “He was a title contender. Jordan did a great job and wrestled smart. I’m real happy for him.”
Megaludis opened his final NCAA Championships with an 18-5 major decision of Utah Valley’s Chasen Tolbert. In the second round, Megaludis came from behind to beat North Dakota State’s Joshua Rodriguez 4-2. Megaludis now gets Michigan’s Conor Youtsey, who knocked off Oklahoma State’s Eddie Klimara in the first round.
Nickal made his NCAA debut with a 10-2 major decision of Harvard’s Josef Johnson. He went on to take care of Nebraska’s Micah Barnes 7-2 to set up a match with the Cowboys’ Chandler Rogers.
Jimmy Gulibon (141) and Geno Morelli (165) fell into the consolation bracket after opening their days with upset wins. Gulibon technical falled No. 5 Matt Manley of Missouri 17-2 before being shut out by Old Dominion’s Chris Mecate 7-0. Gulibon starts Friday against Cal State Bakersfield’s Ian Nickell.
Morelli earned a 5-3 decision over North Carolina’s No. 11 John Staudenmayer in the first round. In the second round, Morelli fell 3-1 in two overtimes to Illinois’ Steven Rodrigues. Morelli could have won the match in the second tiebreaker, but he was unable to escape. He faces Duke’s Jake Faust in the consolation round.
Matt McCutcheon went 0-2 on the day and was eliminated.
“We’re moving on to tomorrow,” Sanderson said. “It’s a big round in the morning and an even bigger round in the evening. Hopefully, we can go score some points tomorrow.”