You can count on one hand how many finalists Penn State has.
You’re going to need every finger and thumb.
The Nittany Lions have five wrestlers in the finals of their weight classes as Day 2 of the NCAA Championships came to a close Friday inside Madison Square Garden.
Nico Megaludis (125 pounds), Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal (174) and Morgan McIntosh (197) all advanced and need one more win for their ultimate goal. Jordan Conaway (133) wrestled his way back through the consolation bracket and is in the semifinals.
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Penn State also blew open its team race lead, finishing the day with 114 points 32.5 points ahead of Oklahoma State. Iowa trails the Cowboys by two points and Virginia Tech and Ohio State round out the top five.
“We’re happy,” Penn State coach Cael Sandeson said. “We wrestled well, a lot of tough matches, big day, quarter and semifinals. Tonight was good.”
Retherford and Nolf dominated their way to the finals.
Retherford met Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo in the semifinals and the result was the same as the first two matches. Retherford pinned Pantaleo in 4:49 to get to his first NCAA final. He will face Iowa’s Brandon Sorenson, whom he beat for the Big Ten title.
Retherford is making a strong case for outstanding wrestler with three falls and a technical fall.
Nolf reached his first NCAA final with his second technical fall of the tournament going to work early on Rider’s Chad Walsh.
Nolf captured two takedowns and four near-fall points in the first period to lead 8-1. In the second, two more takedowns and a stall point pushed the lead to 13-4. In the third, Nolf got a reversal with a peterson and picked up four more near-fall points for the 19-4 victory.
“I just went out to wrestle and score points and tried to look for the fall,” Nolf said. “I thought I had it once, but the ref didn’t call it, so I just kept scoring points for my team and for myself.”
Nolf will see Isaiah Martinez III in the finals. The Illinois wrestler needed a sudden victory takedown to edge Kent State’s Ian Miller 7-5.
“I’m excited,” Nolf said of the matchup. “I didn’t really care who I wrestled. I’m just going to go out with the same mentality, score a lot of points, and same thing is going to happen as I’ve been doing.”
Martinez added: “I had a feeling it was going to come down to me and him. I just don’t think anyone knows the right way to wrestle him. I’ve kind of figured it out. If it’s the way I want it to be tomorrow, it’ll be entertaining and it’ll be a brawl.”
Megaludis and McIntosh are looking to cap their collegiate careers with NCAA titles.
Megaludis faced American’s David Terao. The No. 15 seed upset the No. 2 seed in the second round and then pinned the No. 10 seed to make the semifinals. Megaludis had something Terao didn’t — experience. Megaludis showed it by opening the third period with a 5-1 lead. He tacked on a takedown and collected a riding point for an 8-2 victory.
It is Megaludis’ third trip to the finals. Earlier in the day, he became Penn State’s ninth four-time All-American. He faces Iowa’s Thomas Gilman in the finals. Gilman pinned defending NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State in a sudden victory period.
“I expect it,” Megaludis said of his trip to the finals. “But I mean, I’ve been wrestling well for the most part this tournament. I’ve been picking up each round, and I just wrestle better and better each match. (Saturday), it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait.”
McIntosh got a rematch with Iowa’s Nathan Burak in the semifinals after they squared off two weeks ago for the Big Ten title. McIntosh tallied the match’s lone takedown in the first period. The pair traded escape points and McIntosh tacked on a riding time point for a 4-2 win.
“He was a tough kid and it’s been fun wrestling him over the years,” McIntosh said of Burak. “Obviously, I would have liked to have gotten more points and taken more shots. Some matches score like that and you just gotta move on, take what you can, learn from it and move on to the finals.”
McIntosh is paired up with Missouri’s J’Den Cox, who pinned his semifinal opponent in 6:29. McIntosh edged Cox in the consolation semifinals last year.
“He is a very intelligent wrestler, has a high wrestling IQ, high scrambling IQ,” Cox said of McIntosh. “He knows how to wrestle through positions. He knows what he wants and he goes out there to get it. He’s very keen on what he wants and he is not afraid to adjust.”
Nickal battled Indiana’s Nate Jackson in the semifinals. Jackson handed Nickal his lone loss this season, but this time Nickal prevailed with a hard-fought 4-3 victory to make his first final. He gets Ohio State’s Myles Martin, who was lost to Nickal three times this season.
Conaway wrestled his way back through the consolation bracket and needs one win for a shot at third place. He fell into the consolations with an 8-4 loss to Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer, the defending 133-pound champion.
Conaway then took out Lehigh’s Mason Beckman 5-4 and Iowa State’s Earl Hall 7-2. He faces Illinois’ Zane Richards for a spot in the third-place match.
“Conaway wrestled great,” Sanderson said. “He was in the wrestlebacks, beat a couple of All-Americans, I believe.”