Penn State Wrestlers Win Five National Titles
Heading into Saturday night's NCAA Championship finals, Penn State already had the team title wrapped up, its second consecutive, sixth in seven years and seventh overall.
The only question left was how many of Penn State's five finalists would leave St. Louis with individual national championships.
All of them, as it turned out.
Top seeds Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf capped their perfect seasons with titles, while Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal all pulled off upset victories to claim championships.
While the championships started on Thursday with questions about whether Penn State could repeat -- 125-pounder Nick Suriano had to bow out with an ankle injury and the team had no competitor at 133 -- the Nittany Lions turned in their greatest performance and one of the best in NCAA Championship history.
The team's point total of 146.5 was the highest in program history and 36.5 points ahead of second-place Ohio State. The five individual champions tied the NCAA record, matched just three other times.
The No. 1 seed at 149 pounds, junior Zain Retherford opened up Penn State's five consecutive championship showings against No. 3 seed Lavion Mayes of Missouri. Mayes got an early takedown, but that only seemed to motivate Retherford. After taking a 3-2 lead into the second period, the Nittany Lion dominated the rest of the way before earning an 18-2 technical fall at 6:42.
The title is the second straight for Retherford, who finished the season 28-0 and has now won 63 consecutive matches. He was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler and the 2017 Most Dominant Wrestler.
Sophomore Jason Nolf, the top seed at 157, faced Missouri's No. 3 seed Joey Lavallee. A first-period takedown and an escape to open the second gave Nolf a 3-1 lead and he controlled the bout from there. Four third period takedowns gave Nolf a 14-6 major decision. The Nittany Lion finished the season 27-0.
Perhaps the most thrilling moments of the championships came courtesy of Nittany Lion redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph, the No. 3 seed at 165. After an exciting semifinal match that saw Joseph get a takedown in the waning seconds to advance, he faced a tall order against No. 1 Isaiah Martinez of Illinois, a two-time NCAA champion.
Joseph battled Martinez closely and held a 6-5 lead in the third period. Then came the stunner. Joseph lifted Martinez off the mat and put him on his back, getting the pin at 5:25 and becoming the first redshirt freshman to win an NCAA title for Penn State.
Joseph ended the season with a 22-4 record.
True freshman Mark Hall, the fifth seed at 174, went into Saturday night's final already having score a major upset, defeating previously unbeaten top seed Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in the semifinals. In the championship bout, Hall had a chance to avenge his Big Ten Championships loss to Ohio State's Bo Jordan, the No. 3 seed.
Hall got a second period takedown, which was challenged by Ohio State but ultimately confirmed, and took a 3-1 lead into the third period. Jordan got an escape and worked for a shot, but it was Hall who got the final takedown and a 5-2 victory.
Hall, who was redshirting until January, is Penn State's first true freshman to win a national title and finishes the year with a 31-3 record.
Selected by fans as the championships featured matchup, the 184-pound title bout between Penn State's No. 2 seed Bo Nickal and No. 1 seed Gabe Dean of Cornell closed out the night. Dean got a takedown about a minute in, but Nickal escaped and countered with one of his own near the edge of the mat to take a 3-2 lead into the second period.
An escape to open the second gave Nickal a 4-2 lead and the Nittany Lion fended off a couple shots by Dean to carry the advantage into the third. Dean escaped to open the final period and both wrestlers narrowly missed on takedowns, with Dean almost turning Nickal to his back with under a minute left. But Nickal held on and claimed the title with a 4-3 decision.
The Penn State sophomore finished the year 26-1, his only loss coming in the Big Ten championship final against Ohio State's Myles Martin. Nickal's three pins in 11:07 in the NCAA tournament earned him the Gorriaran Award for most falls in the least amount of time.
Penn State also got an All-American performance from sophomore heavyweight Nick Nevills. He took fifth at 285.
Junior 197-pounder Matt McCutcheon and senior 141-pounder Jimmy Gulibon both came up one win short of All-America status.