For the first time since 2016, Penn State wrestling has won the Big Ten Championships.
The Nittany Lions clinched the sixth conference title in program history on Sunday afternoon when they crowned four individual champions and sent five others to the podium. Jason Nolf, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar all claimed conference titles and powered Penn State to an impressive 159.5 points, 37 more than second-place Ohio State.
During the last two seasons, injuries and upsets had hampered the Nittany Lions during the Big Ten Championships, while the Buckeyes rolled to a pair of conference titles. Nonetheless, Penn State still managed to win national championships in both seasons.
How It Happened
Penn State didn’t wrestle in the finals until the 157-lb. bout, the first of six straight match-ups featuring a Nittany Lion.
Jason Nolf started his bout off against Tyler Berger with a quick pair of takedowns to go up 4-1 after less than a minute. He brought a 4-2 lead into the second period before allowing an escape and promptly taking Berger down one more time. Nolf then clocked nearly three minutes of riding time en route to a 12-4 major decision and his second career Big Ten title.
Vincenzo Joseph matched up Iowa’s Alex Marinelli in the 165 lb. final. The final was a rematch of Joseph’s only regular season loss last year when Marinelli beat him 9-6. Unfortunately for Joseph, it was a brutal case of deja vu, and he remains without a conference title.
Joseph took a 1-0 lead with a fast escape to start the second period, but Marinelli blew it open by throwing him to his back for a six-point move. The takedown was reminiscent of the inside trip Marinelli used to beat Joseph last season. The blow was fatal for Joseph, who lost for the first time this season as Marinelli held on for the 9-3 win.
Mark Hall followed Joseph in the 174 lb. final, hoping to get the Nittany Lions back on track in a rematch of last year’s conference final. Tied with Michigan’s Myles Amine 2-2 after two periods, Hall started the third period on bottom before escaping to a 3-2 lead. Hall held onto the narrow lead for the rest of the match but nearly lost it in the closing seconds when Amine made a late takedown attempt.
At 184 lbs., Shakur Rasheed medically forfeited out of his finals match-up with top-ranked Myles Martin, who he still has yet to face.
At 197 lbs., an Ohio State wrestler actually made it out of the first period against Bo Nickal. After pinning Martin and Kollin Moore during the first period of his previous two bouts against them, Nickal scored only one takedown in the first frame. He ran his lead up to 7-1 with a big second period and rolled to a 9-3 win.
The last match of the afternoon came at 285 lbs. when Anthony Cassar met freshman phenom Gable Steveson. Both wrestlers quickly escaped to start the second and third periods before Steveson went up 3-1 with a takedown. Cassar then escaped and registered a takedown of his own to take a 4-3 lead. Cassar rode out Steveson for the remainder of the match, including two dangerous scrambles en route to a Big Ten title.
In addition to the six finalists, three other Nittany Lions medaled. At 133 lbs., Roman Bravo-Young won by forfeit to take fifth place. Nick Lee won the third place bout at 141 lbs. with a 12-4 major decision over Mitch McKee of Minnesota, while Brady Berge medically forfeited out and took sixth.
At the conclusion of the championships, the Nittany Lions also picked up several awards. Cael Sanderson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, Nickal and Nolf were selected co-Big Ten Wrestlers of the Year, and Nolf was tabbed co-Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships, along with Iowa's Marinelli.
The Nittany Lions will be looking for their fourth straight NCAA title and eighth in nine years when they travel to Pittsburgh for the NCAA Championships at PPG Paints Arena from March 21-23. Nine Penn State wrestlers qualified during the conference tournament this weekend.