PITTSBURGH — Penn State wrestling entered the finals of the NCAA Championships on Saturday night with the national title locked up and seeking additional points for its gaudy team total. With five Nittany Lions wrestling in the finals, Penn State crowned three national champions and said goodbye to two of the most decorated athletes in school history.
Penn State finished the tournament with 137.5 points, well-ahead of second-place Ohio State (96.5) and third-place Oklahoma State (86).
How It Happened
The finals began at heavyweight with No. 2 Anthony Cassar seeking to avenge his only loss of the season against No. 1 Derek White of Oklahoma State.
After a scoreless first period, White quickly escaped to his feet where the wrestlers battled for most of the period. In the closing seconds, Cassar took White down to his back and scored four near-fall points to blow open a huge 6-1 lead. Cassar escaped to start the third period, took White down again, and rode him out en route to a dominant 10-1 major decision.
The match was a far cry from when the two met in the Southern Scuffle finals, when White controlled the tempo and contained Cassar for the entirety of the bout, winning 3-2.
With the win, Cassar became the first Nittany Lion heavyweight to take first at the national tournament since Kerry McCoy in 1997. He caps off a 30-1 season and 5-0 run this weekend that included a fall and two majors.
After Cassar’s win, there was a break of four matches where no Nittany Lion wrestled. No. 1 Jason Nolf resumed action against No. 2 Tyler Berger of Nebraska.
Nolf started things off with a bang, scoring a quick takedown 45 seconds into the bout and adding two more as well as a pair of bonus points before the end of the period. Up 8-2, Nolf chose bottom for the second period but Berger rode him out for most of the period. Nolf responded with an escape in the closing second and rideout of his own to clinch his third national title and cap off another undefeated season.
Nolf’s 10-2 major decision was his third win against Berger this season. He finishes his career 6-0 against Berger, who infamously tweeted that he was coming for Nolf’s head earlier this season. The Internet is not a place that forgets, though in his post-match interview Nolf defended Berger's tweet, praising him as a tough and impassioned competitor.
Nolf ends his Penn State career with a 117-3 record and as the program’s all-time leader in falls and a four-time All-American.
No. 2 Vincenzo Joseph followed Nolf in the 165 lb. finals against No. 8 Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech. After a scoreless first period, Joseph took bottom but ended up on his back. Although he barely avoided a fall, Joseph allowed four near-fall points before escaping.
Lewis brought his 4-1 lead into the third period where he ran it up to a final score of 7-1 with an escape and takedown. The loss marked the first time Joseph has lost in the NCAA Finals, after winning each of the last two years. He ends his season with a 27-2 record, with both losses coming in the finals of the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
No. 1 Mark Hall took on No. 3 Zahid Valencia in the 174-lb. finals hoping to get a bounce-back win for the Nittany Lions.
Hall opened his lead up to 3-1 in the second period, before a takedown from Valencia tied it. Valencia jumped ahead with a takedown to start the third period and held on for the 4-3 decision. He now leads the all-time series 3-2 with two wins in the NCAA Finals.
Those two matches are the only losses Hall has suffered during the last two seasons. He ends his junior year with a 30-1 record.
When Valencia knocked off Hall, he did an air guitar celebration, in reference to Hall’s own move after winning during their in-season meeting. Valencia then threw down a hammer, in reference to Hall’s well-known and flashy celebration against Iowa last season.
The Nittany Lions took one match off for the 184-lb. final before finishing the night off at 197 lbs. with No. 1 Bo Nickal facing No. 2 Kollin Moore of Ohio State. Nickal jumped ahead with a first period takedown and brought a 2-1 lead into the third period where he added an escape and takedown. Nickal shot in on Moore with 16 seconds remaining and held on for the remainder of the bout.
With the win, Nickal wraps up his career with a 120-3 record and three NCAA titles. He and Nolf are two of only four three-time champs in Penn State history.