NCAA Wrestling: Penn State Closes in on Title; 5-for-5 Friday Night

psu-wrestlingST. LOUIS – The Penn State Nittany Lion wrestling team advanced five individuals to the 2017 NCAA Championship Finals, posting a perfect 5-0 Friday night mark in the national semifinals in St. Louis. Penn State firmed up its hold on first place in the team race after two days of the NCAA Championships and is looking to win its second straight NCAA team title and sixth in the last seven years.

The Nittany Lions lead the team race with 121.0 points, 31.5 ahead of Ohio State, who has 89.5. Oklahoma State is in third with 86.0, Missouri fourth with 81.5 and Iowa fifth with 74.0. Penn State pushed out to the big lead not just on a perfect semifinal performance, but a total team effort getting points out of all eight wrestlers competing. The Nittany Lions picked up a sixth All-American and the two men who finished one win shy of All-American status each grabbed important team points of bonus victories.

Junior Zain Retherford (Benton, Pa.), the No. 1 seed at 149, met No. 5 Brandon Sorensen of Iowa in the first of five national semifinal match-ups for Penn State. Retherford roared through a high double just over a minute into the bout to take an early 2-0 lead. The Lion then controlled action from the top position, building up a nice riding time cushion while working to turn Sorensen to his back. The Lion senior worked his magic, forcing Sorensen’s shoulders to the mat and, after a few seconds of work, got the first period pin at the 2:36 mark. The win moves Retherford into tonight’s national finals against No. 3 Lavion Mayes of Missouri. He will head into the title bout with a 4-0 mark, including three tech falls and a pin.

Sophomore Jason Nolf (Yatesboro, Pa.), the No. 1 seed at 157, took on No. 4 Tyler Berger of Nebraska in his semifinal match-up. Nolf and Berger battled evenly for the opening two minutes with the Lion nearly connecting on a single that worked its way out of bounds with 1:00 on the clock. The Lion sophomore’s offensive pressure paid off in the waning seconds as he turned a low shot into a takedown and 2-0 lead after one period. Nolf escaped to start the second period and quickly blew through another takedown to lead 5-1 after cutting Berger loose. Nolf led 7-1 after two and then put on an offensive show and rolled to a 15-3 major, picking up critical bonus points. He moves into the national finals where he will meet #3 Joey Lavallee of Missouri. Nolf is 4-0 with a pin, two techs and a major so far in St. Louis.

Red-shirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph (Pittsburgh, Pa.), the No. 3 seed at 165, faced off against No. 2 Logan Massa of Michigan in the semis. The duo battled through a scoreless first period with neither man finding an opening to finish off any shots. Massa chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 1-0 lead. Joseph worked his way into control of Massa’s waist and took him to the mat for a takedown and a 2-1 lead. Massa’s quick escaped knotted things at the :40 mark. Tied 2-2, Joseph took down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 3-2 lead. The Lion fought off a swift Massa shot, working action out of bounds. The Lion gave up a stall point at the :20 mark and then worked a trip into a scramble and a takedown. Massa escaped but Joseph’s late takedown proved the difference as the Penn State freshman won 5-4. Joseph will meet No. 1 Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the NCAA finals. He is 4-0 with a major in this, his first NCAA tournament.

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True freshman Mark Hall (Apple Valley, Minn.), the No. 5 seed at 174, met No. 1 Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in his semifinal match-up. Hall fought off a solid early Valencia shot and was hit for stalling at the 1:24 mark. The duo battled through the rest of the period scoreless and Hall chose down to start the second stanza. The Lion freshman worked his way to his feet, forcing Valencia into a stall warning but not quite escaping. After a reset, Hall escaped to a 1-0 lead at the 1:20 mark. The second period ended with the Lion leading by one. Valencia chose down to start the third period and escaped to a 1-1 tie at the 1:33 mark. Valencia worked his way into what was called a takedown that Hall quickly escaped from. Penn State challenged that Valencia held Hall’s headgear and the challenge was accepted. Hall picked up a penalty point, no takedown was awarded and the Lion led 2-1. Hall iced the bout with a takedown with :26 left. Valencia picked up a late stall point and an escape, but Hall’s late-game heroics proved the difference as the true freshman moved into the NCAA finals with the 4-3 win. Hall, handing Valencia his first loss of the year, will take on No. 3 Bo Jordan of Ohio State in the NCAA finals. He is 4-0 with a tech and a major so far in this, his first NCAA tournament.

Sophomore Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas), the No. 2 seed at 184, took on No. 3 Sammy Brooks of Iowa in Penn State’s final semifinal bout. Nickal, who pinned Brooks in just :38 in Carver Hawkeye, nearly matched the time here on the sport’s biggest stage. Nickal tripped and threw Brooks to his back quickly and got a fall at the 1:01 mark. The fall, Nickal’s third of the tournament, moves him into the NCAA finals once again where he will meet No. 1 Gabe Dean of Cornell. Nickal is 4-0 with three falls and a tech so far in St. Louis.

Sophomore Nick Nevills (Clovis, Calif.), the No. 5 seed at 285, took on No. 15 Ryan Solomon of Pittsburgh in his ‘blood round’ match-up, looking to become an All-American and keep third place in his grasp. Nevills and the Pitt big man fought their way through a scoreless first period. The Lion sophomore chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 1-0 lead. With neither wrestler notching a takedown in the middle stanza, Solomon chose down to start the third period, trailing 1-0. Nevills won the match on top, riding the Panther out for the entirety of the period to post a 2-0 win with 1:43 in riding time, becoming an All-American for the first time. He then took on No. 8 Michael Kroells of Minnesota in the consolation quarterfinals. The duo traded takedowns in the first period with Kroells’ coming late enough for the Gopher to ride Nevills out to lead 3-2 after one period. The Gopher extended his lead to 4-2 with a quick escape in the second. Nevills picked up a takedown on the edge of the mat to tie the bout 4-4. Nevills rode Kroells out and the bout moved to the third period tied 5-5. Nevills, with over 1:30 in riding time, chose down to start the third period and escape to a 5-4 lead while maintaining 1:32 in time. Nevills round out the match with 1:32 in riding time to post the 6-4 win. He moves into this morning’s consolation semifinals.

Senior Jimmy Gulibon (Latrobe, Pa.), unseeded at 141, took on No. 2 Kevin Jack of North Carolina State in the ‘blood round,’ needing one more win to become a two-time All-American. Jack got the bout’s first takedown at the 1:47 mark, taking an early 2-0 lead. Gulibon escaped to a 2-1 score but Jack had built up 1:11 in riding time. Gulibon was steady, however, taking Jack down as the period ended to take a 3-2 lead into the second period. Jack chose down to start the second and quickly escaped to a 3-3 tie, the only scoring of the second period. Gulibon chose neutral to start the third period and Jack answered with a takedown to up his lead to 5-3 with 1:40 on the clock. Gulibon escaped to a 5-4 deficit at the 1:10 mark and Jack had 1:10 in riding time. The Lion was unable to break through Jack’s late defense and dropped a 6-4 decision. Gulibon picked up critical points for Penn State, going 3-2 with a technical fall and a major. The lone senior in Penn State’s line-up, Gulibon ends his Lion career with a 75-47 record and was a 2015 All-American at 133 pounds.

Junior Matt McCutcheon (Apollo, Pa.), the No. 5 seed at 197, met No. 7 Aaron Studebaker of Nebraska in the fourth round of consolations, needing one more win to earn his first All-America tag and keep the quest for third place alive. McCutcheon was the aggressor out of the gates, taking a handful of shots and breaking through for a takedown off a low single midway through the period. He led 2-1 after one period and Studebaker escaped to start the second period, tying the bout at 2-2. The Husker used a double leg to take McCutcheon down and then turned him twice to lead 12-2 after two periods.

Penn State went 7-2 in session four and picked up five more bonus points off two pins and a major. Penn State is a stunning 29-5 after four sessions and has 28.0 bonus points off four majors, eight techs and six pins. Six Lions are still alive as the Nittany Lions look to win their second straight NCAA title, sixth in the last seven years, and seventh overall; five in the finals (Retherford, Nolf, Joseph, Hall and Nickal) and Nevills in consolation semifinals. The Nittany Lions will have five wrestlers competing in the NCAA finals for the fourth time in the last six years (2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017).

The Nittany Lions, with six All-Americans this year, now have 206 all-time All-Americans, 43 of those have come under Sanderson’s tutelage. Retherford now has 13 career NCAA wins, tied for 21st all-time at Penn State. Retherford’s pin of Sorensen was his 17th of the year and the 36th of his career, fifth all-time at Penn State. Nickal’s pin of Dudley was his 17th this year as well and the 25th of his career, 19th all-time at Penn State. Nolf has 14 pins this year and 29 for his career, 15th all-time in Nittany Lion history.

The 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships continue this morning as session five begins at 11 a.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Central. Session five airs live on ESPNU. The three day event continues through tonight’s NCAA Championship Finals. Session six, the championship finals, begins at 8 p.m. Eastern / 7 p.m. Central and airs live on ESPN.

2017 NCAA Championships – Team Standings (top five) after Session 4:
March 17, 2017 – Scottrade Center – St. Louis, Mo.

1: PENN STATE – 121.0
2: Ohio State – 89.5
3: Oklahoma State – 86.0
4: Missouri – 81.5
5: Iowa – 74.0

Weight-by-weight agate (rankings listed are official tournament seed)

141: Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. – ‘round of 12’ — DNP

Rd. 1: vs. #13 Javier Gasca, Michigan State – W, 18-3 (TF; 7:00)
Rd. 2: vs. #4 Matt Kolodzik, Princeton – L, 3-6 dec.
Con 2: vs. Timmy Box, Northern Colorado – W, 14-5 maj. dec.
Con 3: vs. #12 Luke Pletcher, Ohio State – W, 11-4 dec.
Con 4: vs. #2 Kevin Jack, North Carolina State – L, 4-6 dec.

149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. – 3X All-American —

Rd. 1: vs. Joshua Maruca, Arizona State – W, 18-2 (TF; 4:55)
Rd. 2: vs. No. 16 Jordan Laster, Princeton – W, 16-0 (TF; 5:43)
Qtrs: vs. Alex Kocer, South Dakota State – W, 18-2 (TF; 5:13)
Semis: Tonight vs. #5 Brandon Sorensen, Iowa – WBF (2:36)
Finals: vs. #3 Lavion Mayes, Missouri – tomorrow

157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. – 2X All-American —

Rd. 1: vs. Thomas Bullard, North Carolina St. – W, 22-7 (TF; 7:00)
Rd. 2: vs. #16 Victor Lopez, Bucknell – W, 24-9 (TF; 7:00)
Qtrs: vs. B.J. Clagon, Rider – WBF (4:06)
Semis: vs. #4 Tyler Berger, Nebraska — W, 13-5 maj. dec.
Finals: vs. #3 Joey Lavallee, Missouri – tomorrow

165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. – All-American —

Rd. 1: vs. Keaton Subjeck, Stanford – W, 5-1 dec.
Rd. 2: vs. #14 Branson Ashworth, Wyoming – W, 12-4 maj. dec.
Qtrs: vs. #6 Daniel Lewis, Missouri – W, 6-5 dec.
Semis: vs. #2 Logan Massa, Michigan – W, 5-4 dec.
Finals: vs. #1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois – tomorrow

174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. – All-American —

Rd. 1: vs. David Kocer, South Dakota State – W, 8-2 dec.
Rd. 2: vs. Jadaen Bernstein, Navy – W, 16-0 (TF; 2:20)
Qtrs: vs. #4 Zach Epperly, Virginia Tech – W, 10-2 maj. dec.
Semis: vs. #1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State – W, 4-3 dec.
Finals: vs. #3 Bo Jordan, Ohio State – tomorrow

184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. – 2X All-American –

Rd. 1: vs. Mitch Sliga, Northwestern – W, 15-0 (TF; 3:20)
Rd. 2: vs. #15 Steven Schneider, Binghamton – WBF (5:33)
Qtrs: vs. #7 TJ Dudley, Nebraska – WBF (4:33)
Semis: vs. #3 Sammy Brooks, Iowa – WBF (1:01)
Finals: vs. #1 Gabe Dean, Cornell – tomorrow

197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. – ‘round of 12’ – DNP

Rd. 1: vs. Christian Brunner, Purdue – WBF (1:53)
Rd. 2: vs. #12 Frank Mattiace, Penn – W, 6-3 dec.
Qtrs: vs. #4 Jared Haught, Virginia Tech – L, 3-7 dec.
Con 4: vs. #7 Aaron Studebaker, Nebraska – L, 2-13 maj. dec.

285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. – 5th seed – ALL-AMERICAN

Rd. 1: vs. Doug Vollaro, Lehigh – W, 4-2 dec.
Rd. 2: vs. #12 William Miller, Edinboro – W, 6-2 dec.
Qtrs: vs. #4 Jacob Kasper, Duke – L, 1-3 dec.
Con 4: vs. #15 Ryan Solomon, Pittsburgh – W, 2-0 dec.
Con Qtrs: vs. #8 Michael Kroells, Minnesota – W, 6-4 dec.
Con Semis: tomorrow