Penn State stings NCAAs with five young champions

Updated: March 19, 2017

ST.LOUIS — Earlier on Saturday, March 18, Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said his team “kicked a hornet’s nest” when Buckeyes upset Penn State at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago.

And the Nittany Lions proved Ryan’s point later Saturday evening when all five Penn State finalists won their championships — including beating a pair of two-time NCAA champions in Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez and Cornell’s Gabe Dean — to sting the team field by a 36.5 margin for the program’s sixth team title in seven years.

“This is a great team,” said coach Cael Sanderson, whose squad tied the NCAA record with five champions — joining the 1986 and ’97 Iowa teams and the 2005 Oklahoma State squad — but became the first team to record five straight individual championships as Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) combined to win consecutive titles in the Scottrade Center.

2017 NCAA Championship Match Highlights

What made Penn State’s NCAA championship even more impressive is that they did it with just eight wrestlers after highly-ranked Nick Suriano was unable to wrestle in St. Louis because of injury

“This is our best dual season ever, just in how we competed and we’re on the road,” said Sanderson, whose only non-championship team in the last seven years came in 2015 when he redshirted three of this year’s national champions: Retherford, Nolf and Nickal.

 “When you have a great dual season, you want to finish it off with a national championship. And so we’re glad that things have worked out for us. But we’re always looking ahead, obviously. But we’re going to enjoy this, just really happy for the guys.”

2017 Final NCAA Standings and Results

Also winning their first national championships were two PSU freshman; one a redshirt in Joseph and the other a true freshman in Hall, who removed his redshirt in January.

“It’s my journey,” said Hall, the former six-time state of Minnesota champ from Apple Valley, who avenged a Big Ten finals loss to Ohio State’s Bo Jordan two weeks ago. “If I wanted to go on Coach Cael’s journey, I wouldn’t have pulled my redshirt. I’m one for four for now. I’m going to work on my second one. You only win one at a time. Take it one match at a time, one tournament, one dual, things like that.”

But Joseph’s victory was even more impressive when he pinned Illinois’ two-time champion Isaiah Martinez with his second takedown.

“After my first takedown, (Martinez) was trying to force it a lot more,” said the young Nittany Lion who lost twice to the Illini this year. “I knew he’d be coming hard at it and kind of set (the throw) up perfectly.”

Nickal ended the night when he edged Cornell’s two-time champion Gabe Dean, 4-3, at 184 pounds.

“I felt like once I was to the legs I was going to finish,” said Nickal, who finished second at 174 pounds in 2016. “I knew exactly what I needed to do thanks to (coach Casey) Cunningham, who helped me with that position over my redshirt year I knew what to do from there.”

Before this PSU quintet took charge, Missouri’s J’den Cox opened the night with his third NCAA title at 197 pounds, Olympic champion Kyle Snyder won his second championship at heavyweight and a two wrestlers — Lehigh’s Darian Cruz (125) and Iowa’s Cory Clark (133) — won their first titles before Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil captured his second straight title at 141 pounds.


Top 20 Teams Final Standings

Rk School Ch/AA Points
1 Penn State 5/6 146.5
2 Ohio State 1/6 110
3 Oklahoma State 1/8 103
4 Iowa 1/5 97
5 Missouri 1/5 86.5
6 Virginia Tech 0/5 63.5
7 Minnesota 0/4 62.5
8 Cornell 0/4 60.5
9 Nebraska 0/4 59.5
10 Michigan 0/3 47.5
11 Illinois 0/3 43.5
12 Lehigh 1/2 40
13 Wisconsin 0/2 39.5
14 Arizona State 0/2 39
15 Virginia 0/2 29.5
16 South Dakota State 0/2 28.5
17 NC State 0/1 26
18 Northern Iowa 0/2 25.5
19 Rutgers 0/2 24.5
20 Edinboro 0/1 20.5