Penn State nears another NCAA team title with five finalists

Updated: March 22, 2019

Photo: Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph locked up a third straight NCAA final with a victory over Josh Shields of Arizona State in their 165-pound semifinal. (Ginger Robinson photo)

By Mike Finn

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Penn State wrestling team put itself in great position to claim a fourth-straight NCAA championship by doing something the Nittany Lions did in winning the past three nationals: sending five wrestlers to Saturday night’s finals for a fourth straight year.

Holding a 32-point margin (120.5-88.5) over second place Ohio State, Penn State won five of six semifinal matches and will give Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Bo Nickal (197) a chance to win a third individual championship while teammates Mark Hall (174) and heavyweight Anthony Cassar will be looking to respectively claim a second and first NCAA title in the PPG Paints Arena.


But only Bo Nickal’s third pin of the tournament (against Princeton’s Pat Brucki) was the only thing dominant about the Penn State performance Friday night

“I think we were a little tight tonight,” said Sanderson, noting that Nolf, Joseph, Hall and Cassar all won close bouts. “Expectations bring that, right? Nothing will take the wind out of your legs more than expectations  and I think these guys still found a way to get the job done for the most part. As a coach I think that’s something that’s important for us. We need to continue to be hungry to win and not be afraid to lose and that’s something you have to work at.”

Ohio State will send three wrestlers to the finals — Joey McKenna (141), Micah Jordan (149) and Kollin Moore (197), but Buckeye head coach Tom Ryan couldn’t help but think about the one who failed to qualify: top-seed Myles Martin, who was upset by Cornell’s Max Dean, who scored a deciding takedown in the closing seconds of their 184-pound semifinal.

‘My mind keeps going to the wayward son, the one that just strayed away and is in so much pain,” Ryan said of Martin the four-time All-American who won a championship in 2016, and settled for second place last March. “For Myles to lose the way he lost last year in the finals (when he was pinned by PSU’s Nickal) and be such a great leader and to be a great example for so many people there, that’s the one my mind is focused on right now. “Tomorrow we will get ready and hopefully see three young men reach a life-long dream and that’s to win a national championship.”

Oklahoma State, which stands in third place with 73.5 points, will send two wrestlers to the finals: 133-pound Daton Fix and heavyweight Derek White, while fourth-place Iowa (68) has one finalist in Spencer Lee, who will be shooting for second straight national championship.

Cornell and Rutgers will each be sending a pair of wrestlers to the finals. Joining Dean will be 141-pound sophomore Yianni Diakomihalis, who will also be shooting for a second straight championship. The Scarlet Knights, who have never had an individual champion, features a pair of finalists in Nick Suriano (133) and Anthony Ashnault (149).

Semifinal Highlights

125 pounds

#5 Jack Mueller (Virginia) dec. #1 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) 8-2 —

Mueller controlled match from start to finish, putting a takedown and two-point nearfall on the board to take a 4-0 lead. The Cavalier then added a takedown in the third to open up a 7-0 lead. Rivera did get a late reversal, but was not enough to overcome more than five minutes of riding time.

#3 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. #2 Nicholas Piccininni (Oklahoma State), 11-4 —

The Hawkeye sophomore avenged an earlier-season loss by fall to the Cowboy when he scored three takedowns — one in each period — and added a two-point nearfall in the closing seconds and a 1:06 riding time advantage.

133 pounds

#1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) dec. #5 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), 4-2 — The OSU freshman opened the semifinal up with a takedown 55 seconds into the bout with a takedown on the edge of the mat. Pletcher wasn’t able to get any offense going until there were nine second left in the match, scoring a low double on the edge to pull within one point, before Fix added a riding time point.

#3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. #2 Stevan Micic (Michigan), 4-1 — The defending national runner-up at 125 pounds avenged an earlier-season loss to the Wolverine when he scored a takedown in the first minute before adding a second-period escape and 2:31 of riding time.

141 pounds

#1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. #5 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri), 6-5 — After Eierman tied up the defending champ at this weight with an escape to start the third period, 4-4, the Big Red sophomore scored the eventual match-winning points on a neutral danger position with 26 seconds left for the 6-4 lead, Eierman got a locked-hands penalty with :02 to go, but Yianni earned a shot at a second straight NCAA title.

#2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) dec. #3 Nick Lee (Penn State) 4-3 — In what proved to be the rubber-match between the two Big Ten rivals, scored on a  high-crotch takedown at the 1:03 mark of the third period and added riding time point.

149 pounds

#1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) dec. #5 Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton), 2-0 — Ashnault dictated the tempo of the match in this low-scoring match as the Scarlet Knight got a second-period escape and then added a riding-time point.

#2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) dec. #6 Austin O`Connor (North Carolina) 7-4 — Jordan opened the match with a slick dump for a takedown and a second takedown in the first period for a 4-1 lead at the end of the first period. The Buckeye senior added a takedown and riding time for his first trip to the NCAA finals.

157 pounds

#1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec.  #5 Hayden Hidlay (NC State), 3-2 — In a rematch of last year’s NCAA final, which Nolf won 6-2, the Nittany Lion escaped the upset bid of the Wolfpack sophomore, who secured a leg of Nolf in the closing seconds but could not complete the takedown. Hidlay was awarded a takedown at the end of the first period, before a Penn State challenge overturned the call. Once in the second period, Nolf scored of an escape and tallied the only takedown on a snapdown 15 seconds into the frame.

#2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska) dec. #6 Kaleb Young (Iowa), 5-3 — The Husker’s multiple All-American earned his first finals appearance when he scored two double-leg takedowns in both the first and second periods.

165 pounds

#8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) dec. #4 Evan Wick (Wisconsin), 5-2 — The Hokie freshman clinched his first NCAA final shortly after he gave up a stalling point when he tallied a second takedown with one second left.

#2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) dec. #3 Joshua Shields (Arizona State), 3-2 — In a battle of old Pennsylvania wrestling club teammates, the Nittany Lion put himself in position to claim a third NCAA title when he tallied the bout’s only takedown in the first period.

174 pounds

#1 Mark Hall (Penn State) dec.  #4 Myles Amine (Michigan), 2-1 TB1 — After both men exchanged escaped in regulation, Hall landed a spot in the NCAA finals a third straight year when he earned an escape in the first half of the tiebreaker, then rode out the Wolverine for 30 seconds in the second half.

#3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) major dec. #2 Daniel Lewis (Missouri), 11-3 —The defending national champ avenged a regular-season fall against Lewis by running out to a 6-2 lead in the first, then just out-quicked Lewis during scrambles through the third period and tallied another last takedown in the final 10 seconds.

184 pounds

#5 Maxwell Dean (Cornell) dec. #1 Myles Martin (Ohio State) 5-4 — Dean posted one of the biggest shockers of the tournament over the 2016 champ when the Big Red sophomore scored a takedown with 11 seconds to go. Martin got first- and third-period takedowns to take a 4-3 lead late into the match.

#6 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) dec. #15 Chip Ness (North Carolina), 7-4 — The Panther earned his first NCAA final when he scored the first of two takedowns with 26 seconds left in the second period that also led to a two-point nearfall. After the Tar Heel cut the margin to 4-3 on a two-point nearfall, Foster clinched the bout on another takedown with 12 seconds left.

197 pounds

#1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) pinned #4 Patrick Brucki (Princeton), 4:41 — Hodge Trophy contender Nickal put two takedowns on the board in the first period, and one midway through the second period to take a 6-2 lead before he locked up a cradle and the eventual fall..

#2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) major dec. #3 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) 12-4 —

Moore rolled up an impressive five takedowns and had nearly two minutes of riding time for the victory



#1 Derek White (Oklahoma State) dec.  #4 Jordan Wood (Lehigh), 3-1 sv — After trading escapes in regulation, White made his first NCAA final with a takedown 32 seconds into overtime.

#2 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) dec. #3 Gable Steveson (Minnesota), 4-3 — Cassar took a 3-2 lead 14 ticks into the third period and held a 1:01 riding time advantage when the Gopher freshman eventually escaped. Steveson struck first just over two minutes into the first period, nearly scoring a takedown with a double on the edge, but officials changed the call to a fleeing the mat giving the Gopher freshman a 1-0 lead.