No. 1 Penn State (14-0, 9-0 B1G) crowned two individual champions and will send at least eight wrestlers to the NCAA Championships as the 2017 Big Ten Championship tournament concluded.
Junior Zain Retherford and sophomore Jason Nolf each claimed titles at the event and were honored with the conference’s two biggest individual awards at the end of the tournament.
Nolf was named the 2017 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year and Retherford was named the 2017 Big Ten Championship Outstanding Wrestler. Penn State has eight NCAA qualifiers secured with the potential for one more when at-large bids are announced Tuesday evening. Penn State will head to the NCAA Championships looking to win their sixth NCAA title in the last seven years.
Comeback falls short: The Nittany Lions trailed by 22.0 points before the first Lion took the mat and mounted a furious comeback, cutting Ohio State’s lead to as little as 4.0 before trailing by 7.0 heading into the final session. Needing a near-perfect showing in the finals and placing bouts, as well as some help along the way, Penn State nearly pulled off a stellar comeback to win its sixth Big Ten title in the last seven years. But the Buckeye lead was, in the end, too much to overcome. Penn State took second place with 130.0 points while Ohio State won with 139.5. Iowa was third with 112.5.
Retherford, the No. 1 seed at 149, was Penn State’s first finalist of the day, taking on No. 5 Micah Jordan of Ohio State in a critical match-up. Retherford notched a takedown midway through the opening period and finished off the stanza on top to lead 2-0 with 1:22 in riding time after one. He picked up another takedown and a stall point to lead 5-0 after two periods and then escaped to start the third period and lead 6-0. The Lion senior then rolled over Jordan in the third period, notching two takedowns, four near falls, a stall point and 3:23 in riding time to post a dominating 16-1 technical fall at the 7:00 mark. Retherford’s win earned him his second straight Big Ten title and pulled Penn State to within 5.5 points in the team race.
Retherford heads to the NCAA Champion coming off a 4-0 Big Ten tournament that included three pins and a technical fall in the title bout. Retherford leaves Indiana with a 23-0 record, 16 pins, three techs and a major. He now has 35 career pins, fifth all-time at Penn State.
Nolf, the No. 1 seed at 157, met No. 2 Michael Kemerer of Iowa in the finals at 157. Nolf notched a late takedown in the first period to lead 2-0 after the opening stanza. After Kemerer chose down, Nolf maintained control of the Hawkeye long enough to push his riding time edge well over 1:00. The Lion sophomore cut Kemerer loose to a 2-1 score and added a second takedown with just :01 left on the clock to lead 4-1 after two periods. Nolf escaped to a 5-1 lead to start the third period and took Kemerer down with just over :30 left to take a 7-1 lead. He cut the Buckeye loose but time ran out before he could finish a major-clinching takedown. The Lion, with 1:09 in riding time, picked up his first Big Ten title with an 8-2 decision and pulled Penn State to within 1.5 points in the team race.
Nolf went 3-0 with two pins to claim his first Big Ten title. The sophomore will head to NCAAs with a perfect 22-0 record, including 13 pins, six techs and a major. Nolf has 28 career pins to date, 16th all-time at Penn State.
True freshman Mark Hall, the No. 2 seed at 174, was Penn State’s last finalist, meeting No. 3 Bo Jordan of Ohio State in the championship match at 174. Hall opened the bout with a quick takedown at the 1:50 mark, taking an early 2-0 lead. He then controlled Jordan for 1:11 before the Buckeye escaped to a 2-1 score. Hall had a late takedown waved off on review and led 2-1 with 1:11 in time after two periods. Jordan escaped to a 2-2 tie before Hall answered with another takedown to open up a 4-2 lead. Jordan reversed the Lion freshman and tied the bout at 4-4. Action moved into a sudden victory period where Jordan notched a takedown :20 in to clinch the 6-4 (sv) win. The Buckeye win put Penn State 4.5 points behind in the team race.
Hall, a true freshman, went 2-1 with a pin to finish as Big Ten Runner-Up in his first conference championship. Hall heads to St. Louis with a 26-3 overall record, including 12 pins, two techs and a major.
Red-shirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph, the No. 4 seed at 165, faced No. 15 Nick Wanzek of Minnesota in the consolation semifinals. Joseph gave up an early counter takedown and then stormed back to lead 4-3 after one period. After a second period spent with Joseph in control, the Lion used a trip and throw in the third period to pin Wanzek at the 5:47 mark and move into the third place match. Joseph took on No. 3 Isaac Jordan for third. After a scoreless first period, Joseph took control in the second. He escaped to a 1-0 lead then picked up two takedowns to lead 5-1 heading into the third period. Jordan escaped to a 5-2 score at the 1:39 mark and that was the last scoring of the bout. Joseph’s strong 5-2 decision earned him third place as the fourth seed and pulled the Nittany Lions to within 0.5 points in the team race.
Joseph went 3-1 with a pin to take third place as the fourth seed. He will head to St. Louis and his first NCAA Championship with a 17-4 overall record, including two pins, four techs and three majors.
Sophomore Bo Nickal, the No. 1 seed at 184, took on No. 11 Emery Parker of Illinois in the consolation semifinals. Nickal easily downed No. 11 Emery Parker of Illinois, posting an 8-2 decision to advance to the third place bout. The Lion sophomore took on No. 4 TJ Dudley of Nebraska in the bronze medal match. Nickal opened up fast, leading 4-2 after two quick takedowns. But Dudley tied the bout as the first period ended 4-4. Nickal chose down to start the second period and the duo traded three reversals. Nickal reversed Dudley, Dudley answered and then Nickal reversed back. The Lion led 8-7 after two periods and cut Dudley loose to an 8-8 tie to start the third. He iced the bout with an outstanding throw for a takedown and four back points, rolling to a 14-9 decision to take third place.
Nickal went 3-1 with a pin to take third place at 184. He will head to NCAAs with a stellar 21-1 record, including 14 pins and three majors. Nickal has 22 career pins, nearing Penn State’s top 20 list.
Junior Matt McCutcheon, the No. 4 seed at 197, met No. 14 Ricky Robertson of Wisconsin in the consolation semifinals. McCutcheon gave up an early takedown, but rode Robertson out in the second period and posted a thrilling 3-2 win off 1:01 in riding time. McCutcheon took on No. 6 Aaron Studebaker of Nebraska for third place. The duo battled through a scoreless first period and Studebaker escaped to start the second to take a 1-0 lead. McCutcheon escaped to tie the bout in the third and nearly notched a late takedown. Studebaker skipped away and the bout moved to sudden victory. Studebaker escaped in his tie-breaker session to take a 2-1 lead. McCutcheon then countered that by deftly reversing the Cornhusker with :10 left and holding on for a 3-2 (tb) win to take third place as the fourth seed.
McCutcheon went 3-1 at the tournament and heads to his third NCAA Championship with an 18-4 overall record, including a pin and two majors.
Sophomore Nick Nevills, the No. 3 seed at 285, met Rutgers’ Razohnn Gross in the consolation semifinals. Nevills kept Penn State’s team title hopes alive by pinning Razohnn at the 3:32 mark. The fall, Nevills’ third of the tournament, earned the Lion sophomore a trip to the NCAA Championships and a spot in the third place bout. He took on No. 8 Michael Kroells of Minnesota for third and posted a 2-0 decision. Nevills used a third period takedown and ride out to lead 2-0 after one period. He then rode Kroells out in the second but could not escape the Gopher in the third period to post the 2-0 win. Nevills took third place with the victory.
Nevills went 4-1 with three pins at the tournament. He will head to the NCAA Championships with a 20-3 overall recording, including seven pins, three techs and a major.
Senior Jimmy Gulibon met No. 24 Cole Martin of Wisconsin for seventh place. Gulibon opened up an early 2-1 lead but got caught in a cradle on the edge of the mat and lost by fall at the 1:11 mark. Gulibon ended the tournament with a 1-3 mark, finished eighth and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
True freshman Nick Suriano, the No. 2 seed at 125, ended his tournament with an early injury default Saturday morning. Suriano, 0-1 at the tourney, will be in the pool for an at-large bid at 125 when the NCAA announces the full field (including at-large bids) for the 2017 NCAA Championships. The announcement takes place on Tuesday evening. Red-shirt freshman Triston Law (Windber, Pa.) went 0-2 in session one and bowed out of the tournament at 133.
Eight have earned spots in the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships two weeks from now in St. Louis’ Scottrade Center on March 16-18 with the potential for one more (Suriano) when at-large bids are announced. Penn State nearly pulled off the team comeback, posting a 10-2 overall record in sessions three and four. The Nittany Lions ended the tournament 23-12 overall. Penn State picked up 23.5 bonus point off 11 pins and one tech fall over the two-day event. Penn State finished the tournament with 11 pins, just one shy of the all-time tournament record held by Iowa. Retherford had three, Nolf two, Joseph one, Hall one, Nickal one and Nevills three.
Penn State will now head to St. Louis, Mo., for the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 16-18 in the Scottrade Center. The three-day event begins on Thursday with sessions at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern. The entire NCAA Championship event will air on ESPN, with all three morning sessions airing on ESPNU and all three evening sessions airing on ESPN. At-large bids will be announced on Tuesday, March 7. The full brackets and seeds will be announced on Wednesday, March 8, at 6 p.m. on NCAA.com.