Penn State wrestling program wins another national team title, earns 4 individual crowns

The Associated Press
  • Penn State won the NCAA Division I team wrestling title on Saturday night.
  • The Nittany Lions have won seven of the last eight NCAA D-I wrestling crowns.
  • Four Penn State wrestlers captured individual championships.

CLEVELAND — Bo Nickal isn't known for demonstrative displays of raw emotion.

Clinching an NCAA championship with a vengeful pin over a longtime rival brought it out of the Penn State 184-pounder on Saturday night.

Penn State's Bo Nickal, top, celebrates with head coach Cael Sanderson after pinning Ohio State's Myles Martin during the 184-pound championship match of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Cleveland.

Nickal reversed an early attack from Ohio State's Myles Martin and spun him to his back for a first-period pin that clinched Penn State's seventh team title in eight years at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Saturday. He leapt from the mat, spiked his headgear, raised his arms and roared toward the sizable Penn State section inside Quicken Loans Arena and jumped into head coach Cael Sanderson's arms.

"You go to Penn State to win titles as an individual and as a team," Nickal said. "That's what we do. And that's what we trained for. And we have the best coaches in the country, best facilities, best fans and best wrestling, easily."

Nickal won his second straight title at 184 pounds and joined Zain Retherford (149 pounds) Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165) as repeat champions for the Nittany Lions, who pulled away to beat the Buckeyes 141.5-133.5.

Iowa finished third with 97 points while Michigan and NC State tied for fourth with 80 points. Missouri was sixth with 61.5.

The Nittany Lions, who trailed the Buckeyes by double digits early on Thursday after Corey Keener and Nick Lee were pinned in their opening matches, went 39-7 afterward.

"I think they remained calm and focused on their goals and that's important," Sanderson said. "I mean, you want to win. When there's a team race, you know, that obviously adds just additional pressure to individuals. But I thought they did a great job staying focused."

Nickal kept his as Martin blasted in on his legs in the opening moments of their bout.

Martin, who beat Nickal in the 2016 finals, shot in and planted Nickal for an early lead. It didn't last long as Nickal countered with a headlock, rolled over and fastened Martin's shoulders to the mat in just 2:29.

"I think about that match every day almost," Nickal said of his 2016 finals loss to Martin.

Other champs: Iowa's Spencer Lee (125), South Dakota State's Seth Gross (133), Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis (141), Arizona State's Zahid Valencia (174), North Carolina State's Michael Macchiavello (197) and Ohio State's Kyle Snyder (285) also won individual titles in front of 19,776 — the largest crowd to watch a set of finals ever.

Snyder and Retherford won their third individual championships.

Retherford, last season's Hodge Trophy winner, took Lock Haven's Ronnie Perry down twice in the first period and fended off the sophomore the rest of the way to win his 94th straight match and third straight title.

"This year, the only difference was I knew that was the last time I was going to wear the singlet," Retherford said. "Just as nervous as I was the first time doing this. That doesn't go away. I think it was definitely fun and it's kind of sad this is the last time I'm wearing this."

Snyder, the reigning Olympic and World champion, battled Michigan's Adam Coon and notched a takedown with 22 seconds left to win 3-2.

"It was an amazing (team) race," Snyder said. "It would have been awesome to end my career at Ohio State with a team title. I still believe we have an amazing team."

Nolf overcomes knee injury: Nolf showed no ill effects from a knee injury on Jan. 28 that ended his regular season. He wrapped up two quick takedowns in the opening period with 1:31 in riding time to post the 6-2 win over North Carolina State's Hayden Hidlay.

Joseph continued Penn State's steak at 165 against Illinois' Isaiah Martinez, who was going for his third title. Joseph used an inside trip, the same move he used to pin Martinez last season, and tilted the Illinois senior to his back for a 4-0 lead. He'd get another point when Martinez was called for unnecessary roughness after a second-period head butt and fought off Martinez's attacks the rest of the way for the 6-1 win.

Valencia broke up Penn State's run when he beat Mark Hall 8-2. Although Hall mustered an acrobatic scramble to avoid an early takedown, Valencia eventually landed three to pull away from the Nittany Lions' defending champion.