NCAA wrestling: Penn State wins Big Ten, Sanderson earns coach of the year
IOWA CITY, Iowa – No. 1 Penn State (16-0, 9-0 B1G) entered enemy territory and won the 2016 Big Ten Wrestling Championship in Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Penn State crowned three champions as head coach Cael Sanderson led Penn State to its fifth Big Ten title in the last six years.
The Nittany Lions were led by senior Morgan McIntosh, sophomore Zain Retherford and red-shirt freshman Bo Nickal, each earning Big Ten titles as Penn State out-ran second place Iowa by over 20 points. Penn State won the team race with 150.5 points, well ahead of second place Iowa’s 127.0. Ohio State was third with 122.0, Nebraska fourth with 117.0 and Rutgers fifth with 106.5.
Retherford, ranked No. 1 at 149, took on No. 2 Brandon Sorensen of Iowa in the 2016 Big Ten finals. The Nittany Lion continued his impressive season with a resounding 4-0 win to claim his first Big Ten title. Retherford is the 22nd Penn Stater to win a Big Ten crown, claiming the school’s 36th title. The top-ranked sophomore, a 2014 All-American at 149, heads to NCAAs with a 29-0 overall record after a 4-0 run through this year’s Big Ten tournament.
Nickal, ranked No. 1 at 174, took on No. 3 Zach Brunson of Illinois. Nickal became the 23rd person to win Penn State’s 37th Big Ten Championship with a lop-sided 18-9 major over Brunson. Nickal, the only freshman Big Ten Champion at this year’s event, heads to nationals with a 29-1 record. His 3-0 run through the conference tournament all came with bonus points (two majors and a pin).
McIntosh, the defending Big Ten Champion and ranked No. 1 at 197, met No. 4 Nathan Burak of Iowa in Penn State’s final championship match. The Lion senior defended his Big Ten title with a 3-2 win and won Penn State’s third individual title of the day. McIntosh became Penn State’s ninth two-time Big Ten Champion. McIntosh, already a two-time All-American, went 4-0 over the weekend and will head to his final NCAA Championship with a 28-0 record.
Senior Nico Megaludis, ranked No. 4 nationally at 125, took on Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, ranked No. 1, in the championship finals. Tomasello notched a takedown in extra time to post a 3-1 (SV) victory and hand Megaludis second place. Megaludis, 3-1 and runner-up at this year’s tournament, is already a three-time All-American and will head to the 2016 NCAA Championships with a 27-3 record.
Redshirt freshman Jason Nolf, ranked No. 1 at 157, met No. 2 Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the title bout. In a rematch of January’s meeting where Nolf pinned Martinez, handing him his first loss as a collegian, Nolf dropped a 3-3 loss. The setback was the first of Nolf’s career. Nolf went 3-1 in his first Big Ten tournament. The Lion heads to NCAAs with a 29-1 overall record as the 2016 Big Ten Runner-Up.
Junior Jimmy Gulibon, ranked No. 21 at 141, took on No. 5 Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers in the title bout. Ashnault would go on to post the 9-0 victory and Gulibon, the eighth seed, finished as the Big Ten Runner-Up. Gulibon, a 2015 All-American at 133, went 2-1 and heads to the NCAA Championships with a 12-9 overall record.
Senior Jordan Conaway, ranked No. 5 nationally and the tournament’s third-seed at 133, took fourth place with a 1-1 showing in consolation action. Conaway battled No. 9 Eric Montoya of Nebraska in the consolation semifinals to a 6-4 win and move into the third place bout. Conaway got a rematch with No. 14 Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin in the third place match and came up just short, dropping a 5-4 decision in a frenetic match. The loss sets Conaway, a 2015 All-American a 125, as the fourth-place finisher at 133 with a 4-2 mark and he will head to NCAAs with a 26-5 overall record.
Sophomore Matt McCutcheon, ranked No. 11 nationally, placed fifth after a 1-1 showing in consolation action today. In his first match, McCutcheon gave up a quick first period takedown and dropped a 4-1 decision to Gravina. He met No. 22 Jeff Koepke of Illinois in the fifth place bout, a rematch of a second round meeting won by McCutcheon 6-2. McCutcheon went 2-2 at the tournament and heads to the NCAA Championships with a 16-6 overall record.
Junior Geno Morelli competed in the seventh place match where he took on Iowa’s Patrick Rhoads. The bout was an even match over three periods before Rhoads notched a takedown late in the sudden victory stanza to post a 4-2 (SV) win, handing Morelli eighth place. Morelli ends his first Big Ten Championship with a 2-3 record. Morelli, 19-10 overall, meets the standards set by the NCAA to be considered for an at-large bid at 165.
The full field, including brackets, will be announced Wednesday night at 6 p.m. on NCAA.com.
The Nittany Lions went 28-12 overall, picking up 29 bonus points off six pins, two tech falls and eight majors. Showcasing dominance start to finish, the Nittany Lions notched an outstanding 71-22 takedown advantage over the course of the tournament. The Nittany Lions have eight guaranteed NCAA qualifiers and will await word on Morelli’s status Wednesday night. Red-shirt freshman Nick Nevills did not compete today after a 1-2 showing on day one at 285.
After receiving the team trophy, Penn State then collected all three of the conference’s post-season awards. Head coach Cael Sanderson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the fifth time in his seven years as Penn State’s head coach. It is the seventh time Penn State has had the conference’s coach of the year (John Fritz ’98; Troy Sunderland ’03).
Retherford was honored as the 2016 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, becoming the seventh Nittany Lion to be honored as such. Nolf was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, becoming the first Nittany Lion to win the award since David Taylor in 2011 and the fifth overall.
Penn State has now claimed five Big Ten Championships, all under Sanderson. The veteran mentor has now won five conference titles in seven years, crowned 18 Big Ten individual champions and qualified 58 wrestlers (before Wednesday’s at-large bids) for the NCAA Championships in his seven years at the helm of the Nittany Lion program.
The Nittany Lions will now trek to New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 17-19, 2016. The three-day event begins on Thursday, March 17, at 11 a.m. The tournament’s six sessions are as follows: Thursday, March 17, 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Friday, March 18, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.