Penn State wrestling: Undefeated regular season champions, defending national champions, and now, after two days of intense competition and wild matches, Big Ten champions. The Nittany Lions took home top honors in the most dominant wrestling conference in the country with four individual champions and more big goals for nationals.
Nine of the 10 weight classes during the tournament featured No. 1 nationally ranked wrestlers, and this star-studded group also included six previous NCAA champions, eight former Big Ten champions and one undefeated true freshman phenom. It was clash of the titans, and the Penn State Nittany Lions cleaned up, winning the 157, 174, 197 and 285 pound weight classes.
Here's a look at the individual Big Ten champions from this year's tournament:
Champion: Sebastian Rivera, Northwestern
Rivera, the 2018 Midlands champion, battled 2018 national champion Spencer Lee for a sudden victory title win over the sophomore Hawkeye. Lee dropped to Rivera at Midlands in December and then missed his dual against the Northwestern Wildcat in early February, so the two hadn’t met since that famous battle in Chicago. But in front of a sold-out crowd in Minnesota, Rivera found the magic to emerge the champion again. He remains undefeated this year at 125, whereas Lee now has three losses on the year (two to Rivera and another recent fall against Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State in the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual).
Lee finished second in the tournament for his highest finish ever, but he’ll look for revenge against Rivera in Pittsburgh. This was a without a doubt a wild weight with some big stars, and Lee and Rivera put on the show everyone wanted.
Champion: Nick Suriano, Rutgers
When 2018 NCAA champion Seth Gross dropped out of the season after his chronic back injury, a weight class that once seemed locked up suddenly opened again. The 133-pound weight was stacked nationally from All-Americans Nick Suriano, Tariq Wilson, Luke Pletcher and Ethan Lizak to the two young stars Daton Fix and Austin DeSanto all in the top eight.
This weekend, under the bright lights of the conference tournament, Rutgers' Suriano tore through the Big Ten bracket and found himself in the finals against Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher. Suriano took down the Buckeye to claim his first conference title and head to Pittsburgh with confidence. Going into the tournament, Suriano held the No. 3 seed, but he emerged the champion. Suriano will aim to be the first Rutgers’ national champion later this month in one the deepest weight classes in the country.
Champion: Joey McKenna, Ohio State
The only weight class without a national No. 1 seed in the bracket, 141 was a dog fight but in the end, Ohio State’s Joey McKenna did it again. Though Illinois’ Michael Carr earned the No. 1 seed, he dropped to Nebraska’s Chad Red, and McKenna had the chance to take down Red in the finals. In his 18 regular season matches, the Ohio State Buckeye lost just twice, once against No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis and once against No. 2 Nick Lee. He avenged his loss to Lee this weekend, took the title and will now bring this experience and success to the mat in Pittsburgh.
Champion: Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers
A sixth-year senior, Ashnault has held the No. 1 ranking in the Big Ten and in the nation since February 3, and he claimed his third Big Ten title on Sunday. He topped Ohio State’s Micah Jordan in hard fought battle, and he’ll move on to nationals as the likely No. 1 seed. Jordan missed out on winning his first Big Ten title, but he should have another shot against Ashnault in Pittsburgh. Jordan’s only two losses this year have come against Ashnault, once at Cliff Keen at once in the Big Ten finals. This weight class was a battle of the veterans with Jordan and Ashnault holding the top two spots on the podium, but the remainder of the tough 149-pound cast should not be discounted later this month. This will be a fun one to follow, and Ashnault has given fans no reason to doubt him come nationals.
Champion: Jason Nolf, Penn State
The 157-pound weight class at the Big Ten tournament was tough, filled with seven of the nation’s top eight wrestlers. However, the top-ranked wrestler, Penn State's Jason Nolf, proved once again why he is one of the most dominant wresters of the year. The undefeated and the clear favorite in the weight at NCAAs earned another Big Ten title and continued his senior year victory lap. Nolf has been untouchable this year, and the Big Ten was no exception. Leading into the tournament, he’d taken down Tyler Berger, Ryan Deakin and Alec Pantaleo, the other top-four seeded athletes in the weight class, and he prevailed once again in the finals against Berger.
Champion: Alex Marinelli, Iowa
The first Penn State wrestler to win national titles as a freshman and a sophomore, Vincenzo Joseph missed out on his third Big Ten title, this time dropping to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli. The 165-pound star Marinelli is undefeated on the year and was ranked No. 2 nationally leading into the tournament behind Joseph. He will be expected to take the top seed heading into nationals later this month. Marinelli’s list of impressive wins don’t just come from the tournament; he also beat Wisconsin’s Evan Wick, Nebraska’s Isiah White and Arizona State’s Josh Shields during the regular season. The 165-pound weight class championship was a battle between undefeated wrestlers, and this time, the title went to a Hawkeye, the persistent, gritty and focused Alex Marinelli.
Champion: Mark Hall, Penn State
The 174-pound weight class will be fun at NCAA championships, and there was certainly some excitement at the conference tournament; however, like the 157 pounds, this weight was solidly controlled by an athlete in a Penn State singlet. Mark Hall cruised through his bracket and stay undefeated on the year and add to his impressive collection of wins. He also picked up a Southern Scuffle title and is the clear favorite to add another national title to his resume in Pittsburgh.
Aiming to challenge Hall was returning All-American Myles Amine from Michigan, a junior whose only losses came against Hall and Valencia. Amine kept Hall within a point during their regular season battle, but Hall stopped him again in Minnesota to pick up the Big Ten title.
Champion: Myles Martin, Ohio State
The 184-pound bracket was built for Myles Martin. The 2016 NCAA champion has finished third, second and second in his three Big Ten appearances as a Buckeye, and this year, with the road clear for Martin, he added to his legacy with a tournament win. Ranked No. 1 at 184 all year, Martin entered the tournament undefeated and stayed that way through the end. He did not have the chance to wrestle his biggest competition the No. 2 seed Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed after Rasheed took a forfeit, but he’ll see the Nittany Lion in Pittsburgh. Martin cruised to the championship after wrestling just two matches. With a slew of returning All-Americans at this weight, 184 was deep, but the weight was top-heavy. Ohio State needed Martin to pick up a win here for team points, and that’s what he did. Penn State, on the other hand, did need Rasheed to win, or even compete, in order to clinch the team title. So now the big question is whether he’ll be ready to compete against Martin for a title in Pittsburgh.
Champion: Bo Nickal, Penn State
Bo Nickal has been a force of nature during the regular season, pinning 15 of his opponents and teching two more. He added a major decision, a decision and a tech fall during the Big Ten tournament to claim another individual title. Ohio State's Kollin Moore also had a shot to compete for a title, but he couldn't stop Nickal.
After suffering a pin against the champion at the Ohio State-Pen State dual, Moore lost again, this time in major decision fashion 10-2. Nickal led the nation in the Most Dominant Wrestler standings with an average of 5.41 team points per match heading into the tournament, and he'll be one of the favorites for the Hodge Trophy if his trajectory of success continues through nationals. The national tournament is Nickal's last shot to take home a championship title in a Penn State singlet, and he's shown through his performances this year that he should have no problem taking the top spot on the podium on Sunday.
MOST DOMINANT WRESTLER STANDINGS: Nickal and Nolf top the standings, each averaging over five team points per dual
Champion: Anthony Cassar, Penn State
Resiliency and perseverance. That's what drove Anthony Cassar to the 285-pound championship at the Big Ten tournament, and that's what helped him take down previously undefeated freshman phenom Gable Steveson. Cassar found a last-second shot and took down the Minnesota grappler to deliver Steveson his only takedown of the year and snatch the title away from the hungry freshman. Steveson was ranked No. 1 in the country and was the clear favorite before the tournament, but now, all eyes are on Cassar come nationals.
HERE'S A COMPLETE PLAY-BY-PLAY OF THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT MATCHES:
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