NCAA wrestling championships: Penn State joining the elite after 5th team title in 6 years
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Penn State has a long way to go to catch Oklahoma State and Iowa in NCAA team championships. But the way the Nittany Lions are stacking up trophies it might not be too long.
The Cowboys, originally Oklahoma A&M, starting winning titles in wrestling under Edward C. Gallagher in the late 1920s. Art Griffith and Myron Roderick kept the ball rolling; current Oklahoma State head coach John Smith has claimed five trophies in 25 years and the Cowboys have been champions 34 times.
Iowa, under the legendary Dan Gable, took control of the sport in the 1970s and did not relinquish it for three decades. The NCAA title in 2010 under current boss Tom Brands was the program’s 23rd.
It appears Penn State has and is taking control.
The Nittany Lions wrapped up their fifth championship in six years Saturday afternoon without scoring a point during the morning session. Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford, both finalists tonight, redshirted in 2014-15. Had they suited up, the blue and white might be talking about six straight.
“I’ve answered that question a lot about what we did last year,” said PSU head coach Cael Sanderson after Friday night’s sensational semifinal round. “We wanted to get those guys with this freshman class and let them lead this freshmen class; you never know if you have a chance to win a national title or not. You have to believe you do, and you have to put a lineup up that can score points for you. You never know until you get here and the guys go out there and win matches.
“But I think things are going well and we’re happy, happy with the decisions we’ve made and keep moving forward from here.
Happy might be an understatement. Three seniors – Megaludis, 197-pounder Morgan McIntosh, and 133-pounder Jordan Conaway – are just part of a squad that excites and makes people want to watch wrestling. There are very few 2-1 matches and most seven-minute bouts involving PSU wrestlers include a “wow” moment.
Tonight, PSU will try to become the third team to have five individual champions in an NCAA Championship. The 1997 Iowa Hawkeyes, in Gable’s final year, had five led by Mark Ironside, Joe Williams, and Lincoln McIlravy. Virginia Tech head coach Kevin Dresser was part of a 1986 Hawkeye squad that won five individual golds. Oklahoma State crowned five in 2005, among them Johny Hendricks, Zack Esposito, and Chris Pendleton.
“We don’t talk about past teams,” Sanderson said. “We want to be the best team we can be, and yeah these guys feed off each other and they love to compete and you see them, they’re smiling and joking around. They’re light before they go out and compete and they go out and get after it.
“We saw this coming into the season, that this is a team that we could potentially have 10 All-Americans. But these guys, they’ve had a great tournament and scored a lot of bonus points. Zain (Retherford) is a sophomore and we’ve got freshmen back, good kids coming in, great recruits coming in, so we’re definitely excited about the future of the program.”
Tonight, Megaludis, now a three-time finalist, meets Iowa’s Thomas Gilman in what will be a tough 125-pound championship bout. The PSU senior is 32-3 with a win over Gilman at the Big Tens.
Retherford (33-0), with three pins and a technical fall, is in Outstanding Wrestler Award territory. He faces Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in a rematch of the Big Ten finals.
Bo Nickal (33-1), one of those freshmen leaders Sanderson speaks of, meets Ohio State rookie Myles Martin for gold at 174 pounds this evening. The other rookie, 157-pounder Jason Nolf (33-1) has rolled this week and squares off with Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez (31-1) tonight.
The unbeaten McIntosh (32-0) meets Missouri’s J’Den Cox (32-1), the NCAA champion in 2014.
“It’s just fun to watch,” said McIntosh of this PSU team. “It’s pretty cool to see guys that are that young and that mature and can come into a tournament like this and not hold anything back, not be scared of the competition, not be scared to take risks and go out there and wrestle hard.
“It’s a really fun group of guys and a great team to be on and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, wrestling too seriously. We just have fun with it and try and enjoy every bit of the ride, and I know that’s what I’m doing.”
Oklahoma State produced six All-Americans with two finalists. Yet, the Cowboys, with 89 ½ points before the finals, cannot catch the Nittany Lions.
“You take a look and you say ‘I’m getting beat by major decisions, I got pinned in my last match in a side roll. Even though I was up, I lost 6-2 in the blood round,’” said OSU head coach John Smith. “Just kind of recognizing that, hey, it’s pretty tough and we need to get a little bit better and we need to get a little bit more focused on our skill and being able to put points on the board, being able to defend.
“I just think you grow as a team when you recognize that it is tough. Penn State is putting points on the board in just about every match. You have to match that.”
The race for second continues tonight. Oklahoma State leads Virginia Tech by 7 ½ points but the Hokies do not have anyone on the stage this evening. Iowa, with three going for individual titles, still have a chance of passing their rivals.
Saturday’s first session included the medal rounds. Tonight, PSU goes for five and Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer and North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski go for three.
American University senior 125-pounder David Terao let it fly in his final collegiate tournament. The Hawaii native pinned Stanford’s Connor Schram on Friday morning. Twenty-four hours later, in the 125-pound bronze medal match against 2015 NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State, Terao (29-7) spun, jumped, rolled, and cart-wheeled much to the delight of the MSG crowd in a 5-3 loss.
Iowa State senior Earl Hall 133-pounder finished in a flash with a 17-1 technical fall 2:16 into his seventh-place match with Utah Valley’s Jade Rauser. Hall (33-9) was an All-American in 2014 as a 125-pounder.
● For the first time since 1996 Edinboro did not have a top-eight finisher.
● Dan Gable coached Iowa to 15 NCAA team titles, tops among NCAA coaches. Oklahoma State’s Edward Gallagher (11), Art Griffith (8), and Myron Roderick (7) rank 2-3-4. With his 2016 championship, Penn State’s Cael Sanderson ties current Oklahoma State head coach John Smith with five, one behind former Iowa State boss Harold Nichols.
● Iowa State’s Pat Downey entered the postseason with a 2-1 record. The sophomore 197-pounder from Baltimore qualified through the Big 12 Conference meet and won five matches this weekend to finish fifth. He finished in style, pinning Virginia Tech’s Jared Haught.
● 2015 NCAA champion Cody Brewer finished a 26-3 senior campaign with a win over Illinois’ Zane Richards in the 133-pound third-place match. The Missourian is a four-time All-American.
● Duke senior Connor Hartman finished a 30-3 senior campaign by finishing seventh at 197 pounds. Hartman, from Orchard, Wash., was fifth, sixth, and seventh the last three NCAA Tournaments.
● Virginia Tech’s Nick Brascetta finished his third All-America season with a bronze medal at 157 pounds. After losing a 7-6 bout Friday morning, the St. Paris, Ohio, senior won four straight and finishes an injury-filled final campaign at 13-4.
● Unseeded Casey Kent of Penn was pinned Thursday night in the second round at 174 pounds. He responded with five straight wins to advance to the third-place bout Saturday where he dropped an 8-4 match to Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly.
● North Carolina State, with a victory tonight by Nick Gwiazdowski, could finish ninth in the team race. After rising as high as No. 2 in the rankings, the Wolfpack have three All-Americans – Gwiazdowski, senior 157-pounder Thomas Gantt, who finished eighth, and junior 184-pounder Pete Renda, who was third.
All-Americans by team
6 – Penn State, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Virginia Tech
4 – Ohio State, Missouri
3 – Nebraska, Cornell, North Carolina State, Illinois, Michigan, Lehigh, Iowa State
2 – Oklahoma, Kent State, Rutgers, Minnesota, Stanford
1 – Wyoming, Navy, Penn, Wisconsin, Oregon State, Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Rider, American, Princeton, Indiana, Ohio, Central Michigan, Duke, North Carolina, Utah Valley, Boise State
All-Americans by conference
31 – Big Ten
13 – Big 12
11 – ACC
10 – Mid-American, EIWA
4 – Pac-12
1 – EWL