Penn State rolled through the regular season unbeaten in duals and took out Oklahoma State 27-13 to claim the NWCA National Duals Championship Series. The Nittany Lions also won regular season matchups with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. But in the win over the Cowboys an injury might have derailed PSU’s run to a second straight NCAA team title.
Three days in St. Louis will answer that question, but, in the meantime, Ohio State took advantage by winning the Big Ten Championship last weekend in Bloomington, Indiana. The Buckeyes totaled four individual champions and edged PSU by 9 ½ points.
“We’re really hungry to get a national championship,” said OSU 133-pounder Nathan Tomasello, who was an NCAA champion at 125 pounds two seasons ago during the Buckeyes’ run to the team title. “Winning (the Big Tens) gives us a lot of confidence.”
Tomasello, unbeaten at 133 pounds, joins Kyle Snyder, also unbeaten at 285 pounds who won an Olympic gold medal in 2016 after claiming his first NCAA title in March. Bo Jordan knocked off PSU’s talented Mark Hall in the 174-pound finals, while freshman Kollin Moore bested Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr to win gold at 197 pounds. Sophomores Micah Jordan (149) and Myles Martin (184), the NCAA champion at 174 pounds in 2016, both finished second in Bloomington.
“We saw a grittiness, a hunger, and a passion,” Buckeye boss Tom Ryan said Sunday. “We won a lot of close matches, and that was the difference.”
Meanwhile, Penn State knows the major battle still lies ahead.
“You never count yourself out,” PSU head coach Cael Sanderson said after the tournament. “We had an uphill battle. The guys responded, gave us a chance to get back in and get a chance to win. I’m proud. Ohio State, they kicked butt. They deserve to win and they are the Big Ten champs.
“We’ve got to get ready for nationals.”
One of PSU’s three heavy hitters, Bo Nickal, suffered his first loss of the season in the Big Ten semifinals. Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf each remained perfect with dominating performances. Nittany Lion rookie 125-pounder Nick Suriano wrestled a total of :01, injury defaulting out of the tournament; he will await is fate Wednesday night when the NCAA announces the at-large selections to fill out the field of 330 wrestlers for St. Louis.
Illinois junior 165-pounder Isaiah Martinez joined Tomasello in winning a third conference title, beating talented Michigan rookie Logan Massa on Sunday. The other champions were Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault at 141 pounds and Iowa’s Sam Brooks, who beat OSU’s Martin for his second league crown.
Record-setting Big 12 for Cowboys
Oklahoma State won 28 of 30 matches and claimed eight individual titles in routing the field at the Big 12 Conference Championships. Records were set in total points (176 ½), margin of victory (83), and individual champions (8).
“It’s what you hope for when you come in heavy favorites,” said OSU head coach John Smith. “Actually doing it is a different story. As a whole, I saw my team wrestle better than they had all year. That was what I was hoping for.”
Senior 149-pounder Anthony Collica won his fourth Big 12 title and is one 10 NCAA qualifiers.
“You want to be wrestling your best this time of year,” Collica said. “My finals match didn’t go exactly how I wanted, but I got the win. Wining tough matches is important this time of year because wrestles harder in March.”
Collica was joined by Nick Piccininni (125), Dean Heil (141), Joe Smith (157), Kyle Crutchmer (174), Nolan Boyd (184), Preston Weigel (197) and Austin Schafer (285) at the top of the podium. Heil, unbeaten in 35 straight matches, won his third Big 12 crown along with Boyd.
South Dakota State’s Seth Gross (30-1) became the first wrestler not from OSU, Oklahoma, or Iowa State to win an individual title since the merging of the Big 12 and Western Wrestling Conference last season. Gross beat OSU’s Kaid Brock for the second time in 2016-17 and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.
Oklahoma’s Matt Reed entered the tournament with a 6-7 record at 174 pounds. The senior knocked off top-seeded David Kocer of South Dakota State in the semifinals before falling to Crutchmer in the finals. Reed is one of seven Sooner NCAA qualifiers.
“That felt great, especially after losing to (Kocer) earlier this year in our dual,” Reed said. “I felt a lot better than I did the first time. It’s the postseason, so it’s time to show up. You have to come in here and feel like you’re the best wrestler.”
Long road, short time
Cary Kolat won two NCAA titles and a silver medal at the World Championships in freestyle. He took over a program with limited success nor tradition three seasons ago. But last Saturday night, Campbell edged Appalachian State by 3 ½ points to win the Southern Conference title.
“It’s been a long road,” Kolat said. “My third year here, I was talking to Ville (Heino) and Nathan (Kraisser), two of the originals, and they didn’t think we’d be here in three years. It’s great.
“I’ve always said, ‘show me your friends and I’ll show you my character’ and with a program it’s the same thing. We’ve surrounded ourselves with great kids and a great coaching staff that has helped me a ton this year. We all took part and that’s why we had the success we did.”
“We had five guys in the lineup and a heavyweight that wasn’t really a heavyweight,” said Kraisser, who finished second at 125 pounds and qualified for the NCAAs. “It’s a big difference going from bottom of the conference to the top; it’s been awesome to see the journey over these three years that Campbell has been on.”
Kraisser, a senior who started his career at North Carolina, is one of five NCAA qualifiers for the Camels. He’s joined by Josh Heil, brother of NCAA champion Dean Heil, Quentin Perez, and the Heino brothers, Ville and Jere, natives of Finland.
● Edinboro won its 15th EWL title in 20 seasons, besting second place Rider by 46 ½ points. The Fighting Scots had a school-record six champions, including 149-pounder Patricio Lugo, who had two pins and a technical fall in three victories. Lock Haven’s Ronnie Perry was voted OW after beating Clarion’s Brock Zacherl in the 141-pound title bout.
● Virginia Tech’s 29-point margin of victory at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships was the largest in 10 years. Six Hokies won titles and the team rallied around #AllAboutUs, a hashtag for Twitter devoted to getting through a tough period that included head coach Kevin Dresser being hired as Iowa State’s next coach.
● Cornell’s streak of EIWA titles moved to 11 as the Big Red crowned four champions led by senior Gabe Dean, who won his fourth league title. Dean, a two-time NCAA champion, takes a 31-0 mark to St. Louis.
● Missouri moved its Mid-American Conference tournament win streak to six, routing the field in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Tigers had six champions, including senior 197-pounder J’Den Cox, who won his fourth MAC title.
“This year has been special,” MU head coach Brian Smith said. “We were up and down all year, but we have a lot of talent on this team and I knew we needed to put a consistent effort together at this tournament. And did I ever get it over the last two days.”
● With PSU’s Bo Nickal and Wisconsin’s Connor Medberry each taking a loss at the Big Ten Championships, each weight class now has one undefeated wrestler. They are: Iowa’s Thomas Gilman (125), Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello (133) and Kyle Snyder (285), Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil (141), Penn State’s Zain Retherford (149) and Jason Nolf (157), Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez (165), Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (174), Cornell’s Gabe Dean (184), and Missouri’s J’Den Cox (197).