You could feel the intensity radiating through PPG Paints Arena when Penn State's Mark Hall and Arizona State's Zahid Valencia wrestled the 174-pound NCAA championship match in March.
It’s more than three months later and I’m at home re-watching the match in the living room with my dad, Curt Scovel. He’s 55 years old and looks nearly as fit as he did in 1987 when he was an NCAA All-American wrestler at 167 pounds, a member of the All-ACC team and the captain of the University of Maryland squad.
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I was there when Valencia beat Hall for the second consecutive time and was impressed by his focus, confidence and toughness. But I wanted to watch this match again and get my dad's take — as a former high-level wrestler — on some of the critical moments. Here is our analysis of the seven-minute dual, timestamped according to the action. You can follow along in the video below, too.
[First Period 3:00] Shannon: These guys wrestled each other in this same finals last year, and Valencia won. Hall won as a freshman. He's a junior here, and so is Valencia. Valencia got knocked out in the semifinals of his freshman year by Hall, who won the tournament, but Hall hasn't won the weight class since. Valencia had two losses going into this. He lost to Hall in a dual meet at Rec Hall in November, and he lost to Daniel Lewis of Missouri, who he avenged his loss to in the semifinals of this tournament.
Curt: Valencia seems to be the more aggressive wrestler.
Shannon: It looks like his legs are twice the length of Hall's.
[First Period 2:00] Curt: Valencia's shooting. Hall has not taken a legitimate shot.
Shannon: He scored off Valencia's shot.
Curt: That was a good shot, he's in good.
Shannon: Valencia's shot?
[First period 1:35] *Valencia escapes*
Curt: Hall only holds him 17 seconds. If he could have held him, he would have held him. He's just blocking. Valencia's taking like three or four shots to Hall's half shot.
Shannon: Is [Hall] wrestling as conservatively as [Jack] Mueller did?
Curt: Valencia's on the attack. Watch, they start in the center, Hall goes back up, back up, back up, back up. Now he's in. Hall is being very patient, conservative in the first period waiting for Valencia, and Valencia was extremely aggressive.
Shannon: And is he doing that because he knows he can score off Valencia's shots or because he's not as aggressive a wrestler?
Curt: He's good defensively, he's good at blocking, going on the defense. Counter-offensive wrestler.
Shannon: That's risky though because if you're wrestling an opponent who's not as aggressive as Valencia, are you able to score?
Curt: Yeah, I'm sure he has some scoring, but he likes to know that Valencia is going to be over-aggressive. So he's waiting.
[First period :50] Curt: Hall showed heavy hips countering. He dropped, like you make your hips feel heavier than they are.
Shannon: Interesting. So you drop them like the downward kick in a butterfly stroke? [Editor's note: While her father was an NCAA wrestler, Shannon was also a college athlete herself. She competed as a four-year member of the varsity swim team at American University.]
Curt: You put the pressure on. When someone shoots, you drop your hips and drop back and block. So they can't suck them in. It's like straightening your legs out and going back. You come in shoot, and I sprawl and move both hips and come down so that my weight is on you, so if you're under me, and I'm driving my hips in, then you're like trying to get my leg.
Shannon: Oh, it's a defensive move that turns into offense.
Curt: You can't grab this (hip), you have to grab this (leg), so I'm pushing and your leverage is right here. When you're here (legs), you've got it, out here (hips) you don't. You have no leverage here. Then you start popping your hips.
Second period [1:42] *Hall takes bottom to start the second and escapes*
Shannon: Did he give him that escape? He let his hand go.
Curt: He's just riding him tougher. So the difference in this match is who was able ride longer when they got him down.
[Second period :52] *Valencia earns a takedown*
Shannon: Watch, this is interesting. Valencia is going to get a takedown here, and [Penn State head coach] Cael [Sanderson] is going to challenge, and they're going to confirm it, but I don't see how he has control of both ankles and hips.
Curt: If he hooks the leg, he's good.
Shannon: But they just gave him two.
Curt: Oh, because he's got the two. He's got the cross-face. He's got the ankle over there and the cross face.
Shannon: Cael's not happy. He's so composed, though, Cael. The call is confirmed. So even though Hall has his arms around Valencia's leg, he still gets it?
Curt: That doesn't matter. Well, that matters, but now he's got a cross-face, that's good.
Shannon: He gets the two because of the cross-face?
Curt: And the hooking of the leg.
*re-watching the challenge*
Curt: His left leg should go over. Once it goes over an ankle. There, he got behind the ankle.
Shannon: He only has to get around one ankle?
Curt: Yeah, you get this one, you got it.
Curt: Watch him ride Hall. Valencia's doing a better job of riding.
Shannon: Which was the strength of both Mueller and [Spencer] Lee. They were both top riders.
Curt: Yeah, but he's riding him, and I think he rides him out in the second period. So that's the big thing. He needed to get that escape.
Shannon: And he would have pushed it into overtime.
Curt: Valencia would have to shoot to win, otherwise he goes into overtime.
[Second period :11] Shannon: That was a risky move, right? He put himself at risk of being put on his back.
Curt: I did that all the time. It's because the guy on top doesn't know what to do with it. He kind of lets go.
Shannon: Instead of pouncing on you?
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[Third period 2:00] Shannon: So you're tied 3-3, Valencia's going to choose bottom, right? He has to.
Curt: Why not? He'll get the point.
Shannon: And then win.
Shannon: And if you're Hall, and you know Valencia's going to choose bottom, your job is just to ride him out.
Curt: He rides him out, he wins.
[Third period 1:48] *Valencia scores an early escape in the third period*
Shannon: Now you're Valencia, do you wrestle more conservatively now? Just try to let time die?
Curt: You would think so.
Shannon: But if you're Hall, you need that takedown. So what do you do if you're Hall and you score your takedowns off Valencia's shots, and Valencia's not going to shoot now for the rest of the period?
Curt: You're putting your money on Valencia. Because if I remember, Hall didn't do much shooting.
Curt: You're sitting there going 'you've got to shoot, you've got to shoot. What are you waiting for?' The key on this is Hall is counting on Valencia to take a shot, so he can counter.
Shannon: Or you could try to generate another stall warning and get the point.
[Third period :10] Curt: But they said in ten seconds, they won't give him that unless he really runs.
[Third period :00] *Valencia wins 4-3*
Shannon: He's going to do this guitar thing because after Hall beat him in Rec Hall, he played the air guitar, so Valencia just smashed the air guitar.
Curt: So clearly he came down to the escape. It was a pretty boring match.
Shannon: Was it more boring than Mueller-Lee?
Curt: Oh yeah.
Shannon: It was higher scoring.
Curt: There was more action in the other one.
Shannon: Because the other guys were smaller?
Curt: Yeah, the bigger guys tend to push off on each other. So if I watch, no aggressive moves from Hall at all, he was waiting to counter Valencia the entire match.
Shannon: Which is interesting because he scored first.
Curt: What he couldn't do this time that he did in his win earlier, is he couldn't ride him. The commentators say he could do whatever he wanted, he could ride him or let him go, but that's not true. Valencia got out, and he got out twice, and Valencia had the riding time, Hall didn't.
Here's how Hall beat Valencia in Rec Hall in November:
Shannon: And Hall couldn't get out from Valencia.
Curt: Yeah, Hall also really couldn't hold him down. He had no offense. It was all defense. And when he couldn't hold Valencia down in the third ...
Shannon: That cost him the match.
Curt: It gave him the lead. And he's not going to shoot if he has the lead.
Shannon: His lack of offense, was that strategic, or just because he didn't have it against Valencia?
Curt: Against Valencia, it's clearly his tactic.
Shannon: So he's there in the third, time's running out, and he can't switch it to offense from defense.
Curt: He just can't get in on Valencia. Valencia didn't let him in. But the whole reason he lost is because he couldn't get an escape.
Shannon: Or hold Valencia down in the third.
Curt: Holding him down is hard. You can't count on riding someone out for two minutes. At this caliber.
Shannon: We get to watch these guys again this year.
Curt: They're both back again?
Curt: They are going to wrestle each other three times in the finals?
Shannon: Three times in the finals if they make it back, which is pretty cool. But since they are in different conferences, they don't see each other much except for this tournament.
Curt: Easy breakdown.