So things began with a bang in session four--but not by our Lions. Iowa Hawkeye Thomas Gilman took out Ohio State's returning National Champion, Nathan Tomasello, whose conservative strategies against the top guys in the weight finally came back to bite him. Period 3, tied 1-1, Gilman fought off a NaTo takedown--doing the splits so loathed by Hawkeye fans when Nico does them to Gilman, then got in on his own, turned it into two and rolled Tomasello to his back. Whereupon the ref granted a (needless, b/c it was effectively over) pin to Gilman.
Penn State's own 125, Nico Megaludis, looked great and dominated from the get go.
Nico's post match presser:
Q. If you'd like to make a brief opening statement about your match.
NICO MEGALUDIS: I don't really know what to say. I mean, I don't even know what the score was. I know that's a bad synopsis of it, but I don't know.
Q. Good match, though.
NICO MEGALUDIS: Thank you.
Q. Nico, what's it like now to make it to your third national final?
NICO MEGALUDIS: You know, I mean, I expect it. But I mean, I've been wrestling well for the most part this tournament. I've been picking up each round, and I just -- I'll wrestle better and better each match, and tomorrow it's going to be awesome. I can't wait.
Q. Nico, being that this is your third trip to the finals in four tries, can you put into words how difficult it is to make it to the finals, to wrestle in this tournament? And why do you think it has eluded you, a championship, to this point, and how are you different this year and why do you think it's going to be different?
NICO MEGALUDIS: You know, I mean -- there were a lot of questions there. Repeat it again, I'm sorry.
Q. How hard is it in your words, this tournament, to make it to the finals like Gilman?
NICO MEGALUDIS: You know, I mean, it's definitely difficult because people come out of the woodwork. I mean, I could have expected maybe him, but there was other guys that were seeded a lot higher, but people come out and wrestle. Tough kid, you know, second round. And they come out of the woodwork, and I'm happy that that second round happened to push through a little adversity and toughen up. Even though it maybe wasn't a good match, but everyone is good here.
Q. Can you describe your mindset for this tournament? Seems like you've been real locked in, and how have you used your previous three tournaments to kind of develop a mindset for this one? Can you put that into words?
NICO MEGALUDIS: I mean, I've been doing this for 20 years. Yeah, I'm 23. I've been wrestling since I was four. That's a long time. You just realize throughout all the years, all the work and camps you've been to and everything, and it's just like, man, I've done all the right things. So just have fun now. Do what you've got to do. Know what you want and do it.
Q. Nico, David is a guy who's knocked off some big guns this year and last year in this national tournament. Were you hoping to maybe take the starch out of him with a takedown early and set a tone against him?
NICO MEGALUDIS: Well, I know the kid comes in hot sometimes. He almost took me down at the beginning with like a judo thing, and I know he's good in those positions. I mean, I'm not going to go do a judo match with him. I want to make it a wrestling match, so that's what I tried to do. But yeah, the answer to your question, the kid is obviously in the national semis for a reason. You've got to come in and get that takedown.
Q. Nico, you got Thomas Gilman tomorrow. Thoughts about what it'll take to get the edge against a guy who's wrestling very well, and obviously you know from your conference?
NICO MEGALUDIS: Yeah, you know, I mean, I wrestled him in the Big Tens, and obviously it was a pretty tight game. I know he's going to come, and he's going to try and take what's mine, and he's going to try and take what I want, so my job is to take what I want tomorrow night.
In the consolation bracket, Jordan Conaway had a battle. Former AA Mason Beckman, who's had an awful year and was likely plagued by injuries, had him tied 3-3, but had a minute and seven seconds of riding time on his clock, so Conaway HAD to get a takedown. He did, taking the lead 5-3, but Beckman escaped quickly, making it 5-4. Then Beckman got in on his leg, pretty deep, but the clock said less than 10 seconds and that is not enough time to finish on Jordan Conaway when his second consecutive All-American finish was on the line.
Jordan's second match of the night, against Iowa State's Earl Hall, wasn't so one-sided. Conaway came out swinging, scoring the first points via a late takedown in the first and never letting up. Hall, who had just been pinned by Nahshon Garrett, never got his rhythm going and Jordan made him pay, finishing the match with a dominant 7-2 score and onto the placement consolation brackets, where Illinois' Zane Richards awaits him.
Congrats, Jordan! We love you forever, and keep battling for third, my little 717 brother!
The recipe for Zain Retherford is as it's been all year: Pain. That's it. Just Pain.
And what did Zain Retherford cook up? Pain. A deliciously yummy 7-course meal of Pain. In the offseason, we really should perform an explorative analysis of the different faces of pain that Michigan's Alec Pantaleo has provided us during zPain matches. I'd be curious to examine the moments at which Pantaleo had finally had enough. I'm too personally scared of Pantaleo myself to use the 'q' word, but it would be interesting to compare the three different times he submitted to the fall.
What did our resident Pain Dispenser have to say about this most freshest of meals?
Q. If you'd like to make a brief statement about your match and then we'll open it for questions.
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I just got done about two minutes ago, so not too much to say, really. I'm just catching my breath for a second. It was a fun match for sure, and I've been having fun all tournament.
Q. You went to that bow and arrow several times. Was there something about him in particular that made you want to use that or know you could use that?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Yeah. Typically I hit that in freestyle, a lot of my freestyle matches, because guys base out in freestyle. They're not on all fours. He was kind of doing that. He was letting me -- he was doing a good job of keeping his hands out, not letting me get my one-on-ones I like to get, so I felt it was there, so I hit it.
Q. I didn't see your Big Ten match with Pantaleo, but you pinned him with the same thing. Is there something about the way he wrestles you that allows you to get that pinning combination?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Like I said, he does a good job of not letting me get his wrist. I usually get that one-on-one and get to work with a different turn when I'm on top. But he does a good job of flattening out and kind of holding position. I think that kind of opens him up for something else.
Q. Can you describe what it was like last year to redshirt and watch the four wins in a row, the team championship wins get snapped, and maybe know you would be a part of the crew that would try to resume that and get that back?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Yeah. I mean, it's never fun to lose, and it's not fun when you kind of just sit and watch and you can't really contribute physically out there like I am able to do this year. But last year my focus was helping the guys that were wrestling get ready to go, as ready as they could be. So that was my approach last year, as well as making sure I was getting ready for this year.
Q. You've had three pins and a tech in this tournament. Would you have done this well had you not redshirted this year? What did it do to make you more of an offensive wrestler?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I don't know. I mean, wrestling is wrestling. A year definitely helped. There's no doubt in my mind, just from a technique perspective, being able to not focus on competing as much and being able to really zone in on my technique and my school and other stuff. So that really helped me be able to do that. And more than that, it made me learn that my freshman year, I was kind of in the mindset, go, go, go, go. Make sure I'm as ready as I can, pick up some things here and there, but relatively stay the same.
Last year kind of helped me learn. Even if you're competing, you can take a step back and learn something new throughout the year.
Q. Do you visualize yourself out on the mat, and last year as a redshirt, did you kind of just picture what it would be like this year when you're finally back out on the mat, and when do you do that? When you're on bus trips? Is it in bed at night before you go to sleep?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Yeah, I visualize a lot. We have a great team psychologist. Her name is Bonnie. She helps out tremendously with our mental aspect of the wrestling game. I visualize -- to answer your question, I visualize whenever I can. Sometimes I'll just be walking to class and something will pop in my mind, and I'll just go with it. Most importantly, I'm just working on feeling what it's going to feel like to me.
Q. The pace has been relentless. How do you go and where do you go to dig deep for that, especially at this point in the tournament?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: You know, that's something you just -- you can work on your shape, so that's something. You might not be as talented, or you might not have the technique at that point in time, but you can always -- there's no excuse for really being out of shape ever, I feel like. I feel like that's something -- you can just go run up a mountain and do any time.
Amen, Zain. Amen.
Excuse me one second, I believe I have a mountain to scale now.
Jason Nolf played with his (semifinal) food. If there is any story to this bout, it's that Rider's Chad Walsh avoided getting pinned. It was really valiant in all honesty.
Q. Make a brief statement about your match and then we'll open it up for questions.
JASON NOLF: Yeah, I just went out to wrestle and score points and tried to look for the fall. I thought I had it once, but the ref didn't call it, so I just kept scoring points for my team and for myself.
Q. You and Martinez are in the finals. You've split before, so look ahead to that match.
JASON NOLF: I'm excited. I didn't really care who I wrestled. I'm just going to go out with the same mentality, score a lot of points, and same thing is going to happen as I've been doing. I'm going to keep trying to score points -- and not just trying to score points, but going out and scoring points, so I'm excited.
Q. What's it mean to you in your freshman season here to be making it to the NCAA finals?
JASON NOLF: I'm really grateful for the opportunity that God has given me and that my coaches have given me. So I'm really excited to go out and compete for Penn State and for myself.
Q. Underclassmen have not only won, but you've scored a lot of bonus points. Also you wrestled a guy who was supposed to be a funk-type of wrestler, but yet your last takedown, you were able to use your leg to actually cause a trip to take him down. Could you talk about both of those?
JASON NOLF: I think when I'm moving a lot is whenever the guy gets off balance, I guess you could say. But just looking to move the whole time and stay on my attacks. And when I get away from that, I don't score as much, obviously, I guess. Just got to stay on my attacks.
Q. Could you talk about the fact that you guys are scoring a lot of bonus points?
JASON NOLF: Yeah. I think that we all have the same goal here, to become national champions, both individually and team-wise. If we want to do that -- if you want to just win an individual title, you don't have to go out and score bonus points, you can win every match by a point. But that's not what we're looking to do. We're trying to score points for our team. I think that's why we're scoring bonus points and the fact that we love wrestling.
Q. Talk about your growth during your redshirt year. You went to the Scuffle and showed people that you were competitive, but came back out after a full year in the room. And how has that helped you so that here in your first competition season you're in the finals?
JASON NOLF: I wrestled in the Scuffle last year. I looked back at it after I was done, and I realized I was winning matches by like three or four points every time, and I was just riding guys instead of trying to keep scoring. So I think that motivated me, especially after my match with James Green. I wasn't wrestling my match, I was wrestling their matches, so that's why I was motivated and just kept working in the room to get better and score more points.
Q. Might be a simple question or maybe not, but what's your inspiration? Where does your inspiration come from to compete like you do?
JASON NOLF: Oh, man, I have a lot of inspirations. I don't know if I can name one. But obviously those who have wrestled before me and my coaches and a lot of things, I guess.
Bo Nickal won. Ugly. And rather dumb if you ask most pundits, and probably even if you ask Cael Sanderson, judging by his demeanor and expression while conveying coaching words to Nickal as he exited the mat. He was up against Indiana's Nate Jackson, the only wrestler to beat Bo on the year, and Jackson came out fiery and shooting, and Bo had no counter to start. Jackson took Bo down to begin the match, and even with a quick escape it was a while before Bo countered. He escaped to start off the third period, and that ended the scoring--a low, ho-hum 4-3 affair, with Bo staving off all of Jackson's shot attempts to finish off the match. It wasn't how most of us envisioned the redshirt freshman getting his revenge--but he's into the finals against Ohio State's Myles Martin, where he can make up the difference.
Here was Bo:
Q: We have Penn State's Bo Nickal at 174 entering the room, 36-1 entering the season. You want to make a brief statement about your match?
BO NICKAL: Pretty slow pace. Disappointed with how the match went. Didn't wrestle up to my ability, and I know that. But I hope to improve moving forward.
Q. Bo, how satisfying is it to avenge you're only loss on the season?
BO NICKAL: Doesn't really matter, it's a wrestling match. You're wrestling no matter who the opponent is, so I didn't feel any extra -- anything extra from that match.
Q. Can you pinpoint one or two things about him that has been complicated in these two bouts?
BO NICKAL: He's a tough kid, strong kid, pretty athletic. So -- he's a good wrestler. I felt like he did a good job keeping his hands low and scrambling when he was on the leg and when I was on his leg.
Q. You said you didn't wrestle to the best of your ability. Is it because you lost to him earlier this year that maybe you did not?
BO NICKAL: No, no. I don't think that's what it is. Everybody has matches where they don't wrestle to the best of their ability, but just tying to stay consistent with my effort and keep improving every match, so that's -- I just look at it as a positive. I got a lot of room of things to work on and a lot of things to improve.
Q. Bo, you have wrestled in a lot of tournaments, a lot of big crowds. You've been overseas and competed against people who are the best in their countries. How does the experience of this NCAA Tournament stack up in your mind and how did those earlier experiences prepare you for this?
BO NICKAL: Earlier experiences definitely prepared me a lot. Like you said, I've wrestled quite a bit in the last, like, the 15 years or something like that. It's been an awesome ride. That's fine. I'm looking forward to keeping it going for a long time comin' and being in this venue it's great. I saw a sign that said Madison Square Garden, Most Famous Venue in the World. Doesn't get much better than competing here. It's an awesome experience. Glad to get out there and compete and do what I love and have the people I love, my teammates and my coaches, so really grateful for this opportunity.
Q. You and Jason are freshman here, but you aren't wrestling like freshman. Is there anything that goes through your mind differently for being freshmen?
BO NICKAL: I don't believe and never have believed that age is a determining factor in whether or not you are ready to win, so you see guys -- it's getting more common now the younger guys are competing with older guys, and I mean, I get to wrestle with Coach Cunningham, Coach Cael, David Taylor, Matt Brown, those guys every day.
I've been doing that ever since I was at Penn State and I've been wrestling against the best guys in the country since I was 15 years old. So since I started wrestling with the older guys I never really believed that age determines whether or not you're ready to go out there, and I just look -- try to do my best each and every match. You see guys like Cal Snyder win the world Championship at 19 years old.
I just turned 20 in January, so there is no difference to me to see a guy over in Russia, two-time world champ. He's the same age as me. That's what I'm looking to do. Go out there and keep getting better, and like I said twice before, I don't think able is a determining factor on whether or not you will win.
The man, the myth, the legend Morgan McIntosh was the final Penn State wrestler to take the mat on Friday night, against a wrestler who had never logged a takedown against him in multiple meetings.
This was not a night to make history.
Morg was in charge of Iowa's Nate Burak from the first whistle, getting the first takedown and controlling the action all evening. The score was a low 3-2, but McIntosh never seemingly was in doubt of being taken down, and the 197 showdown all have been hoping for--with Missouri's J'Den Cox--awaits the senior, as does a shot at his first ever NCAA title.
Morgan, on the match:
Q: Morgan McIntosh, Penn State, finalist at 197, 35-0 after his victory tonight. If you want to make a brief statement about your match.
MORGAN McINTOSH: My match? I don't know what to say about that. He was a tough kid and it's been fun wrestling him over the years. Obviously I would have liked to have gotten more points and taken more shots, but some matches score like that and you just gotta move on and take what you can and learn from it and move on to the finals.
It was fun and, you know, it was exciting. You can't ask for a better place to be wrestling out there than in the semifinals of the tournament in a place like this in front of a crowd like that. So I'm happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity.
Q. Morgan, in October you talked about being here, you're here now. How have you maintained your focus now that half a year has turned into one day?
MORGAN McINTOSH: I think just being consistent with every competition you take. Not changing anything up and knowing what you want, too, is the most important thing to stay focused. I want to win a national title and I think as long as you know that, then, you know, you know what it takes to get there, the rest takes care of itself and you're going to stay focused. I got a lot of great people around me who keep me focused and a lot of great teammates I can learn from and look to them for advice and inspiration and great coaching staff and family. There's a lot of things that help me stay focused.
Q. Morgan, what's it mean to you, you have these young guys wrestling like they're seniors out there and you guys are out there dominating the team like you are in your final year?
MORGAN McINTOSH: It's just fun to watch, that's about all I can say. 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 and it's definitely paying off.
If you look at the team race, 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. This is my senior year. I'm just trying to enjoy it and have fun, have fun with every last minute I have on this team and wrestling for this school. I'm just trying to enjoy it and not really put too much stress on myself.
Q. Morgan, J'Den was just in here, you guys have gone back and forth the past couple of years. He had high praise for you and your wrestling IQ, your scrambling IQ, as he put it. How would you describe him as a wrestler?
MORGAN McINTOSH: He wrestles hard. He's a good, smart kid. He wrestles hard. He's strong, athletic, and he's powerful and explosive and he's a guy that I like to wrestle and challenge for sure. I think he's got a couple wins over me in the past, but he's a good competitor and a good guy from what I know of him. So I'm excited to wrestle him and I'm sure he is, too, and it's going to be an exciting match tomorrow.
Q. You seem like a bright kid, a people person, after you step off stage tomorrow where did you go from here? Do you see yourself sticking with wrestling and the wrestling profession or do you see yourself somewhere else, east coast? West coast?
MORGAN McINTOSH: As of right now, I'm planning on staying at State College and wrestling free style with the guys that we have there. That's my plan. I love wrestling and I'm not quite ready to be done with it, so free style is my plan for now.
Q. You have a couple of Olympic champions that are big guys in your room, guy named Sanderson, another named Varner, obviously you've wrestled these guys over the course of your career. What's it been like to have that resource of excellence and people that can roll with you and teach you?
MORGAN McINTOSH: It's huge. That's one of the things that drew me to Penn State was the guys that were there, Coach Cael and the coaching staff and Varner I knew was there as well, and tons of other guys that were there when I was younger, student-athletes, Edwards and David Taylor, guys like that.
But having Olympic gold medalists like Coach Cael and Varner is huge and I don't think I would rather be anywhere else. I would make the same choice every time. It's a big deal and I can't be grateful enough for those guys to be in the room and have my back and be able to train with them.