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MMQB: Wrestling National Champions

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Penn State heads to St Louis this week to compete in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Who are your takes to be individual champions?

2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships
Nico was an upset National Champ for PSU last year at 125.

Though PSU wrestling didn’t win the Big Ten tournament, they did crown two individual champions - the still-undefeated Zain Retherford (149 pounds) and Jason Nolf (157 pounds), both of whom are so overwhelming at their respective weights that they are up for the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler of the Year award (which Retherford won last year, another undefeated season).

Both are, naturally, odds-on favorites to lay wreckage to their weights in the tournament, with the second seeded wrestlers in each weight significantly behind each of them in sheer dominance—in fact, Retherford beat OK State’s 2nd seeded Anthony Collica 2-1 in their lone meeting of the year, and Nolf destroyed Iowa’s Michael Kemerer two times (9-4, 8-2)—all scores that didn’t necessarily accurately reflect the dominance of the Nittany Lion grappler over their counterpart.

But beyond Retherford and Nolf (Penn State’s sole first-seeded wrestlers), who has the best shot of scoring an upset and taking home the crown, much like 125-er Nico Megaludis did last year?

The best guess would be Bo Nickal at 184, who was undefeated on the year before a surging Ohio State returning national champion, Myles Martin, defeated him again at the Big Ten tournament, now holding two of Nickal’s three losses in PSU competition. But if the Martin factor doesn’t give you pause (and it shouldn’t - Bo’s good at revenge, and Martin faces Big Ten champ Sammy Brooks before he could encounter Bo), there’s a small factor named Gabe Dean (returning champ, still undefeated) standing in the way of Nickal and his first NCAA title.

Next up is true freshman Mark Hall at 174, who’s a tournament wrestler if there ever was one - Cael burned his shirt for a reason, and he’s got the talent and drive to do some real damage. Hall has a problem, though, and that’s his seed - he’s in at fifth, and would have to beat both fourth-seeded Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech and top-seeded Zahid Valencia of Arizona State before a potential finals rematch against the man who took him down in sudden victory at the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State’s Bo Jordan. That’s rough going.

Then there’s freshman phenom Nick Suriano at 125, who was ever so close to beating top-ranked Thomas Gilman at Carver-Hawkeye arena in a low-scoring match (rare for both guys) that was Suriano’s first defeat since before high school. The factor here for Nick, then, isn’t any potential opponent or the bracket - it’s his own body, as he hurt his ankle wrestling in Stillwater in the National Duals, and medically forfeited out of the Big Ten tournament before earning an at-large bid to St Louis. Suriano at 100% would be my pick in upset central. I’m not confident he’s at 100%.

Which leads me to my actual pick - redshirt freshman 165-er Vincenzo Joseph. Joseph has three losses on the year, to first ranked and undefeated Isaiah Martinez of Illinois (2x) and Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin, whom he absolutely dominated in their rematch in Bloomington. Cenzo has a favorable draw in the tournament, seeded 3rd since that placing at the Big Ten tournament (which means he’s on the opposite side of IMar) and another revenge rematch against Stanford’s Keaton Subjeck right out of the gate. Cenzo can do a lot of damage - and if he makes it past Michigan’s 2nd seeded Logan Massa in the semis, he potentially faces IMar a third time - and that would be a sight to see.

What about you fine matheads? Who do you see as a potential PSU sleeper?