Saturday night was nothing more than icing on the cake for the Penn State wrestling team after clinching the team title hours prior.
As it turns out, the Nittany Lion wrestlers really, really like icing.
Penn State sent five wrestlers to the mat in each of the last five weight classes of the night and walked off with five champions.
Zain Retherford got the momentum rolling at 149, as he fought back from a 2-0 deficit early and scored 18 consecutive points of his own to pick up an 18-2 tech fall over Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in 6:43.
“You just keep learning and growing,” Retherford said after picking up his second consecutive national title. “There’s always something to learn from and it’s just about being conscious of that at all times. Wrestling isn’t about an end goal, you’re always trying to improve.”
Jason Nolf followed up Retherford’s performance with another victory over a Missouri wrestler in Joey Lavallee. Nolf used seven takedowns to earn a 14-6 major decision over Lavallee, and pick up his first individual title after falling to Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez in the finals last year.
“I’m a stoic kind of guy, but I was really excited and scoring a lot of points out there,” Nolf said. “I could’ve scored more, but that will just keep me ready for next year.”
In unquestionably the upset of the night and the moment of the night, Cenzo Joseph became the first freshman national champion in program history as he pinned Martinez after an inside trip at the 5:26 mark. Joseph wrestled what most, if not all, would call his best match of the season and led Martinez 6-5 with over a minute of riding time at the time of the trip.
“I’m just thankful to be here right now,” Joseph said post-match. “I want to thank my family, my coaches, my teammates.”
Joseph hit the trip after earning two takedowns prior in the match by throwing Martinez by and getting behind for the two.
“After I got my first takedown he was trying to force it a lot more,” Joseph said of the upper-body ties. “But my second, I knew he’d be coming hard at it and it kind of set up (the trip) perfectly.”
With the win over Martinez, Joseph has now beaten each of the three wrestlers who had earned victories over him earlier in the season. He had previously dispatched Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan at the Big Ten Tournament and knocked off Stanford’s Keaton Subjeck in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Mark Hall kept the train rolling at 174 pounds, reversing the result from his Big Ten finals match against Bo Jordan of Ohio State. Hall used an escape and two takedowns, including one late in the third period, to seal the deal, becoming a national champion in his true freshman season.
“I’ve wrestled a lot of places and this is one of the tougher places,” Hall said of the atmosphere after the win. “There’s a lot of people out there. I’ve wrestled around the world (against) different people, (in) different countries, and the important thing is just to have fun.”
That fun continued when Bo Nickal was able to pick up a tightly contested 4-3 victory over two-time defending champion Gabe Dean of Cornell. Nickal was taken down early in the first period before earning a quick escape. He earned a takedown of his own late in the first and was able to ride out the period to take a 3-2 lead into the second. Nickal escaped early in the second to make it 4-2 and a Dean escape in the third closed it to 4-3. Dean was in deep on a shot late in the match, but Nickal was able to scramble out and preserve the victory.
“I’m just going to be myself out there,” Nickal said of the match. “I feel like you don’t really lose until you stop being yourself and you lose your freedom. If you’re going to go out and lose a match and be yourself, then that’s the way it’s going to go. But if you’re going to go out there and do something that’s not who you are, I feel like that’s not even really winning.”
The five champions PSU crowned ties a record set by Iowa in 1997 and Oklahoma State in 2005, with Penn State being the first to win at five consecutive weight classes. The Nittany Lions finished the team race with 146.5 points, 36.5 ahead of second-placed Ohio State.
“It’s crazy,” head coach Cael Sanderson said of the five champions. “Usually, you have somebody lose or something doesn’t go right and as a competitor your heart is always with the kid that doesn’t reach his goal. So this is very special.”
Special is what it was, as Penn State continues to dominate the college wrestling scene, taking home its sixth team title in seven seasons with a team that graduates just one starting wrestler—and none of the title winners.