Penn State finishes undefeated
UNIVERSITY PARK — The second-ranked Penn State wrestling team brought the curtain down Sunday on its regular season and the mood was festive in front of a season-high sellout crowd of 6,661 in Rec Hall.
There was plenty to celebrate.
The Nittany Lions (13-0, 9-0 Big Ten) won nine of 10 bouts, including five pins in a row from 149 through 184, to dispatch Maryland (2-14, 0-9) 45-6 and claim its second consecutive Big Ten regular season championship and its 30th straight dual meet win.
Penn State honored four senior wrestlers — Brian Brill, Jimmy Gulibon, Caleb Livingston and Geno Morelli — along with a host of lettermen. The Lions competed in black and pink singlets in a nod to Penn State’s original colors and fans were asked to wear black for a blackout.
After the match, the wrestlers donned Big Ten champion T-shirts and hats, celebrated with the championship trophy in the middle of the mat and then tossed 1,000 T-shirts to fans who stayed to celebrate with the team. Each member of the team literally took the shirt off his back and presented it to a fan who won the honor of receiving it.
“It’s our marketing guy Loren’s (Crispell) call. He said trust me it will be fun. We’re not really that exciting as a staff. We are kind of the party poopers. It’s good though. I like the blackout. Giving the guys a different color of singlet to wear is fun. It was a great idea,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.
“It feels good. You want to win dual meets. It’s a big deal. This was a big dual season for us. I think we had some big matches on the road. Our guys did a great job and went in and competed well. We’re happy. We want to win that dual team championship. It’s important to us.”
As he’s done in all but one match this season, Nick Suriano staked Penn State to a lead at 125. He recorded 10 of Penn State’s 32 takedowns on the day in a 23-8 technical fall.
Maryland took its one and only lead with a win at 133. Billy Rappo led Triston Law 4-2 when Rappo caught Law on his back in a neutral position scramble and got the fall.
Gulibon started an eight-match winning streak with a 9-4 win over Ryan Diehl in a match that featured two wrestlers who had won a combined eight high school championships between them. It was Gulibon’s final appearance in Rec Hall.
“It’s been a great five years. I had a lot of fun. Yeah, you know, it’s kind of weird. It really hasn’t sunk in yet that this is my last match. But it was fun,” Gulibon said.
“I just went out there and had fun with it, my last match. My last match here. There’s a lot of wrestling left.”
Penn State then went on a five-match pinning frenzy, none of them taking place later than the second period.
Zain Retherford (3:17), Jason Nolf (1:27), Vincenzo Joseph (3:58), Mark Hall (1:14) and Bo Nickal (2:08) recorded the falls to expand Penn State’s lead to 38-6.
“Bonus points are always a big part of winning in the postseason and winning dual meets. We need our guys looking for those extra points. That’s good, that’s what we want,” Sanderson said. “They feed off of each other in those situations. That’s what we need going into Big Tens and the national tournament.”
Matt McCutcheon added a 5-3 decision and Nick Nevills a 10-1 major decision to close out the rout.
Maryland coach Kerry McCoy, the former Nittany Lion great who was honored along with the other lettermen to rousing applause, said watching the Nittany Lions is bittersweet to him.
“It was great. I mean this place is so special to me. I have so many memories here, so many people that supported me. So to be able to come back and people remembering what I did was really nice. It was very special to come back for that,” McCoy said.
“They’re really good, they’re really good. You sit there and it’s boom, boom, boom. I told people, as an alum it’s awesome to see, but as competition it’s really tough to get up when you battle them. They do a great job here and it’s really nice for the sport of wrestling to see that.”
Sanderson said he thought this might be his most consistent team, but that he would have to wait until after the postseason to compare how good it is to teams from the past.
“Yeah I think so. Very consistent. A lot of the individuals are consistent. In the past, we’ve had some guys that were very consistent and we had some guys that weren’t, but turned it on at nationals. (We’re a ) very consistent team and that’s what we want. Those are the type of kids we recruit,” he said.
“This is a very good team. All the important stuff is still ahead so we’ll find out how great of a team this is. We got a chance to have a lot of success in the next three events.”