Penn State finishes 2nd; qualifies 9 for NCAAs
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Points were at a premium Sunday at the 2018 Big Ten Wrestling Championships and Penn State couldn’t score nearly enough to dethrone defending champion Ohio State.
The Buckeyes won their third title in the last four years at Michigan State’s Breslin Center by crowning four champions, three runner-ups, two third-placers and a ninth-placer to qualify its entire team for the NCAA Championships on March 15-17 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Penn State finished as runner-up for the second year in a row, crowning three champs, two runners-up, a pair of third-place finishers and a sixth- and seventh-place finisher for nine NCAA qualifiers.
Ohio State accumulated 164.5 points, widening the gap it enjoyed over Penn State (148) by three points on Sunday. Michigan, with two champs and two runners-up, finished third with 118 points. Iowa finished a distant fourth with 90.5 points. The Hawkeyes had no champions and just one runner-up.
“I think the guys wrestled well. These are matches they’ve got to win if they want to be national champions in a week and a half. We’ve just got to make a few adjustments,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think Ohio State just wrestled really well. They won the tournament.”
Zain Retherford (149), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) all won titles. It was Retherford’s third and the first for Hall and Nickal. Retherford was named Wrestler of the Year for the second time. He also won it in 2016.
With the win, Retherford eclipsed Kerry McCoy’s school record of 88 straight wins. It was 89 in a row for Retherford. He also became just the fifth Nittany Lion to win three Big Ten championships.
Nick Lee (141) and Nick Nevills (285) each rebounded from semifinal losses to wrestle back for third.
Jason Nolf (157), after medically forfeiting in the semifinals and consolation semifinals, shared the sixth-place podium position with Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, who was upset by fall in the semifinals and then medically forfeited his consolation semifinal bout.
Corey Keener (133) finished in seventh place to qualify for nationals for the fourth time. The first three times came during his time at Central Michigan.
Carson Kuhn fell short of his bid for an automatic bid when he lost a mini-tournament bout to Michigan’s Drew Mattin for the right to wrestle for ninth at 125 pounds. Kuhn won the final bout of his collegiate career to finish 11th.
Retherford won a tight 2-0 decision over Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in the final, to improve his record against the Hawkeye to 6-0. A third-period escape and 1 minute and 36 seconds in riding time (Retherford rode Sorensen the entire second period) made the difference.
“He’s good. He came out ready to go on his feet, hand fighting hard. It was tough to get to his leg. That’s what he did well,” Retherford said.
“He’s hard to hold down. I’m usually looking to turn him there and he was countering a lot of things, a lot of little things. He’s good on bottom.”
Hall survived another nip-and-tuck battle with Michigan’s Myles Amine, 4-3. Hall edged him in the dual meet, 6-5.
After a scoreless first period, Hall escaped seven seconds into the second and took a 1-0 lead into the third. Amine reversed Hall but he quickly escaped to tie the match at two. Hall then worked hard for a takedown and ceded an escape to hang on for the win.
“It feels pretty good, finally. It only took me two years,” Hall said, adding that the key to the win was keeping his cool. “Just staying focused. I could have gotten excited and tried to cut off to a double too fast. Just staying focused and being smart.”
Nickal improved his record against Ohio State’s Myles Martin to 6-2 with a measured and controlled 7-4 decision. He scored takedowns in the first two periods to lead, 4-2 with 2:13 in riding time heading into the third. He escaped but Martin emerged from a wild scramble with a takedown to close to within 5-4. Nickal escaped and blocked off Martin the rest of the way, adding a point for 1:42 in riding time for the win.
Nickal declined to be interviewed after his win.
“I think he’s upset he gave up a takedown but it was two great wrestlers and it was like re-shot to the re-shot to the re-shot; they were just going back and forth and he got taken down,” Sanderson said. “So that’s fine, as long as he’s wrestling and give the takedown that’s fine. I thought Bo wrestled well.”
Joseph wrestled another classic battle with Isaiah Martinez of Illinois, who Joseph pinned in the 2017 NCAA final. This time Martinez came out on top, scoring all four of his points in the third period in a 4-1 win. With the score tied 1-1 but Martinez having riding time locked up, he countered a Joseph takedown attempt for a late takedown of his own.
“The difference was a few extra seconds of riding time. Cenzo’s just got to get out a little earlier and then whoever gets the takedown wins,” Sanderson said. “I think Cenzo’s fine. He’s got a good attitude and he’s moving forward getting ready for the next one.”
Rasheed fell in the final to Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, 8-4. Moore scored four takedowns on Rasheed and allowed just four escapes. Rasheed could not finish any takedown attempts on the Buckeye and Moore chose neutral to avoid going on bottom against the Nittany Lion.
“Moore is good at what he does; he does that to everybody,” Sanderson said of those four takedowns, adding he would have to wait and see if Rasheed can devise a defense against it. “We’ll see. He has that feeling and he knows what to expect now.”
Penn State has 10 days to prepare for the NCAA tournament and tried to duplicate what it did last year — finish runner-up at the Big Ten tournament and then win the NCAA title. It would be Penn State’s third in a row and seventh in eight years.
“We’ll find out at the nationals if we’re ready to roll. We wrestled fine. We didn’t wrestle well enough to win, obviously,” Sanderson said. “Ohio state wrestled really well. They have a great team so if we want to beat them, we have to win those close matches, we have to score bonus points.”