Track Wrestling Follow Up of the National Duals Wrestling Match: The Lions Roared
Penn State showed Sunday exactly why the Nittany Lions will be title favorites yet again next month at the NCAA Championships, posting a dominating 27-13 win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State in the NWCA Division I Dual Championship Series.
The latest group of Lions is akin to the Murderers’ Row of the 1927 New York Yankees, a relentless lineup with legendary stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and top-to-bottom strength that rarely provided opponents with an opportunity to relax.
A 2-1 victory by returning NCAA champion Zain Retherford against No. 2 Anthony Collica began a string of seven consecutive Penn State wins. Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal — a quartet with a collective 75-5 record this season — looked impressive as the Nittany Lions rallied from a 13-0 deficit.
“We are always excited to get to go out and compete in front of large crowds with knowledgeable fan bases — that’s what I look forward to,” said Nickal, who countered a Nolan Boyd single-leg shot with a cradle and scored a fall in 38 seconds at 184 pounds. “It was an awesome environment. It was rough starting out with Nick (Suriano) getting injured, but we knew we had a lot of points to be scored.
“We are all about scoring points and you have to look at it like there are 10 matches to wrestle. Losing the first three, we didn’t like the way we started, but this team can score a lot of points and we knew things were going to be fine with the lineup we have, especially in the middle.”
Retherford moved his career mark to 86-3. Nolf is now 52-2 and Nickal is 51-2.
Nolf, an NCAA runner-up last year, might be the leader of the pack. He hammered All-American Joe Smith 24-9 at 157. Joseph, a freshman 165-pounder, controlled the dangerous Chandler Rogers on his way to a major decision.
“It was a lot of fun, a lot of energy. A big time match-up. We enjoyed it,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Our guys wrestled well.”
Edward C. Gallagher, considered the father of folkstyle wrestling, coached at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Oklahoma State University, from 1916-40. In 1939, Gallagher Hall opened with “Iba” added to the name in the 1980s in honor of another legendary coach at OSU, Henry P. Iba. The original venue had a capacity of barely 6,000. Prior to Sunday, the largest crowd to watch a sporting event in the building was a 2007 men’s basketball game between OSU and Missouri that drew 14,044. The largest gathering for a wrestling match was a 2001 match against Oklahoma with 10,082.
Sunday’s crowd of 14,059 set a record for Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“It was exciting,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said “I’ve been waiting for that opportunity to pack the house for the first time since 2001. I’ve been excited about the opportunity to do that again and I wish we could’ve delivered a little bit more for the fans, but I wouldn’t give up on this team.”
Oklahoma State senior Anthony Collica started his career at 141 pounds, jumped to 157 pounds, and returned to 149 pounds as a junior when he earned All-America honors last March. Earlier this season, Collica (17-2), a native of Ohio with 103 career victories, bested Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in two tiebreakers. In the 2016 NWCA Duals final, Collica lost to Retherford, 4-1, and did not appear physically ready to challenge the nation’s best 149-pounder. On Sunday, a riding-time point was the difference in a 2-1 victory as neither man was able to mount any offense over the seven minutes.
Retherford, Sorensen, Collica, and Missouri’s Lavion Mayes might make for a good final four in St. Louis.
TWO GOOD FINISHES
NCAA champion Dean Heil improved to 24-0 with a 3-2 win over senior Jimmy Gulibon. Heil, a junior and national champion in 2016 escaped a number of precarious situations. It was Heil’s 10th victory by three or fewer points this season. However, the Cowboy has won 56 of his last 57 matches.
“I just did everything I could to hold on,” said Heil, who nearly gave up a pin from a neutral position during scrambles in both the second and third periods. “There’s not much I could’ve done in that situation. I was in a position where if I would’ve went one inch to right or left, he would’ve been able to pop his shoulder or get two, so I just had to hold on and make sure he couldn’t move. I was hoping for the stalemate, but time ran out and I was able to hold on until then and that was that.”
At 174 pounds, Penn State rookie Mark Hall (24-2) countered a Kyle Crutchmer shot late for a decisive takedown in a 3-2 battle at 174 pounds. Neither man was close to scoring any offensive points until the final minute of the bout.
Penn State rookie 125-pounder Nick Suriano, ranked second in the country, was tied at 2-2 with Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni early in the second period when he appeared to injure an ankle. After an injury timeout, Suriano attempted to continue with his ankle taped but could not complete the opening bout.
[b][b]“Nick will be fine, it’s a sprained ankle.” Sanderson said. “He will be back for the Big Ten (Championships).”[/b][/b]