EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Penn State Nittany Lions (14-0, 9-0 B1G) crowned three champions at the 2018 Big Ten Championship tournament in East Lansing, Mich. Penn State also moved nine wrestlers through to the 2018 NCAA Championships in two weeks. Head coach Cael Sanderson and his squad will be gunning for their seventh NCAA title in the last eight years. Senior Zain Retherford (Benton, Pa.) was named the 2018 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year as well.
Penn State’s nine qualifiers include defending NCAA Champion Jason Nolf (Yatesboro, Pa.), who went 2-0 at 157 with a pin and a major in session one Saturday. Penn State opted to medically forfeit Nolf out of the tournament after getting the two wins and the automatic bid to NCAAs. The Nittany Lions finished in second place at the Big Ten tournament, just behind Ohio State. Penn State will be looking to duplicate its NCAA title performance from a year ago when it followed up a runner-up showing in the Big Ten tourney with a national championship run in St. Louis.
Senior Zain Retherford (Benton, Pa.), ranked No. 1 nationally at 149, took on No. 2 Brandon Sorensen of Iowa in Penn State’s first Big Ten finals bout of the day. The duo battled evenly for the two minutes plus with neither wrestler finding a way to score. The first period ended in a scoreless tie and Sorensen chose down to start the second period. Retherford controlled the action from the top position for the entire period and carried 2:00 in riding time into the third, with the bout tied 0-0. Retherford chose down to start the third period and escaped to a 1-0 lead while retaining 1:36 in riding time. Retherford got in on a high single at the :40 mark but could not finish off the move and the clock ticked below :30 with the Lion leading by one. Retherford worked down the clock and walked away with his third Big Ten title thanks to a 2-0 win (with 1:36 in riding time).
Retherford also set a new Penn State record for consecutive wins at 89, breaking the old mark of 88 held by former Lion national champion and current Maryland head coach Kerry McCoy. Retherford went 3-0 with two majors and heads to Cleveland with a perfect 26-0 record. Retherford also has 121 career wins, which is 10th all-time at Penn State. His Big Ten Wrestler of the Year honor is his second, having won the honor in 2016.
Sophomore Vincenzo Joseph (Pittsburgh, Pa.), ranked No. 3 at 165, met No. 1 Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the finals in a rematch of last year’s NCAA title tilt (won by Joseph). The duo met in the middle of the mat and Joseph immediately took a finger to the eye. After a quick break, action stayed neutral with each wrestler working for top control deep into the opening period. The duo finished the opening period tied at 0-0. Joseph chose down to start the second period but could not break free of a strong Martinez Ride until the :40 mark. He led 1-0, but Martinez had 1:20 in riding time. Trailing 1-0 but owning a time edge, Martinez chose down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 1-1 tie while maintain his time advantage. Joseph scrambled for a late takedown, changing levels over the final :30 and getting in deep on a single. Martinez scrambled underneath and forced a stalemate at the :20 mark. The Lion continued to shoot low and as the bout ended, Martinez added in a late counter takedown on a Joseph shot to secure the 4-1 win. Joseph places second at 165 with a 3-1 mark, including a pin and a major.
Sophomore Mark Hall (Apple Valley, Minn.), ranked No. 2 at 174, took on No. 6 Myles Amine of Michigan in the title bout at 174. Hall fought off an early push from Amine, working his way out of trouble on a couple early shots and keeping the bout tied 0-0 midway through the period. The duo worked on their feet in the middle of the mat for the remainder of the period. Hall chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 1-0 lead. He took a couple slight shots as the second period clock worked below :30 and then carried the 1-0 lead into the third stanza. Amine chose down to start the third period and quickly reversed the Lion to take a 2-1 lead at the 1:42 mark. Hall quickly escaped to a 2-2 tie and action resumed in the middle of the mat. Hall turned a fast low single into a takedown right away and led 4-3 after an Amine escape at the :51 mark. Hall fought off a late Amine shot and walked away with a 4-3 victory and his first Big Ten title. Hall went 4-0 with two pins in his run and heads to NCAAs with a perfect 28-0 record.
Junior Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas), ranked No. 1 at 184, met No. 2 Myles Martin of Ohio State in the title bout. The due battled evenly for the first minute until Nickal worked his way in on a low single and finished off a scrambling takedown to lead early. Martin escaped to a 2-1 score and Nickal had :48 in riding time. Nickal led 2-1 after one and Martin chose down to start the second period. The Lion junior maintained control for :20 and the bout was tied 2-2, with Nickal having 1:08 in time. The Lion continued to pressure Martin and turned another low single into a takedown and a 4-2 lead with 1:00 left. Nickal rode Martin out and led 4-2 with 2:13 in time after two. The Lion chose down to start the final period and quickly escaped to a 5-2 lead. Martin took Nickal down to cut the lead to 5-4 at the :55 mark but Nickal had the riding time point clinched. Martin cut Nickal loose to a 6-4 Nickal lead. Nickal fought off a late Martin flurry and, with 1:42 in riding time, walked away with a strong 7-4 win. Nickal went 3-0 with a pin to claim his second Big Ten title and heads to Cleveland with a perfect 26-0 record.
Junior Shakur Rasheed (Coram, N.Y.), ranked No. 5 at 197, took on No. 3 Kollin Moore of Ohio State in the finals. Rasheed shot quickly, countering a slight Moore effort and seemingly took the Buckeye down. The takedown was not called but Penn State quickly challenged. The no call stood however and action resumed tied 0-0 just ten seconds into the bout. Moore worked Rasheed down for a takedown and the Lion quickly escaped to a 2-1 score at the 2:05 mark. Rasheed got in on a late shot but the clock hit zeroes and Rasheed trailed 2-1 after one. He chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 2-2 tie. Moore notched a second takedown and led 4-3 at the 1:33 mark. Leading 4-3, Moore chose neutral to start the final period. Moore bulled his way through a third takedown and led 6-4 at the 1:30 mark. Moore added a fourth takedown and posted the 8-4 win. Rasheed finishes second at his first Big Ten tournament with a 3-1 record, including a major.
True freshman Nick Lee (Evansville, Ind.), ranked No. 8 nationally at 141, met Iowa’s Vince Turk in the consolation semifinals. Lee led 5-3 after a lively first period and then rode Turk out for the second period to carry that lead, with 2:36 in time, into the third period. The Lion freshman tacked on two more points and 2:17 in riding time to roll to an 8-3 win. Lee met No. 15 Nate Limmex of Purdue in the third place bout. Lee opened up an early 6-2 lead with two takedowns and two back points in the first period. The Lion freshman poured on the offense for the rest of the period and walked away with a 15-5 major with 3:05 in riding time. Lee went 4-1 with three majors, placed third and will head to his first NCAA Championship in two weeks.
Junior Nick Nevills (Clovis, Calif.), ranked No. 4 at 285, met No. 7 Youssif Hemida of Maryland in the consolation semifinals. Nevills battled Hemida through a scoreless first period and then opened up a quick 3-0 lead in the second with an escape and a takedown. He rode that second period flurry into the third period, added another takedown and 1:16 in riding time to roll to a 6-1 win. Nevills then met No. 5 Sam Stoll of Iowa for third place. After a scoreless first period, Nevills chose down to start the second and escaped to a 1-0 lead. Stoll chose down to start the final stanza and Nevills made him pay by turning him for four back points to open up a 5-1 lead after Stoll escaped. Nevills gave up one stall point but walked away with a strong 5-2 win to place third. Nevills went 4-1 with a major to take third place.
Senior Corey Keener (Schuylkill Haven, Pa.), ranked No. 20 at 133, met No. 21 Ben Thornton of Purdue in the seventh place bout at 133. With the winner earning the Big Ten’s final automatic bid at the weight, Keener opened up an early 4-1 lead with two solid takedowns in the first period. The senior built up over a minute’s riding time and added a third takedown to lead 6-2 after two and then added two more takedowns and 3:00 riding time to post a 11-3 major, take seventh, and punch his ticket to the NCAA Championships. Keener went 2-2 with a pin and a major this weekend.
Senior Carson Kuhn (Sandy, Utah) continued on in the ninth-place bracket at 125, seeking one of the Big Ten’s ten automatic bids to nationals. Kuhn, the 14th seed, took on No. 13 Drew Mattin of Michigan in a bout that would send the winner off to Cleveland and the National Championship. Kuhn led 2-1 after the opening period but Mattin rode him out in the second and was then given a reversal by the officials after a lengthy review. Kuhn dropped a hard-fought 6-4 decision. He took on Wisconsin’s Johnny Jimenez for 11th place and ended his tournament with a dazzling pin at the 2:21 mark, rolling Jimenez to his back with a spladle and getting the first period fall for his third win of the weekend. Kuhn went 3-3 with a major and a pin and took 11th place as the 14-seed at 125.
Penn State went 9-3 overall in session three/four. Penn State ended the tournament with a 31-9 overall record. The Nittany Lions stacked up 23 bonus points off 11 majors and six pins (Kuhn’s pin in the 11th place bout did not count in team points). All rankings listed are official NCAA coaches ranking as of 2/22/18. Penn State had three champions (Retherford, Hall, Nickal), two runners-up (Joseph, Rasheed), two third placers (Lee, Nevills), one sixth place (Nolf) and one seventh place finisher (Keener).
Nine Lions (Keener, Lee, Retherford, Nolf, Joseph, Hall, Nickal, Rasheed and Nevills) qualified for nationals on March 15-17 in Cleveland. The three day event takes place in Quicken Loans Arena and begins on Thursday, March 15, at 12 p.m. Penn State heads to Cleveland with a perfect dual meet season (14-0, 9-0 Big Ten) in hand, owners of the Big Ten Regular Season (dual meet) championship. The Nittany Lions have won six of the last seven NCAA Championships and will be looking to make it seven of eight in Quicken Loans Arena. Penn State will bring five returning NCAA Champions (Retherford, Nolf, Joseph, Hall, Nickal) with it amidst its nine qualifiers.
2018 Big Ten Championships — Team Standings (top five) FINAL:
March 4, 2018 — Breslin Center — East Lansing, Mich.
1: Ohio State — 164.5
2: Penn State — 148.0
3: Michigan — 118.0
4: Iowa — 90.5
5: Nebraska — 72.5