The Penn State wrestling team took a huge step toward claiming another NCAA Division I title with an impressive performance Friday in the semifinals at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Penn State, team champs five of the past six years, took a commanding lead in the team standings, as five Nittany Lions advanced to the finals Saturday night with wins. Earning title berths for the Nittany Lions were Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal.
Retherford (30-0), the top seed and defending champion at 149 pounds, earned a return trip to the finals with two dominating victories. He recorded a 19-2 technical fall against South Dakota State’s Alex Kocer in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, he pinned Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen, the No. 4 seed, in a rematch of the 2016 title match.
Retherford, who has outscored his four opponents, 60-4, will face Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in the title match.
Nolf (29-0), the top seed and returning runner-up at 157, earned another trip to the finals with a 13-5 major decision win over Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, the No. 4 seed, in the semifinals. He also pinned Rider’s Bryan Clagon in the quarterfinals.
“I’d just like to thank all the fans, my family, and my girlfriend for supporting me through all this,” said Nolf, a Kittanning grad. “And I’m not done yet. My goal isn’t to make it to the national finals, it’s to win. So that’s what I’m here for, and just looking forward to that tomorrow.”
Nolf will face Missouri’s Joey Lavallee, the No. 3 seed, in the title match.
Joseph (24-4), a Central Catholic grad and No. 3 seed, earned his first trip to the finals with a 5-4 upset of No. 2-seeded Logan Massa of Michigan in the semifinals at 165. Joseph advanced to the semifinals with a 6-5 win over Missouri’s Daniel Lewis, the No. 6 seed. Joseph scored the winning takedown against Lewis with 10 seconds left.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Joseph said. “I feel like I wrestled tough so far. Another big match tomorrow night, but looking forward to it, and the way our team has been wrestling, I think we have a good shot of holding onto the first place lead.
Joseph will face two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the finals.
Mark Hall (33-3), a No. 5 seed at 174, upset No. 1 Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, 4-3, in the semifinals. He advanced to the semifinals with a 10-2 upset of Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly, the No. 4 seed. Hall will face Ohio State’s Bo Jordan in the title match.
Nickal (28-1), a No. 2 seed and returning runner-up, earned a return trip to the finals by pinning Iowa’s Sammy Brooks, No. 3 seed. Nickal also pinned Nebraska’s T.J. Dudley in the quarterfinals. Nickal will face defending champion Gabe Dean of Cornell in the title match.
Four other local wrestlers earned All-America status with wins in the fourth round of consolations, better known as the blood round: Edinboro’s Sean Russell, at 125; Virginia Tech’s Solomon Chishko (149); Iowa’s Michael Kemerer (157); and Penn State’s Nick Nevills (285).
Chishko is a Canon-McMillan graduate, while Kemerer is a Franklin Regional grad.
Four others local wrestlers fell one win short of placing — Penn State’s Jimmy Gulibon (141); Bucknell’s Tyler Smith (141); Penn State’s Matt McCutcheon (197); and Pitt’s Ryan Solomon (285). Gulibon is a Derry grad, Smith is a Franklin Regional grad and McCutcheon is a Kiski Area grad.