By Brock Hite
The 2019 NCAA D1 Wrestling Championships conclude Saturday night at 7pm with the finals. Penn State has already secured the team title, and Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Iowa are locked in 2nd-4th respectively. Penn Sate has won eight of the past nine.
Penn State seniors Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal are in a tight battle for the Hodge Trophy. Whoever wins tonight by a bigger margin could prove the deciding factor. Unless of course, they break precedent and award it to both.
WPIAL Finalist Storylines:
125: Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs Jack Mueller (Virginia)
The storyline at this weight class heading into the championships was Spencer Lee having the opportunity to avenge his losses from the season. He is the returning national champion at the weight, with three losses this year. He took advantage of one of those opportunities in the semifinals as he defeated Nick Piccininni 11-4.
All eyes on the top side were looking at number one seed Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern), but it was Jack Mueller that proved to be the top guy. Mueller was slated to redshirt this season after a season up at 133. He finished in the bloodround at last year’s championships. That top-12 finish was disappointing for Mueller who finished sixth as a freshman, also at 125. At the 2017 NCAA Championships Mueller lost in the semifinals to Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) and had to medical forfeit to sixth place.
The battle tonight will be an interesting one on the mat. Both Lee and Mueller are killers from the top position. Look for Mueller to try to slow the match early and execute from the top late in the match.
157: Jason Nolf (Penn State) vs Tyler Berger (Nebraska)
Pittsburgh was expected to be a victory lap for Jason Nolf. He is seeking his third title which would put him in an elite category. When you account for his career record of 117-3, with over 100 bonus point victories, Nolf will widely be considered a top-ten wrestler of all time with a win tonight.
Hayden Hidlay (NC State) almost crashed the victory parade last night as he chased a takedown right a the buzzer in the third period. The bout is also marred by controversy as Hidlay had a takedown reversed by an official review at the end of the first period. That bout could add some confidence to Nolf’s opponent, Tyler Berger. Not that Berger lacks in that department.
I’ll be stepping away from social media for the next 57 days. This will be a time to prepare my body and my mind for March 21-23. I plan on taking five heads home with me after the NCAA tournament and yes, that includes Jason Nolf’s. I’m out✌🏼💀👑
— Pup (@husker_157) January 25, 2019
Berger is 0-5 against Nolf in his career. Nolf owns a technical fall, three major decisions, and a six-point decision over Berger. Either outcome of this bout has historic implications.
As both are now seniors, it should be noted these two also ended their high school careers against each other at the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic (Nolf won 8-5).
165lbs: Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
A two-time returning champion on track to win four titles vs a freshman in the NCAA finals. I’ve heard this story before.
Joseph was able to pull off an incredible upset in 2017 when he pinned Isaiah Martinez (Illinois). Martinez had won two titles, including a championship over Jason Nolf when he headed into the 2017 championships. Martinez also owned two victories over Joseph during the season. Now Joseph is the hunted.
Lewis came into the tournament as the No. 8 seed, but has championship pedigree. Lewis won a Junior World gold medal in 2018 at 74kg. Early season losses to Connor Flynn (Missouri) and Isaiah White (Nebraska) kept Lewis from having a higher seed as he enters the championship match with a 27-2 record. Lewis’s upset over number one seed Alex Marinelli (Iowa) shouldn’t have been as stunning as some might think. Lewis defeated Marinelli to make the USA Junior World Team last spring. This is another bout with record book implications with Joseph on pace to become a four-time champion.
Session Five Takeaways:
I didn’t highlight any bouts coming into session five because there are too many high level matches when the field has been whittled down to just the 80 All Americans. Traditionally this round is highlighted by free flowing wrestling because there is no pressure. This morning stuck with tradition and guys got after it; the fans were treated to some special bouts.
Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) won the “New Jersey state title” as he took out Pat Glory (Princeton) in the consolation semifinals. Rivera and Glory traded takedowns through the bout, but Rivera came up with the deciding takedown with just 26 seconds remaining in the match. Rivera tacked on a set of four nearfall for the 14-9 decision.
The “Pennsylvania state title” was determined at 133 in the consolation semifinal between Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) and Austin DeSanto (Iowa). This was another fan-pleasing, high flying affair with the wrestlers trading scores throughout the bout. Pletcher scored two third period takedowns with the second being the decisive points of the match. DeSanto had a chance to respond, but couldn’t get off the bottom in the final 18 seconds.
Chance Marsteller (Lock Haven) went out a winner as he defeated Evan Wick (Wisconsin) for third place. This result was a reversal of last year’s third place match, and, additionally, Wick pinned Marsteller in the quarterfinals on Friday. Marsteller had a rocky start to his career and this was a great redemption story.
Chance’s downfall is well documented. Without recounting the entire affair, it is safe to say his turnaround is one of the most dramatic in recent sports history.