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College Wrestling

NCAA Wrestling Championships: Final Thoughts



The 2019 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since 1957. By all accounts the event was a tremendous success, PPG Paints Arena was sold out for every session, and the spectators were treated to excellent wrestling.

The Penn State Nittany Lions won their eighth team title in nine years. It’s also the second four-peat under head coach Cael Sanderson. They had three individual champions and two runner-ups.

Penn State heavyweight Anthony Cassar started things off with a bang. He took on undefeated No. 1 seed Derek White of Oklahoma State, the only wrestler to beat Cassar this year. After a scoreless first, and easy escape by White in the second, Cassar waited until about ten seconds left in the period to take his shot. White tried to scramble out of it, and not only did Cassar score the two, he caught White on his back for four nearfall to take a commanding 6-1 lead.

That brought the plurality, if not majority, Nittany Lion fan base to its feet. It was all Cassar after that, and the man who missed two straight seasons with shoulder injuries won his first national championship in his first try, reminiscent of him winning his New Jersey state title in his only appearance.

At 125 pounds, local favorite Spencer Lee defended his title from a year ago, and the Iowa Hawkeye is two for two. He shutout undefeated Jack Mueller, and looked like the Spencer Lee we’re used to seeing.

Once again, Daton Fix and Nick Suriano’s match was marred with controversy, challenges, and overtimes. They have wrestled three times and each match has been a marathon, including their record setting bout in high school at FloWrestling’s Who’s Number One. Saturday night was no different in terms of length, but was a reversal of the last result. Nick Suriano won this time, and in the process became Rutgers’ first ever national champ.

In another officiating controversy, Yianni Diakomihalis successfully defended his title by taking out senior Joey McKenna of Ohio State. Yianni scored a clear takedown that wasn’t called, then later got awarded a takedown that wasn’t. It was obvious the refs were giving him a “makeup call”, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Nevertheless, the Cornell sophomore is 10-0 at NCAAs.

After Suriano got the monkey off Rutgers’ back, Anthony Ashnault added number two in the program’s history with a dominating 9-4 decision over Micah Jordan, another Buckeye senior. Ashnault is a fan favorite around the country, and after multiple injuries, it was nice to see him win.

Despite Tyler Berger’s bold statement that he would leave Pittsburgh with five heads, including Jason Nolf’s, the now three time champion from PSU didn’t blink. Nolf majored Berger, and just as they ended their high school careers facing each other at the Dapper Dan Classic, they closed out their college careers as well, just on a slightly bigger stage.

The Kittanning native is a four time finalist, and only has two legitimate losses in his career, both to four time finalist and two time champ Isaiah Martinez. He is a bonafide hammer, and should be in discussion for best WPIAL wrestler of all time with Cary Kolat.

When Vincenzo Joseph won his first national championship as a freshman, he eliminated Isaiah Martinez from contention to be a four timer, after IMAR won his first two seasons. Mekhi Lewis returned the favor on Saturday. The Hokie freshman wrestled an incredible match vs. Joseph, and a cradle in the second period was the nail in the coffin.

Mekhi Lewis upset No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli in the third round round of the NCAA Tournament — March 22, 2019 David Hague/PSN

Lewis took out the No. 1, 4, and 2 seeds en route to winning his championship, and that performance was good enough to earn him the Outstanding Wrestler award.

Continuing one of college wrestling’s best rivalries, Mark Hall (PSU) and Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) battled for the fifth time in their careers. The series was previously 2-2, with Hall owning wins in the 2017 NCAA semifinals and 2018 dual meet, and Zahid winning at the NWCA All Star classic and in the 2018 NCAA finals.

Zahid is now 3-2 against Hall after a 4-3 decision on Saturday. Valencia was by far the aggressor, with Hall not committing to a shot until the end of the third. Here’s hoping they meet again next year.

After an extremely unexpected upset in the semifinals over the heavy favorite Myles Martin, Max Dean of Cornell found himself on the big stage, doing his best impression of his older brother. Both Dean’s got third as a freshman, and Gabe went on to subsequently place 1st, 1st, and 2nd.

While Max may yet tie his sibling for number of titles, he will not do it in the same order. Senior Drew Foster of Northern Iowa saw to that. Foster himself was an unpredictable finalist as the No. 6 seed, but with Shakur Rasheed’s injury, the bottom half of the bracket was up for grabs. Foster had a losing record as a freshman, and is the national champ as a senior. Impressive.

Take a listen to Doug Schwab, UNI’s head coach.

Closing out the night, and also securing the top spot on the podium for the third time was Bo Nickal, the favorite to win the Hodge Trophy. Nickal battled Kollin Moore in a classic PSU-OSU match-up. Nickal pinned Moore earlier this year, and controlled him in the Big Ten finals.

The score was a lot closer this time, and Moore came within inches from taking Nickal down in the third to tie it. Nickal didn’t look like himself, but maybe that was just Moore wrestling his best. Like Nolf, Bo has now cemented himself high on the list of collegiate greats, and finishes his career with three firsts and a second, only three losses, and 59 pins (second ever at Penn State behind Nolf).

Cowboy Lineup Debacle

Oklahoma State radically changed their lineup at the end of the season. Joe Smith, Jacobe Smith, and Dakota Geer went down a weight, Preston Weigel slid in at 197, and two time All American Chandler Rogers got bumped out.

Both J. Smith’s did not place, and it was clear Joe was not wrestling at his ideal weight. John Smith made a mistake, and cost the team a second place finish in the process. Rogers, Jacobe Smith, and Weigel all graduate this year, so they will have some flexibility next season.

Penn State/Ohio State vs PA/WPIAL vs Pitt

Penn State Ohio State
125 NA 0.0 Heinselman 0.5
133 Bravo-Young 5.5 Pletcher 13.5
141 Lee 16.0 McKenna 19.5
149 Berge 1.5 Jordan 19.0
157 Nolf 26.0 Hayes 1.0
165 Joseph 18.0 Campbell 4.0
174 Hall 17.0 Smith 1.0
184 Rasheed 3.5 Martin 17.5
197 Nickal 27.0 Moore 19.0
285 Cassar 24.0 Singletary 1.5
Total 137.5 96.5


125 Lee 24.5 Lee 24.5 NA
133 Pletcher 13.5 Pletcher 13.5 Phillippi 2.0
141 Shoop 8.5 Carr 1.5 NA
149 Maruca 0.5 Maruca 0.5 NA
157 Nolf 26.0 Nolf 26.0 Rahmani 4.5
165 Joseph 18.0 Joseph 18.0 NA
174 Labriola 9.0 Smith 1.0 NA
184 Geer 7.5 Zavatsky 5.5 Bonaccorsi 2.0
197 Sleigh 2.0 Woodley 1.0 Stout 0.0
285 Wood 12.5 NA 0.0 Thomas 1.0
Total 122.0 91.5 9.5

If PA was a team it would have finished 2nd, the WPIAL 3rd. 1/50 states beating 62/63 teams. That’s ridiculous.

Graduating Ranked Seniors

125: Ronnie Bresser, Sean Russell, Brent Fleetwood, Sean Fausz, Elijah Oliver, Ryan Millhof, Zeke Moisey

133: Ethan Lizak, John Erneste, Charles Tucker, Ben Thornton, Gary Wayne-Harding, Sean Nickell, Josh Terao

141: Joey McKenna, Josh Alber, Bryan Lantry, Nick Gil, Cam Kelly

149: Anthony Ashnault, Micah Jordan, Mitch Finesilver, Justin Oliver, Davion Jeffries, Tommy Thorn, Chistian Monserrat

157: Jason Nolf, Tyler Berger, Alec Pantaleo, Steve Bleise, Christian Pagdilao, John Van Brill, Jake Danishek

165: Chance Marsteller, Bryce Steiert, Branson Ashworth, Te’Shan Campbell, Zach Finesilver

174: Daniel Lewis, Jacobe Smith, Brandon Womack, Neal Richards

184: Myles Martin, Zack Zavatsky, Shakur Rasheed*, Emery Parker, Ryan Preisch, Drew Foster, Chip Ness, Will Schany, Nick Gravina

197: Bo Nickal, Preston Weigel, Willie Miklus, Ben Honis, Rocco Caywood, Malik McDonald, Tom Sleigh, Randall Diabe, Stephen Loiseau

285: Anthony Cassar*, Derek White, Amar Dhesi, Youssif Hemida, Conan Jennings, Sam Stoll, Cory Daniel, Thomas Haines, Matt Voss, Billy Miller, Jake Gunning, Joey Goodhart

*Rasheed and Cassar are applying for a 6th year of eligibility

ACC All Americans

125: Jack Mueller – Virginia 2nd

133: None

141: None

149: Austin O’Connor – North Carolina 3rd, Mitch Finesilver – Duke 4th

157: Hayden Hidlay – North Carolina State 4th

165: Mekhi Lewis – Virginia Tech 1st

174: David McFadden – Virginia Tech 5th

184: Zack Zavatsky – Virginia Tech 8th, Chip Ness – North Carolina 6th

197: None

285: None

Chance Marsteller

A four time undefeated state champion in Pennsylvania, Marsteller came out of high school with more hype and expectations than anyone in recent memory. He was called the “next Cary Kolat” for a reason. Chance initially went to Oklahoma State, but transferred to Lock Haven after two years with the Cowboys.

While at Lock Haven, Chance was arrested following a drug incident on campus, and was suspended from the program. After going through rehab and getting his life in order, he has placed 4th and 3rd in the last two NCAA tournaments, is now married, and has two children.

A reporter asked him if he had any regrets, surely imploring Chance to bring up the rocky road he had to travel. He replied “getting pinned yesterday.”

“I’m happy to go out with a win. I’m happy with how I wrestled on the back side. Still pretty devastated I’m not going to end my career as a national champ… I’m glad I’m tough enough mentally to get my head back on and win four matches on the back side.”

When asked about being the “second Cary Kolat,” Chance replied “I want to be the first Chance Marsteller.” He jokingly stated that he accomplished that, with no one eagerly volunteering to take the route he did.

“I’ve redefined myself over the last few years. Being a father, being a husband… being able to prioritize differently has helped me.”

Marsteller is a legend in Pennsylvania. Many believe his match with Cody Wiercioch at the Powerade finals is one of the best high school bouts ever. He’s not done yet though. He confirmed that he will be wrestling freestyle, and will be entering the US Open in April, most likely at 74kg.

Final Thoughts

  • Penn State is an all time dynasty, and there’s no way Pitt fans can not recognize that
  • Kollin Moore has placed 3rd, 4th, 2nd
  • Iowa has the best lineup on paper going into next year
    • Lee, DeSanto, Murin, Lugo, Young, Marinelli/Brands, Kemerer, Wilcke, Warner, Cassioppi
  • Virginia Tech (Mekhi Lewis) and Rutgers (Nick Suriano) both got their first NCAA champion in program history
  • Spencer Lee, Yianni Diakomihalis, and Mekhi Lewis are the only three eligible to be 4 timers
    • Yianni has the best chance
  • It was nice to see Matt Kocher and Tyler Wilps presenting the awards
  • Poetic Justice? Wilps presented 174, with a Penn State wrestler in 2nd place
  • Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal moved in to the top 10 all time team point scorers at Nationals
    • Five of the top 11 have wrestled for Penn State in the last decade, and the man at the top is the head coach
  • Unfortunately the officiating was in the spotlight all tournament. Two refs in particular were completely out of their league
    • There needs to be 3rd party reviews implemented immediately
    • Hands-to-the-face and out of bounds stalling need to go ASAP
    • The entire stalling system needs revised
    • Overtime should be an unlimited period, first takedown wins
  • Last three Pitt team finishes
    • 2017 – 32nd, 9.5 points
    • 2018 – 31st, 10.5 points
    • 2019 – 34th, 9.5 points
  • Army beat Navy 7.5 to 7.0
  • Reread the seniors departing at 184. Wide open for Nino next year
  • Spencer Lee outscored his opponents 54-7. Last year it was 59-3
  • This generation of Jordan’s is still without its national title. Between Ben, Isaac, Bo, and Micah, they have plenty of high finishes and All Americas, but no title. There’s still one more to come though
  • John Smith called 133 the toughest weight class he’s ever seen. Here’s who did NOT All American
    • Micky Phillippi, Tariq Wilson, Austin Gomez, Montorie Bridges, Korbin Myers, Charles Tucker, Cam Sykora, and Josh Terao. If Seth Gross wasn’t hurt he’d probably bump out Roman Bravo-Young or Ethan Lizak.
  • Lehigh has had multiple All Americans in six straight NCAA Tournaments, and three All Americans in five of those six years
  • Iowa might have the best paper lineup next year, but Penn State returns the most team points (counting Cassar)
  • Dear NCAA, please have it in Pittsburgh again. Soon.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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3 years ago

Derek White was not undefeated. He had a loss to Steveson this year.

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