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Another NCAA title for Penn State; two national champions for Rutgers

Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault, shown in the semifinals, won his first national championship at 149 pounds Saturday night in his final collegiate match. (Photo courtesy Sam Janicki/SJanickiPhoto.com)

The Penn State University wrestling team continues to dominate. The Nittany Lions had three individual champions and seven All-Americans as they captured their fourth straight NCAA Division I championship Saturday night and their eighth title in the last nine years.

Penn State’s Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (197) each won their third NCAA title before a crowd of more than 18,950 in Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena while teammate Anthony Cassar (285) also brought home a championship for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State had the tournament won after the medal round and finished with 137½ points with Ohio State taking second with 96½ and Oklahoma State finishing third (84). Six Big 10 teams were in the top 10 with Rutgers finishing tenth with two individual champions for the first time in program history.

“I’ll just say we’re very happy and proud of this team,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Some great competition individually and team-wise. And so being able to win a national championship is very special and something that we’re excited about.

“We’re also excited about the future, happy that our seniors got to go out on top,” Sanderson said. “And that’s something that’s important to us. And we know we’ve had some really special guys, guys like Bo (Nickal) and Jason (Nolf), both three-time national champs, really, really just special, special people, special kids and super happy and proud of them.”

It was a great night for Rutgers, too. Head coach Scott Goodale was named the NCAA Tournament coach of the year after the first top 10 finish ever for the Scarlet Knights.

New Jersey natives Nick Suriano (133) and Anthony Ashnault (149) became the first Rutgers wrestlers to win national titles. Suriano downed No. 1 seed Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) in a wild double overtime match, 4-2 while Ashnault defeated No. 2 seed Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 9-4 to win a national title and finish undefeated (32-0).

Suriano and Fix (34-2) once again battled in a low-scoring matchup, as both registered escapes during regulation to force overtime.

After a scoreless first OT period, Suriano (29-3) was hit for a stall point in the first rideout to hand Fix a 2-1 lead. Suriano then escaped in the closing seconds of the second 30-second tiebreaker to force a second overtime.

“I just didn’t quit,” Suriano said. “I didn’t quit through this whole journey. And it came down to not quitting this last match. I was going to quit. I was this close. I was thinking about it. He rolled me like that. And like I got out. I made sure I was going to get out.”

In the second overtime session, Suriano had his hand on Fix’s headgear before swiftly dropping to one knee, grabbing his leg and tripping him for the match-winning takedown. The Oklahoma State coaches complained that Suriano should have been penalized for grabbing headgear but to no avail.

“I looked in his eyes, and I said, I’m going to take him down,” Suriano said. “And I took him down, and he was getting away with stalling the whole match. And I got the takedown fair and square. At the end they’re fighting for their guy, but I took him down fair and square.”

Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis, shown in Saturday’s semifinals, won his second consecutive NCAA championship in overtime Saturday night. (Photo courtesy Sam Janicki/SJanickiPhoto.com)

Ashnault became Rutgers’ first four-time All-American in the tournament. Ashnault led Jordan, 2-1 after two periods when Jordan decided to let up Ashnault intentionally, extending the lead to 3-1 but giving him the change to take him down.

Jordan got a takedown with 1:38 left to tie the match at 3-3. Again, he let Ashnault go but this time, it was Ashnault who got the takedown and put Jordan into a cradle for a two-point near fall with 1:05 left and a commanding five-point lead.

Ashnault missed the entire 2017-18 season due to injury and was granted a sixth year of eligibility last April by the NCAA.

“I had two surgeries, I was out for about six months, not wrestling at all,” he said. “And at a time when I was going through it I didn’t know if this was in my cards. Did a lot of soul searching. And at the end of the day I know I loved wrestling.

“And it was just a chance to get out there and compete again,” Ashnault said. “It wasn’t about winning the title at the time. It was just like being a little kid again, and enjoying the sport and falling back in love with it.”

At 141, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis won his second straight championship with an overtime win over Ohio State’s Joey McKenna.

Diakomihalis (29-0) trailed for virtually the entire match against McKenna. Diakomihalis was down 3-1 after two periods and cut it to one point with a third period escape. But with time winding down, he was still trailing until he got a takedown with 10 seconds left to take a 4-3 lead only to see McKenna scramble away with an escape to force OT.

In overtime, McKenna (24-3) made the first shot to get the takedown but in the scramble, it was Diakomihalis with the single leg takedown to win a second straight NCAA championship.

“I trusted myself,” Diakomihalis said. “I knew I could take him down if I wrestled. And it’s my job to create as much wrestling as possible and win the hard way. Don’t sneak it out. Win the hard way.”

Diakomihalis praised the Cornell coaching staff for helping him to be prepared.

“I think willpower is a really strong thing,” he said. “And my coaches train my will to be stronger than anyone else. And when it comes down to those overtime, gritty take downs it’s a battle of willpower, I know my coaches prepared me better than anyone else.”

Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125) won his second straight national title when he beat undefeated Jack Mueller of Virginia. At 165, Virginia Tech freshman Mehki Lewis became the first wrestler in school history to win a national title when he upset two-time defending NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State, 7-1. It earned Lewis the tournament’s outstanding wrestler award.

Penn State’s Jason Noff won his third straight title with a 10-2 win over Nebraska’s Tyler Berger. In a rematch of last year’s final at 174, Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia beat Penn State’s Mark Hall, 4-3 to win his second straight NCAA title.

At 185, Northern Iowa’s Drew Foster became the first wrestler from his school since 2000 to win a NCAA title with a 6-4 win over Cornell’s Max Dean thanks to a takedown with 28 seconds remaining. Penn State’s Bo Nickal (30-0) beat Ohio State’s Colin Moore, 5-1 to win a third NCAA crown at 197.

NCAA Division I national championships
At Pittsburgh
Top 10 team results — 1. Penn State 137½, 2. Ohio State 96½, 3. Oklahoma State 84, 4. Iowa 76, 5. Michigan 62½, 6. Missouri 62, 7. Cornell 59½, 8. Minnesota 53½, 9. Nebraska 52, 10. Rutgers 51½
Individual results
125 LBS
Final: Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. Jack Mueller (Virginia), 5-0
3. Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) dec. Vitali Arujau (Cornell), 8-3
5. Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) pin Patrick Glory (Princeton), 5:30
7. Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) dec. Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State), 7-4
133 LBS
Final: Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), 4-2
3. Stevan Micic (Michigan) dec. Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), 6-1
5. Austin Desanto (Iowa) dec. John Erneste (Missouri), 11-6
7. Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) dec. Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State), 8-5
141 LBS
Final: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. Joseph McKenna (Ohio State), 6-4, OT
3. Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) dec. Dom Demas (Oklahoma), 2-0
5. Nick Lee (Penn State) pin Mitchell McKee (Minnesota), 3:22
7. Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven) dec. Chad Red, Jr.(Nebraska), 11-3
149 LBS
Final: Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) dec. Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 9-4
3. Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) dec. Mitch Finesilver (Duke), 7-5
5. Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton) dec. Brock Mauller (Missouri), 10-6
7. Jarrett Degen (Iowa State) dec. Pat Lugo (Iowa), 10-9
157 LBS
Final: Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec. Tyler Berger (Nebraska), 10-2
3. Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) dec. Hayden Hidlay (NC State), 5-3
5. Kaleb Young (Iowa) dec. Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), 7-5, OT
7. Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State) dec. Larry Early (Old Dominion), 3-2
165 LBS
Final: Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) dec. Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State), 7-1
3. Chance Marsteller (Lock Haven) dec. Evan Wick (Wisconsin), 6-5
5. Isaiah White (Nebraska) dec. Joshua Shields (Arizona State), 8-4
7. Alex Marinelli (Iowa) dec. Bryce Steiert (Northern Iowa), 9-3
174 LBS
Final: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) dec. Mark Hall (Penn State), 4-3
3. Myles Amine (Michigan) dec. Daniel Lewis (Missouri), 4-2
5. David McFadden (Virginia Tech) dec. Michael Labriola (Nebraska), 4-3
7. Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) dec. Devin Skatzka (Minnesota), 5-1
184 LBS
Final: Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) dec. Maxwell Dean (Cornell), 6-4
3. Myles Martin (Ohio State) dec. Ryan Preisch (Lehigh), 5-3
5. Emery Parker (Illinois) dec. Chip Ness (North Carolina), 11-5
7. Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) dec. Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech), 5-4
197 LBS
Final: Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. Kollin Moore (Ohio State), 5-1
3. Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) dec. Pat Brucki (Princeton), 7-0
5. Josh Hokit (Fresno State) dec. William Miklus (Iowa State), 7-2, 2 OT
7. Jacob Warner (Iowa) dec. Benjamin Honis (Cornell), 8-4
285 LBS
Final: Anthony Cassar (Penn State) dec. Derek White (Oklahoma State), 10-1
3. Gable Steveson (Minnesota) dec. Jordan Wood (Lehigh), 4-0
5. Amar Dhesi (Oregon State) dec. Youssif Hemida (Maryland), 5-2
7. Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) dec. Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), 3-1

Results and brackets at FloWrestling.com

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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