By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
ST. LOUIS - Top-seeded Penn State wrestling got right to work in the opening session of the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships. The Nittany Lions wrestled to a solid 8-0 start in first round matches, wasting no time tallying up the bonus points with four tech falls and a pin.
"You want to come out there and fire on all cylinders and treat it like any other match," sophomore Bo Nickal said. "That's how we treat every match, just go out there and start off strong, finish strong."
The "start off strong, finish strong mentality" is exactly what the Nittany Lions embraced as senior Jimmy Gulibon opened session I for the Nittany Lions with a bang. The 2015 All-American raced out to an 18-3 tech fall with 3:26 in riding time against Michigan State's Javier Gasca at 141. Gulibon went up 5-0 in the first period and never looked back.
"All I have to say is Jimmy Gulibon," redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph said. "He's awesome, he's a national title contender and he has been every year he has wrestled."
At 149, top-seeded junior Zain Retherford took the same approach, building a 4-0 lead in the opening frame before rolling to an 18-2 tech fall at 4:55 against Arizona State's Joshua Maruca.
Sophomore Jason Nolf, ranked No. 1 at 157 quickly followed with a 22-7 tech fall at the 7:00 mark against NC State's Thomas Bullard to give the Nittany Lions a trio of tech falls in consecutive matches for 4.5 bonus points right from the start.
Second-seeded Nickal later added to the bonus point total with a dominating 15-0 technical fall at the 3:20 mark against Northwestern's Mitch Silga at 184. With a takedown in the first minute of action, Nickal never relinquished control, registering Penn State's fourth tech fall of the afternoon.
"It felt good, I got a takedown, got on top," Nickal said. "I have to work on my turns a little bit, I don't usually get to work the turns because I'm getting a lot of takedowns and stuff like that, so I was glad that I got to go out there and work a little bit on top and score some bonus points for my team."
Fifth-seeded Matt McCutcheon punctuated the first session with Penn State's first fall of the event, pinning Purdue's Christian Brunner at the 1:53 mark.
"I just got in a little scramble when I was in on a shot and held on a little bit too long and I ended up catching both his shoulders on the mat," McCutcheon said. "I'm just happy to do it."
In total, Penn State registered 8.0 bonus points to rise to the top spot in the team standings at the end of the first session (16.0), leading second place Oklahoma State by one (15.0) and third place Ohio State by two (14.0).
NCAA Championships Standings after
Session I - (Round Two Participants)
1 - PENN STATE - 16.0 (8)
2 - Oklahoma State - 15.0 (9)
3 - Ohio State - 14.0 (7)
4- Iowa - 12.0 (7)
Lehigh - 12.0 (5)
Missouri - 12.0 (6)
Three other Nittany Lions made their NCAA Championships debuts, with true freshman Mark Hall (174), redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph (165) and sophomore Nick Nevills (285) all posting first round wins.
Joseph, a No. 3 seed, earned a 5-1 decision against Stanford's Keaton Subjeck. At 0-0 headed into the second period, used a pair of late takedowns in the next two periods for the win.
"I was a little nervous going into the match, first national championship, and I was kind of feeling a little weight on me, but he's a tricky wrestler, he's a tough guy so I was trying to avoid exposing myself in bad positions and that's probably why the score was a little lower that I would have liked it," Joseph said.
In front of 18,157 at the Scottrade Center, Joseph felt no pressure from the packed crowd, relying on experiences from the season to maintain focus.
"I think the matches that we wrestled this year really helped me, the Bryce Jordan Center, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Iowa - those matches they really filled the crowd and it's loud the whole time and it really gets you ready for an environment like this," Joseph said.
Hall, the No. 5 seed at 174, took down South Dakota State's David Kocer in an 8-2 decision before third-seeded Nick Nevills rounded out the opening session with a 4-2 decision against Lehigh's Doug Vollaro.
Nevills used a late third-period push with :40 on the the clock to send Penn State into tonight's second session with a perfect 8-0 mark.
"I was just trying to get my feet moving and didn't really move them well enough early on in the the match and you could see that he didn't get as tired as I would have liked him to," Nevills said. "But I still got him tired enough where I could get in on that shot and get in that position and just able to finish and get that takedown there."
It's all about momentum now as Penn State preps for session II, which kicks off at 7 p.m. ET in the Scottrade Center, broadcasting live on ESPN.
"It's very exciting, we're doing it for the team so we've just got to score as many bonus points as we can and I think we did a good job of that so far and we've got to keep the momentum going," McCutcheon said.
Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. - Second Round
Gulibon vs. vs. #4 Matt Kolodzik, Princeton
149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. -
Retherford vs. No. 16 Jordan Laster, Princeton
157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. - Second Round
Nolf vs. #16 Victor Lopez, Bucknell
165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. -
Joseph vs. #14 Branson Ashworth, Wyoming
174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. - Second Round
Hall vs. Jadaen Bernstein, Navy
184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. - Second Round
Nickal vs. #15 Steven Schneider, Binghamton
197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. -
McCutcheon vs. #12 Frank Mattiace, Penn
285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Second Round
Nevills vs. #12 William Miller, Edinboro