By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
ST. LOUIS - Following last night's second session, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson called the upcoming quarterfinals one of the best rounds in the sport of wrestling. Come Friday morning, the Nittany Lions rose to the challenge, blazing through the quarterfinals with a 5-2 mark, finishing session III at 7-2.
Behind big time bonus points, the Nittany Lions stretched its lead in the team standings to 74.0 with Ohio State (59.0) and Iowa (58.0) tightly slotted in spots two and three. Penn State registered 7.5 bonus points in session III to bring its NCAA Championships total to 23.0.
Performing just as consistently as they have in the earlier rounds, Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal highlighted the day with a pair of pins and a tech fall to earn a trio of All-America honors.
Retherford built an early lead with a pair of takedowns in the first 30 seconds of the opening period against South Dakota State's Alex Kocer, rolling to the 18-2 tech fall at the 5:13 mark to earn his third-career All-America honor.
"I would have liked to get a pin out there but he's a tough opponent," Retherford said. "I'm just scoring as much as I can, doing what I can for the team and I'm happy."
Nolf and Nickal picked up a pair of pins in the quarterfinals to earn their second-career All-America nod. Nolf pinned Rider's B.J. Clagon at the 4:06 mark, while Nickal capitalized on a cradle pin Nebraska's No. 7 TJ Dudley at the 4:33 mark.
Penn State also saw a pair of freshman earn All-American distinction in addition to a spot in tonight's semifinals.
Following a tough 4-2 sudden victory loss in the finals at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago in Bloomington, Indiana, true freshman Mark Hall has kept his silver medal open on his desk every day. For Hall, it's motivation.
In Friday's quarterfinals, Hall came out firing, building a 9-0 lead before finishing off Virginia Tech's No. 4 Zach Epperly with a 10-2 major.
"I blew the match wide open to begin with but there's still some improving I can do, keep scoring, getting off bottom after takedowns and things like that," Hall said.
Along with earning the All-America honor, much like the silver medal, Hall remains focused on the ultimate goal, which now means semifinals, but ultimately extends to Saturday night.
"Those things are what I'm looking at and I just want to wrestle as hard as I can for seven minutes and keep going," Hall said.
Along with Hall, redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph earned his first-career All-America honor, putting on a gritty performance, battling to a dramatic 6-5 win in front of the hometown crowd against Missouri's No. 6 Daniel Lewis.
Trailing 5-4 with less than 10 seconds remaining, Joseph used a clutch takedown to secure the thrilling win.
"The more tired I got, I knew that he was more tired than I was so I was confident that if I got to my late attack I'd score," Joseph said.
With an all or nothing mentality, Joseph fought from behind as Lewis jumped out to a 2-0 advantage before building 2:22 in riding time heading into the second period.
"I was tired, he was tired but I knew I had to get it," Joseph said. "It's a big deal for our team to send a lot of guys to the semis so I had to make sure that I got the job done."
All five Nittany Lions will move on to tonight's semifinal round, set to begin at 8 p.m. ET live on ESPN. Matt McCutcheon, Nick Nevills and Jimmy Gulibon will all compete in the fourth round consolations, needing just one more win for All-America honors.
141: Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. - Fourth round consolation
Zain Retherford, Jr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Retherford vs. #5 Brandon Sorensen, Iowa
Jason Nolf, So. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Nolf vs. #4 Tyler Berger, Nebraska
Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Joseph vs. vs. #2 Logan Massa, Michigan
Mark Hall, Fr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Hall vs. #1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State
184: #2 Bo
Nickal, So. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Nickal vs. #3 Sammy Brooks, Iowa
197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. - Fourth round consolation
285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Fourth round consolation