By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a Big Ten dual title within reach Penn State wrestling didn't squander its opportunity. The Nittany Lions finished the regular season with a dominant 45-6 win against Maryland on senior day.
True freshman Nick Suriano opened competition with a tech fall win over Michael Beck before Triston Law dropped a tough match by fall. Up next at 141, Jimmy Gulibon, Penn State's only starting senior, gave Penn State the lead in the third bout of the day, sparking just the momentum the Nittany Lions needed. The 9-4 win against Ryan Diehl marks Gulibon's sixth straight.
"He's extremely committed and dedicated," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "He's a guy that won't eat a 'Cheeto', even in the summer. He has incredible ability and he's as fast as anyone I've ever coached, but speed alone won't win. It would be great to see Jimmy finish the season on a strong note, and be happy and get up on the podium real high. It makes me smile just thinking about it, I'd just love to see him finish strong."
With the year-long one match at a time approach on the minds of the Nittany Lions, junior Zain Retherford says Gulibon is just as ready for the postseason as the rest of the team.
"He's ready to go," Retherford said. "I think our whole team feels pretty fresh for this time of the year. I think our coaches do a really good job of that. Jimmy's the same way, he's looking good out there and he's ready now. If March is now he's ready."
The energy continued to surge in Rec Hall as Penn State rattled off five straight pins, with each one bringing the Rec Hall crowd of 6,661, a season high, to their feet.
Retherford collected his team-leading 13th pin while Jason Nolf captured his 11th of the season. Following a tough Friday loss to top-ranked Isaiah Martinez, Vincenzo Joseph responded with his first pin of the season in just under four minutes. Freshman Mark Hall then quickly won by fall at the 1:14 mark with his 11th pin, before Bo Nickal finished off the streak with his 12th pin in 2:08.
"Bonus points are always a part of winning in the postseason and winning dual meets so we need our guys looking for those extra points," Sanderson said. "So that's good, that's what we want and they feed off of each other in those situations. That's what we need going into Big Ten's and the national tournament."
At halftime, Penn State took the time to celebrate and honor the contributions of its former wrestling lettermen. A group surrounding the mat was introduced one-by-one to a large roar from the crowd.
"I can't explain why the passion and the support and the fire is still there with a lot of our alumni but it's like that throughout all of Penn State University," Sanderson said. "That's one of the things, if not the thing, that makes Penn State really stand out in my mind coming from a different school. Just the support and the passion, you see it in the football games and it trickles into every sport. When your alumni are around all the time, it sets a great standard for the kids that they're going to be around when they graduate."
Penn State also hoisted the Big Ten regular season (dual meet) trophy in a special postmatch ceremony at the middle of the mat to celebrate the Nittany Lions' fourth title, earned outright this season.Earning the top spot in the in the Big Ten conference, the top-ranked Nittany Lions will now head to Stillwater, Oklahoma to meet No. 2 Oklahoma State in the 2017 NWCA Dual Championship Series. One of even in the the annual dual meet events, kicks off Sunday, Feb. 19 at at 4 p.m. ET in Gallagher-Iba Arena. For more on the event, click here.