VIDEO: Cael Sanderson Big Ten Championship Remarks
Big Ten Championships Session I Roundup | Big Ten Championships Session II Roundup
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Headlined by three individual champions, the top-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team claimed its fifth Big Ten title with a dominant weekend performance inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Penn State earned Big Ten crowns from Zain Retherford (149), Bo Nickal (174) and Morgan McIntosh (197) en route to a commanding 23.5-point victory over host Iowa and the program's fifth conference title in the past six seasons on Sunday evening.
The Nittany Lions were a force during the two-day tournament in Iowa City, scoring six pins, two technical falls and eight major decisions on the way to 28 combined victories during the three sessions of action. Penn State tallied 23.0 bonus points at the Big Ten Championships and will take a great deal of momentum into the national tournament.
"I think, overall, we wrestled pretty darn well," said Big Ten Coach of the Year Cael Sanderson. "We lost a couple tight matches in the finals, but both lost to national champions. Our guys wrestled well. Three champions, and we have eight through (to nationals). We would have liked to have had 10, but you have to show up and earn your way...This was a great atmosphere. It doesn't get much better than wrestling the Big Ten Championships at Iowa."
Final Team Standings
1. Penn State - 150.5
2. Iowa - 127.0
3. Ohio State - 126.0
4. Nebraska - 117.0
5. Rutgers - 106.5
Third-seeded Nico Megaludis finished second at 125 pounds following a sudden victory setback to No. 1 Nathan Tomasello from Ohio State in Penn State's first of a program-record six appearances in the Big Ten finals. Megaludis advanced to the final bout following a 4-3 victory in the first tiebreaker against Iowa's Thomas Gilman on Saturday evening.
He again found himself in a tight battle on Sunday. Takedowns were tough to come by in the title tilt. The two wrestlers each scored an escape point before the bout headed into overtime tied at 1-1. Tomasello scored the match's only takedown in a scramble on the edge of the mat for a 3-1 victory. Megaludis, who is 27-3 on the season, is a two-time Big Ten runner-up.
Junior Jimmy Gulibon earned his first trip to the Big Ten finals with a thrilling 3-2 win over top-seeded Micah Jordan and a 6-5 decision against fifth-seed Javier Gasca III on Saturday. Gulibon faced off with third-seeded Anthony Ashnault in the final match at 141 pounds. Ashnault used a big second period to power past Gulibon by a count of 9-0, but the weekend was a huge boost for the Lion veteran as he preps for the national tournament.
However, with the Lions needing a boost in the finals on Sunday afternoon, top-seeded and undefeated Zain Retherford took the mat against No. 2-seeded Brandon Sorensen in the final at 149 pounds. At the time, it was a pivotal bout in the team scoring with Iowa inching closer to Penn State, and the near-capacity crowd in Carver-Hawkeye knew it.
So did Retherford. The redshirt sophomore took a commanding 2-0 lead after a first-period takedown and powerful ride out. He notched an escape early in the second for a 3-0 edge heading into the third. Retherford never relinquished control of the match on the way to a 4-0 victory on the way to his first Big Ten championship.
"I just think our team is having a lot of fun being out there and competing," said Retherford. "The depth is awesome. The guys like to compete hard, and we are having a lot of fun this time of year. That is for sure...I've never done it before, so it was awesome today."
In a rematch of two of the sport's most decorated wrestlers, No. 1 Jason Nolf battled No. 2 Isaiah Martinez in the 157-pound final. Nolf pinned Martinez during the dual season, but the fans had this bout circled for the month of March.
The duo did not disappoint and put on a great show on Sunday evening. Nolf moved in on Martinez's legs on several occasions, but Martinez held him off. The match entered sudden victory knotted at 1-1. The bout entered a second sudden victory period tied at 2-2. Martinez earned a tiebreaker victory by virtue of 22 seconds of riding time in the second tiebreaker, claiming the Big Ten crown on criteria.
The Lions were far from done in the finals, though. Redshirt freshman Bo Nickal rolled past Zach Brunson of Illinois by a score of 18-9 in the 174-pound final. Nickal wasted little time taking command of the match, scoring two quick takedowns in the first period. The Texas native never looked back from there, completing a dominant run in his first appearance at the Big Ten Championships. In three matches, Nickal had two majors and a pin.
"This was an awesome experience," said Nickal. "The fans were great. Wrestling is my favorite thing to do, so I just went out there and had a good time. As a team, you have to go our there and compete, and we did that this weekend.
Senior Morgan McIntosh put an exclamation point on Penn State's title-winning day in Iowa by winning his second-straight Big Ten Championship at 197 pounds. A first-period takedown ignited the California native to a 3-2 decision against Iowa's Nathan Burak.
"It feels good to be a part of a team like this during my senior season," said McIntosh. "This is what I came here to do. I wish I could have scored a few more points and make it a little more exciting for the fans. But it feels good to get the win, regardless of how the match went. And to lock up that team victory, it was exciting."
With three individual champs on Sunday, the Nittany Lions now have 38 Big Ten titles among 23 different wrestlers in program history. McIntosh became Penn State's ninth wrestler to earn at least two Big Ten championships. As a team, the Lions finished just a half-point off of their all-time high score at the Big Ten Championships.
In all, nine Nittany Lions placed at the Big Ten Championships. In addition to the six Lions who placed in the top two, Conaway (133) finished fourth, McCutcheon (184) took fifth and Morelli (165) finished eighth. By virtue of their finishing spot, Megaludis, Conaway, Gulibon, Retherford, Nolf, Nickal, McCutcheon and McIntosh all qualified for the NCAA Championships, which begin on March 17 in Madison Square Garden.
"We had guys step up big time for us on the back side of the bracket, and they got some huge points for our team score," said Nickal. "I'm really proud of the team, and I'm excited to compete with this group of guys at the NCAAs in two weeks."
Focus now shifts towards the biggest wrestling weekend of the year, as the Nittany Lions will be seeking their fifth national title in six seasons.
Breaking Down the Nittany Lions
125: #3 Nico Megaludis (27-3) - 3-1 - Finished Second
133: #3 Jordan Conaway (26-5) - 4-2 - Finished Fourth
141: #8 Jimmy Gulibon (12-9) - 2-1 - Finished Second
149: #1 Zain Retherford (29-0) - 4-0 - Big Ten Champion
157: #1 Jason Nolf (29-1) - 3-1 - Finished Second
165: #7 Geno Morelli (19-10) - 2-3 - Finished Eighth
174: #1 Bo Nickal (29-1) - 3-0 - Big Ten Champion
184: #2 Matt McCutcheon (16-6) - 2-2 - Finished Fifth
197: #1 Morgan McIntosh (28-0) - 4-0 - Big Ten Champion
285: #8 Nick Nevills (6-3) - 1-2
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