NCAA Championships Session I Roundup
NEW YORK - The Nittany Lion wrestling team earned six slots in the NCAA quarterfinals following another strong session inside Madison Square Garden on Thursday evening.
Penn State went 6-2 in second round matches, and the Lions will have Nico Megaludis (125), Jordan Conaway (133), Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal (174) and Morgan McIntosh (197) wrestling in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Championships on Friday.
Boosted by 5.5 bonus points in the evening session, the Nittany Lions powered into the overall lead following the first day of competition in New York. On Friday night, Penn State tallied pins from Retherford and McIntosh and a technical fall from Nolf en route to a total of 13.5 bonus points in the opening two sessions of the tournament.
The Lions went 14-4 overall on the first day with three pins, three technical falls and three major decisions. With 27.5 points, the Lions own a 3.5-point lead over Ohio State heading into the second day of the action in The Garden. Oklahoma State is third with 22.0 points. Penn State has six wrestlers still alive (eight total) in the main draw, while Ohio State has five and Oklahoma State has seven.
Session II Team Standings (Main Draw/Consolation)
1. Penn State - 27.5 (6 Main Draw, 2 Consolation)
2. Ohio State - 24.0 (5 Main Draw, 1 Consolation)
3. Oklahoma State - 22.0 (7 Main Draw, 1 Consolation)
4. Nebraska - 20.0 (5 Main Draw, 5 Consolation)
The eight-mat setup on day one of the championships often lends itself to a pair of Nittany Lions wrestling simultaneously. In the case of Thursday night, Megaludis and Conaway wrestled side-by-side during the lead-off matches of the session for the Blue and White.
Both bouts proved to be sparks in a pivotal stretch for the Lions en route to punching six tickets to the quarterfinal round. Megaludis finished his match first with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Joshua Rodriguez from North Dakota State. He scored the first takedown of the match and took a 3-1 lead after one. Megaludis added an escape point and never allowed Rodriguez to score again.
Moments later, Conaway closed out a come-from-behind 8-5 victory over 12th-seeded Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin. Two weeks ago in Iowa City at the Big Ten Championships, Taylor beat Conaway twice - once in the main draw and once in consolation action.
The Lion senior did not let those two losses or an early deficit faze him on Thursday night, though. Conaway finished strong with a pair of third-period takedowns en route to his first appearance in the quarterfinals at the national tournament.
Just as they did during the morning session, Retherford and Nolf turned in back-to-back dominant performances in the middle of the round. Retherford gave up the first takedown against Edinboro's Patricio Lugo, but stormed to an 11-4 lead after two periods. Retherford then turned Lugo for a pin at the 6:37 mark.
Nolf then took the mat and rattled off 25 points for a 25-10 technical fall against May Bethea from Penn. The middle duo for the Nittany Lions is potent and a fun tandem to watch.
"We are united as one group. We stand together at tournaments, and we spend a lot of time together outside of practice," said Nolf. "I think how close we are is what makes this team special. Everybody wants to win gold, but everyone does it by looking at the team championship. Everyone wants to do well for themselves and the team."
Nickal became Penn State's fifth quarterfinalist with a 7-2 decision against Nebraska's Micah Barnes at 174 pounds. The Lion freshman did not generate the type of offense he had been looking for on day one of the NCAA Championships, but Nickal has an eye on Friday's action.
"It's been a bit of a slow start for me," said Nickal. "I haven't gotten my offense going as much as I would like to. But I have another match in the morning to look forward to. I just need to move forward, get better and improve."
McIntosh finished off the night with a unique match at 197. It's rare to see the California native give up a takedown at all, let alone two in one period. Kent State's Kyle Conel jumped out to a 4-2 lead after one against McIntosh on Thursday.
However, McIntosh flipped a switch and took control with a nine-point second period en route to a pin at the 6:02 mark and a trip to the quarterfinals for the second-straight year.
"I gave up a couple takedowns I shouldn't have, but in that situation you just have to keep wrestling and finishing strong. I was able to do that tonight," said McIntosh. "It's a good feeling when you come from behind like that."
The Nittany Lions now shift attention towards a pivotal morning session where eight wrestlers will look to add more to Penn State's team total. The wrestlers are confident that it will be another strong day, largely because of the support the group is receiving in the stands of MSG. More than 35,000 fans (17,500+ in each session) filled The Garden to watch the action on Thursday.
"This is an awesome atmosphere. It reminds me a lot of the BJC matches, so the coaches did a great job getting us prepared for this type of environment," said Nickal. "It's a testament to the fan base we have. The support we get is amazing."
Session three of the NCAA Championships begins at 11 a.m. on Friday (ESPNU and ESPN3.com). Six Nittany Lions will kick things off with quarterfinals matches at the beginning of the morning session. There will be two rounds of consolation action after the quarterfinals. Stay tuned for much more from Madison Square Garden.
Breaking Down the Nittany Lions
125: #3 Nico Megaludis (29-3) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. Connor Youtsey (Michigan)
133: #5 Jordan Conaway (28-5) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. No. 4 Cody Brewer (Oklahoma)
141: Jimmy Gulibon (13-9) - 1-1 - Consolation Second Round
Up Next: Consolation Second Round vs. Ian Nickell (Cal State Bakersfield)
149: #1 Zain Retherford (31-0) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. No. 9 Justin Oliver (Central Michigan)
157: #3 Jason Nolf (31-1) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. No. 6 Joseph Smith (Oklahoma State)
165: Geno Morelli (20-11) - 1-1 - Consolation Second Round
Up Next: Consolation Second Round vs. Jake Fause (Duke)
174: #1 Bo Nickal (31-1) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. No. 9 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State)
184: #16 Matt McCutcheon (16-8) - 0-2 - Tournament Complete
197: #1 Morgan McIntosh (30-0) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinals vs. No. 8 Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska)
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