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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
ST. LOUIS - Penn State's Nick Nevills highlighted session five with a fifth-place finish in the NCAA DI Wrestling Championships, adding on to an All-America finish in his first-career tournament appearance.
Although marking his first time competing on the mats on the biggest stage, Nevills has been a regular at the annual event since seventh grade.
While some families prefer sunny beaches or theme parks, the NCAA Wrestling Championships is the annual family vacation spot for the Nevills. Along with brothers Zach, A.J. and Seth, mom Kerri and dad Wayne, the Nevills' made their first trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2010 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Flash forward a few years as Nick Nevills was poised to settle his collegiate choice, eventually completing a standout high school career at Clovis high school with four straight California state titles among a plethora of honors and accolades.
Having attended a camp at another Big Ten school, Nevills and his mom rented a car and drove to Penn State for a visit. A Clovis, California native, Nevills picked Penn State, with older brother Zach already on the roster at Stanford.
As Kerri and Wayne recall, it was Zach who started the Nevills family wrestling tradition and Nick, who followed close behind along the same wrestling path. Younger brother A.J. will soon join the Nittany Lion roster with Seth still in high school, having recently become the fifth wrestler to win titles after his first three seasons at Clovis.
Since arriving at Penn State though, Nick Nevills' path hasn't been without a few road blocks along the way. Having never really experienced an injury, Nevills stepped up to overcome the unfamiliar. At full strength to start the season, Nevills put together a 12-2 regular season dual record with a 7-2 mark in conference action this year. Nevills also went 4-1 to finish third at the Big Ten Championships (285), tallying three pins along the way.
On Thursday, Nevills was set to make a different kind of trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships. By Saturday afternoon, in a rematch of his earlier quarterfinal bout, Nevills rallied to defeat Duke's No. 4 Jacob Kasper for a 4-3 sudden victory and a fifth-place finish in session five. At 5-2 in his first NCAA Tournament, Nevills closed out the season at 25-8 overall with seven pins, as one of six All-America honorees in the lineup this year.
"I'm just glad I was able to go out there and get the win and wrestle hard," Nevills said. "He took me down right at the end of the first period and I just knew from that point I was going to have to wrestle a little bit harder and pick up the pace and that's what I did and it got me the win."
Taking just a brief moment to reflect, the 2017 NCAA Championships have already been an experience he'll take so much from moving forward.
"It's exciting, a really good experience and I have a lot to take away from this," Nevills said. "I have a lot to build on through the next year and just really looking forward to the offseason growth that I have because I can get better in every area and that's an exciting factor. I don't think I'm anywhere near my potential or my ceiling so that's a really good feeling and I'm really looking forward to working with the coaches and the guys on the team."
Surrounded by the endless support of his family, Nevills also got to watch oldest brother Zach (184), make his first NCAA Championships debut in his final season with the Cardinal.
"It was awesome getting to see him wrestle and getting to see him do something that he's always wanted to do and getting to see my brothers and family in the stands when I walked out and they were just out there supporting me, texting me and telling me they loved me and they were praying for me," Nevills said. "It was just awesome to be able to compete in front of them."
Another piece of the Nevills family trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships is friendly competition, or "Master of the Universe," which originated from the first trip to Omaha. A fantasy-style draft from the NCAA Championships field, the highly anticipated tradition has some pretty extensive rules that have evolved over time, but all in good fun. Encompassing the entire family as well as close friends, the winner emerges with a trophy, even engraved with family names on the bottom.
While not participating in the annual family tradition this year, Nick has won once, but according to Kerri, Nick's name has an asterisk next to it on the trophy due to an illegal trade. It's still under review.
Session five action also saw the Nittany Lions clinch the the NCAA national championship team title, marking Penn State's sixth national championship crown in the last seven years and second consecutive.
In the grand finale of the three-day event, Penn State's five finalists will square off for individual NCAA national titles beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
"I'm really looking forward to watching all five of our guys in the finals," Nevills said. "I think all five of them have a really good chance of winning and I'm just really excited to watch and I'm super proud of this team.
Reach Arielle at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent