Joseph pins Martinez, Nickal edges Dean, Penn State goes five-for-five to cap NCAA finals

By Richard Immel, USA Wrestling | March 18, 2017, 7:28 p.m. (ET)
Photo: Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) upsets two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) by fall in the 165-pound NCAA finals. Photo by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com.

Video: NCAA Champion Interviews

ST LOUIS, Mo. – With the team title in the bag entering Saturday night, Penn State was focused on its five men competing for individual titles, and did they ever deliver.

The Nittany Lions went a perfect five-for-five on the raised platform inside the Scottrade Center, with 19,675 boisterous fans in attendance. The five individual champions accented an all-time team performance as Penn State won its seventh overall national title, and sixth in the past seven seasons.

Penn State freshman Vincenzo Joseph stole the show in the finals by pulling off the upset of the season at 165 pounds, stunning two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois by fall. Deadlocked 5-5 entering the third period, Joseph went big with his inside trip, planted Martinez on his back, and collected the pin.

Joseph entered the finals as the No. 3 seed with a 21-4 record on the season. Two of his losses came at the hands of Martinez, who was the No. 1 seed boasting a perfect 31-0 season record. Martinez had previously only lost one collegiate match during his three-season run at the top.

“[Martinez is] a phenomenal wrestler,” Joseph said. “He's a bully on the mat. And this time I was definitely ready for that. I was coming right back at him… It's pretty cool. Like I said, I'm just really, really thankful to be here right now.”

In the main event of the evening, Penn State sophomore Bo Nickal outlasted two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean of Cornell in an instant classic at 184 pounds.

Dean started off the scoring with a solid first-period single leg. Nickal flipped the score in his favor by escaping and securing a single leg of his own to take a 3-2 lead into the second period. After one escape apiece, the match boiled down to the final minute of neutral wrestling. Nickal was able to fend off several Dean shot attempts to take the title, 4-3.

“Hats off to [Dean], because he’s a strong dude, good technique, holds good position. It was hard for me to get to my angles and positions but I capitalized when I needed to…I’m so happy that my team got to go out there and win five straight. And I got to kind of put the exclamation point on the end of it,” Nickal said.

Penn State grabbed its first NCAA title of the evening from now two-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford at 149 pounds. Retherford completed his second-straight undefeated season with an 18-2 technical fall over Missouri’s Lavion Mayes.

Mayes struck first with a lightning-fast double leg takedown, but it was all Retherford thereafter. Retherford scored two takedowns off Mayes shot attempts plus three sets of four-point exposures to cement the win.

Retherford blitzed through the 149-pound bracket with four victories coming by technical fall and one cemented with a pin. Of his 28 season wins, 25 were decided by either pin, technical fall or major decision.

In his return trip to the 157-pound NCAA finals, Penn State sophomore Jason Nolf implemented his unorthodox style to perfection, claiming his first NCAA crown with a 14-6 major decision win over Missouri’s Joey LaVallee. Nolf completed a perfect 27-0 campaign by scoring six takedowns in his finals match.

After coming out of redshirt halfway through the season, Penn State true freshman Mark Hall claimed his first NCAA title at 174 pounds with a calculated 5-2 effort over Ohio State’s Bo Jordan. Hall reversed his overtime loss to Jordan from the Big Ten finals held two weeks ago.

Penn State became the fourth team in the history of the NCAA Championships to have five wrestlers earn individual titles. The other squads to do so were the 1986 and 1997 Iowa Hawkeyes and the 2005 Oklahoma State Cowboys.

While Penn State was busy making history this weekend, two Olympic medalists were busy rewriting the history books themselves.

The legendary run of Kyle Snyder continued on Saturday evening as the Ohio State Buckeye secured his second NCAA championship with a 6-3 victory over Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery at 285 pounds.

Snyder was the first American born Olympic gold medalist to ever compete at the NCAA Championships. He joined Olympic teammate J’den Cox as U.S. medalists to return to college competition and win the NCAA crown this year.

“I think it's hard for me to even describe the feeling of what it was like to win the Olympics or the World's or the NCAAs. I think it's just hard to put into words, a lot of training on my part, but a lot of effort and guidance from family, friends, coaches, teammates that all helped me accomplish these things,” Snyder said.

Olympic bronze medalist Cox capped off a stunning career for the Missouri Tigers, becoming the first three-time NCAA champion in program history with a dominant 8-2 victory over Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr in the 197-pound finals.

Cox opened the bout with a crafty single leg takedown and subsequent ride out to end the first period up 2-0. He continued to press with an escape point and second single leg conversion in the second period. Pfarr netted two escape points as the match counted down, but it was Cox cementing his legacy with a last second takedown to win by an 8-2 final.

With the victory, Cox became the fourth Olympic medalist for Team USA to capture a NCAA championship after medaling at the Olympic Games. Snyder soon became the fifth to accomplish this feat.

“I’m honored to have accomplished another great feat, not only for myself but for my school, for my teammates and for my family…I’m proud I represented them throughout my years wrestling in college and I’m just really proud of the outcomes,” Cox said.

There have only been three other U.S. wrestlers to win an Olympic medal and return to college to win a NCAA title. The others were Oklahoma’s Dan Hodge, Iowa State’s Chris Taylor and Iowa’s Barry Davis.

Oklahoma State tied a program record with eight All-Americans this week, and got itself a champion when Cowboy junior Dean Heil successfully defended his 141-pound national title against Virginia’s George DiCamillo.

Heil capped off a perfect 32-0 season with a 6-3 victory over his Cavalier opponent. Heil struck on two takedowns, one in the first period and one in the third period, to separate himself in the bout. In vintage Heil fashion, the match was filled with several wacky scrambles and 50-50 exchanges. Amidst all the chaos, the trend of a Heil victory held firm.

In his third trip to the NCAA finals, Cory Clark broke through to claim that ever-elusive NCAA title as a senior for the Iowa Hawkeyes, the 82nd individual NCAA title for the program. Clark won it in spectacular fashion over South Dakota State’s first-ever NCAA finalist Seth Gross, 4-3.

After surrendering the first takedown of the bout, Clark reeled off two escape points to tie things up 2-2 entering the third frame. Gross regained the lead after escaping from bottom to start the third, but it was Clark converting on a late takedown and ride out to seal the win.

Lehigh junior Darian Cruz became the 28th NCAA champion in program history with a clutch 6-3 victory over Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak at 125 pounds. Tied 2-2 late, Cruz converted on a single leg takedown with 28 seconds remaining to go ahead for good. After a Lizak desperation attempt, Cruz sealed the deal by a 6-3 final.

Penn State came out on top in the team race with 146.5 total points, 36.5 points ahead of the runners-up from Ohio State. Oklahoma State finished in third place with 103 points, followed by Iowa in fourth place with 97 points and Missouri rounding out the top five with 86.5 points.

“That’s why today is so – I’m still kind of like it’s just crazy because usually you have somebody lose or something doesn’t go right, and as a competitor your heart is always with the kid that doesn’t reach his goal. And so this is very special,” said Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson.

The 2017 NCAA Division I Championships were the third-most attended in the history of the event with a combined six-session attendance of 111,454 spectators. The tournament will be hosted in Cleveland, Ohio next season.

Complete brackets and match-by-match results from this event can be found on Trackwrestling.com

2017 NCAA DIVISION I WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
March 16-18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.


Team Standings
1. Penn State 146.5
2. Ohio State 110
3. Oklahoma State 103
4. Iowa 97
5. Missouri 86.5
6. Virginia Tech 63.5
7. Minnesota 62.5
8. Cornell 60.5
9. Nebraska 59.5
10. Michigan 47.5

Finals Results
125 lbs. – No. 4 Darian Cruz (Lehigh) dec. No. 6 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota), 6-3
133 lbs. – No. 4 Cory Clark (Iowa) dec. No. 2 Seth Gross (South Dakota State), 4-3
141 lbs. – No. 1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 6 George DiCamillo (Virginia), 6-3
149 lbs. – No. 1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) tech. fall No. 3 Lavion Mayes (Missouri), 18-2
157 lbs. – No. 1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) maj. dec. No. 3 Joey LaVallee (Missouri), 14-6
165 lbs. – No. 3 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) fall No. 1 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois), 5:25
174 lbs. – No. 5 Mark Hall (Penn State) dec. No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State), 5-2
184 lbs. – No. 2 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. No. 1 Gabe Dean (Cornell), 4-3
197 lbs. – No. 1 J’den Cox (Missouri) dec. No. 2 Brett Pfarr (Minnesota), 8-2
285 lbs. – No. 1 Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) dec. No. 2 Connor Medbery (Wisconsin), 6-3