Update: Hall beats Valencia in battle of NCAA champs; No. 1 Penn State hammers Arizona State, 41-3

By Andy Elder, Special to TheMat.com | Dec. 14, 2018, 9:07 p.m. (ET)
All eyes are on Mark Hall of Penn State and Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in the battle between past NCAA champions. Photo courtesy of Penn State Wrestling Twitter.

UNIVERSITY PARK — As the clock ticked down to :17 Friday night, the sellout crowd of 6,676 fans in Rec Hall stood as one, their roar building as each subsequent second ticked off the clock.

Second-ranked Penn State 174-pounder Mark Hall held top-ranked defending champion Zahid Valencia of Arizona State flat on his stomach, the Sun Devil’s energy seemingly eclipsed.

When the clock read 0:00 and the scoreboard 4-0 in Hall’s favor, the Nittany Lion junior jumped to his feet, turned toward the Penn State bench and strummed a few licks on an air guitar. He then pumped his fist a couple times as the crowd noise built to a deafening crescendo.

Hall had answered the question those 6,676 fans, and wrestling fans all around the country, had been asking all week — Who’s the best 174-pounder in college wrestling?

Was it the 2018 champ Valencia, who dethroned Hall with a dominating 8-2 win in Cleveland? Or was it the 2017 champ, Hall, who had secured a controversial 4-3 semifinal win over Valencia in St. Louis on his way to the title?

Hall’s dominating 4-0 win provided a definitive answer to that question.

It was just one of nine wins No. 1 Penn State posted in winning its 49th consecutive dual meet, a 41-3 thumping of No. 15 Arizona State.

“First off, it’s a tremendous place to wrestle. I think our guys got a nice education on what it’s like to come into a really hostile environment with guys who want to fight really hard,” Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones said.

“I think that was one. Two, our overall effort wasn’t great, for a variety of reasons. Maybe we were outmatched in a couple of weights. When it got hard and tough at times, we didn’t match it. You can’t compete with a team like that unless you’re effort’s a hundred percent every second.”

Penn State’s domination was about as thorough as it could be. The Nittany Lions racked up three falls, two major decisions, two decisions and a technical fall. PSU’s 27-6 advantage in takedowns was lopsided, but even more so when you consider all six of ASU’s takedowns came in its only win of the night, at 125 pounds.

While the sellout crowd seemed a bit more amped than usual throughout the night, it saved its loudest cheers for the rematch of the Valencia-Hall rematch.

This time, Hall dominated.

After a scoreless first period, Hall chose bottom to start the second and worked his way free relatively easily. He then converted the match’s only takedown and rode Valencia the rest of the period, building 41 seconds of riding time.

Valencia chose bottom to start the third and Hall kept him there the entire period. At times, Hall hooked Valencia’s ankle and wouldn’t let him out. On the two or three occasions the Sun Devil was able to stand, Hall returned him to the mat. Valencia was never really close to escaping.

Hall seemed to indicate effort was the difference.

“Just wrestling hard through positions, not giving him an escape, just because he comes up, just because he gets up doesn’t mean you’re out, right? Just wrestling through everything,” he said.

“Just putting on that hard ride was what I was thinking about. Whether it was the second period or third period, that was what I was thinking of doing. Trying to throw my leg in, get a cross-wrist, trying to turn him.”

Jones, when asked if he was surprised that Hall was able to ride Valencia, hesitated and then agreed with Hall’s assessment that effort was the key.

“I’m not so surprised in that I think it’s a Zahid effort factor. You know the amount of holds he hits a match, right? How many holds did he hit from the bottom? That’s partly Mark’s game plan. Mark was able to hook his ankle and ride him and return him to the mat and get his wrist. That’s something that normally doesn’t happen to Zahid. When he gets up, he’s out, but he didn’t get out. He got returned. What do you do next?” Jones said.

Hall said the impromptu air guitar solo came to him before the match.

“I just had a vision before the match even started, just kind of played it all through my head. I knew what was going to happen, had a lot of confidence and my preparation coming in was good. I felt good,” he said.

Penn State coach Cael Sanderson gave an understated summary of the match.

“I thought Mark wrestled really well and I'm really happy for him,” he said. “Just solid, solid all the way around. Looking forward to that next match.”

Jones said Hall was able to wrestle the way he wanted more than Valencia.

“I think Mark did a fantastic job today of executing his plan. Zahid didn’t execute his plan. You didn’t see Zahid like you’ve seen him in the past,” he said.

“The great thing is Zahid is a very bright wrestler. He’s very smart. He has a high wrestling IQ. He’ll need to go back and say, ‘what didn’t I do that I normally do that makes me good?’ He’s a smart enough guy to do that. He’s got to do more than he did tonight.”

The match featured three other matchups of ranked wrestlers and Penn State won them all.

At 165, top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph used a six-point move in the first period to engineer an 11-2 major decision over No. 5 Josh Shields, a former Young Guns Wrestling Club teammate.

Joseph had Shields’ leg hiked up after hitting a single and when Shields tried to execute a dive roll underneath as a counter, Joseph caught him in a danger position for a takedown and four nearfall points.

“I think I wrestled hard but I would have liked to get more opportunities throughout the match,” Joseph said.

At 149, No. 12 Brady Berge made his Rec Hall debut memorable in a 5-4 win over No. 11 Josh Maruca. Berge used two slick counter takedowns to fuel the win.

“That's his first time in Rec Hall and Maruca's a quality opponent. He wrestled well, a little conservative. Maruca’s obviously very good and knows what he's doing in those positions but Berge did a great job getting two takedowns and that match was a big step for him,” Sanderson said.

The other matchup of ranked wrestlers, at 157, wasn’t close. No. 1 Jason Nolf used seven takedowns in an 18-5 rout of No. 16 Christian Pagdilao.

Penn State got pins from No. 4 Nick Lee at 141 (2:18), No. 1 197-pounder Bo Nickal (:35) and No. 5 285-pounder Anthony Cassar (5:18).

Shakur Rasheed rolled to a 15-0 technical fall in seven minutes at 184.

Jones, in an apparent attempt to try to steal two wins early, sent out Brandon Courtney instead of No. 7 Ryan Millhof at 125. The move paid off as Courtney piled up six takedowns, four in the first period, in a 13-7 decision over Devin Schnupp.

Millhof bumped up to 133 to take on unranked freshman Roman Bravo-Young. Jones’ gambit backfired as Bravo-Young dominated Millhof, scoring four takedowns, coaxing two stall points and piling up 3:16 in riding time in a 14-1 major.

“I thought Roman wrestled really well also. His opponent bumped up from 25. I thought that was a nice move on Arizona State's part. They came here to win, which says a lot. But Roman wrestled well, he wrestled smart against a tough opponent with a lot of experience.”

Jones admitted that the boisterous Rec Hall crowd may have been a factor in the lopsided score and his wrestlers’ efforts.

“You’re wrestling a hostile environment. You’ve got to know that it’s a fight. You’re fighting a lot of factors, but in reality, it’s two arms, two legs and one head. You’re not wrestling anything else. You’ve got to be able to withstand or block out or use to your advantage external factors. Maybe the guys let that creep in too much. I don’t know,” he said.

Sanderson, as usual, praised the Nittany Lion faithful.

“We love Rec Hall. We love our fans, they do an awesome job. They need to yell 'stalling' more. We have to train them a little bit. They're always great,” he said. “They come here to watch good wrestling and as long as we can give them that they'll keep coming back, so we appreciate it.”

No. 1 Penn State 41
No. 15 Arizona State 3
(Friday at University Park)

125: Brandon Courtney, ASU, dec. Devin Schnupp, 13-7.
133: Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, maj. Dec. No. 7 Ryan Millhof, 14-1.
141: No. 4 Nick Lee, PSU, pinned Cory Crooks, 2:18.
149: No. 12 Brady Berge, PSU, dec. No. 11 Josh Maruca, 5-4.
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, maj. Dec. No. 16 Christian Pagdilao, 18-5.
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, maj. Dec. No. 5 Josh Shields, 11-2.
174: No. 2 Mark Hall, dec. No. 1 Zahid Valencia, 4-0.
184: No. 4 Shakur Rasheed, PSU, won by tech. fall over Kordell Norfleet, 15-0 (7:00).
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, pinned Austyn Harris, :35.
285: No. 5 Anthony Cassar, PSU, pinned Brady Daniel, 5:18.
Ridge Riley Award winner: Mark Hall, 174 pounds.
Attendance: 6,676.
Takedowns: Arizona State 6; Penn State 27.
Records: Arizona State 1-3; Penn State 4-0.

by Pat Donghia, Penn State Athletics

125: Sophomore Devin Schnupp (Lititz, Pa.) took on Brandon Courtney of Arizona State. Courtney opened up the match with a strong high double to take an early 2-1 lead. The Sun Devil freshman added on two more takedowns to lead 6-3 two minutes into the bout. Courtney scrambled his way to a takedown and an 8-3 lead as the period wound down and carried that lead into the second period. Courtney chose down to start the second period and Schnupp put together a strong ride, working the clock down to 1:23 before Courtney escaped to a 9-33 lead. The Lion sophomore began nearly scored on a solid shot but Courtney was able to slip out of bounds at the 1:10 mark. Schnupp’s tempo had the ASU grappler on his heels as the period ended, forcing a first stall warning. Schnupp chose down to start the third and quickly escaped to a 9-4 score. Courtney notched another takedown and led 11-5 at the 1:20 mark after a quick Schnupp escape. Courtney scrambled to a takedown with :25 left, looking to notch a major decision. However, Schnupp scrambled his way to a reversal with :02 left to keep the bout to a 13-7 decision, bringing the Rec Hall faithful to their feet.

133: True freshman Roman Bravo-Young (Tucson, Ariz.) battled Ryan Millhof, ranked No. 7 at 125, who bumped up a weight to take on the Lion freshman. Bravo-Young was the aggressor early, scrambling his way to a takedown on the edge of the mat to take an early 2-0 lead with 2:28 on the clock. Bravo-Young then controlled the action on top, building up a :40 riding time edge before the ranked Sun Devil escaped. Bravo-Young’s strength allowed him to power through a high shot and take a 4-1 lead with a second takedown. He then dominated the action on top, working the clock down to zeroes and his riding time edge up to 2:19 at the end of the period. Leading 4-1, Bravo-Young chose neutral to start the second period. He picked a fifth point on a second stall and led 5-1 with 1:25 on the clock. Bravo-Young continued to press the ranked 125-pounder. He countered a slight Millhof shot, gained control of his shoulders and worked the clock down to :30 before a stalemate forced a reset. He then powered through a high double off the restart and took a 7-1 lead with :15 left to lead 7-1 with 2:43 in time after two. Trailing 7-1, Millhof chose top to start the third period but Bravo-Young easily escaped to an 8-1 lead. Bravo-Young shot low at Millhof’s feet, forcing a scramble in the middle of the mat with 1:10 left. With the riding time point clinched, Bravo-Young finished off the takedown and then turned him for two back points. A final stall point and the riding time point allowed the Lion to roar to a 14-1 major with 3:16 in riding time.

141: Sophomore Nick Lee (Evansville, Ind.), ranked No. 4 at 141, met Sun Devil Cory Crooks. Lee dominated the action from the get-go, taking Crooks down twice early and tacking on two nearfall points to lead 6-1 midway through the opening period. Lee then worked arm control into a turn that ended with a quick pin at the 2:18 mark.

149: Redshirt freshman Brady Berge (Mantorville, Minn.), ranked No. 12 at 149, made his Rec Hall dual meet debut against No. 11 Josh Maruca of Arizona State. The twosome battled evenly in the middle of the mat for the first half of the opening period with Berge forcing the junior Maruca back to the outside circle and into a first stall warning at the 1:10 mark. Berge countered a slight Maruca shot and scrambled around him for a takedown and a 2-1 lead with :30 on the clock. Trailing 2-1, Maruca chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 2-2 tie. Berge got hit for a stall warning at the :35 mark as the duo battled on their feet in the middle of the mat. Tied 2-2, Berge chose down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 3-2 lead. Berge nearly connected on a counter takedown with 1:10 left, but Maruca was able to slip out of trouble and the match continued on with Berge leading 3-2. Berge dodged another Maruca shot, countered, and picked up a second takedown to lead 5-3 with :20 left in the bout. The Lion gave up a stall point and then held on for a hard-fought 5-4 win.

157: Senior Jason Nolf (Yatesboro, Pa.), ranked No. 1 at 157, met No. 16 Christian Pagdilao. Nolf scored quickly, taking the ranked Sun Devil down for a 2-1 lead just :40 into the bout. The Lion then reeled off two quick takedowns and led 6-3 at the 1:15 mark. Nolf then blew through a fast low double, forced a brief scramble, and picked up his fourth takedown to lead 8-3 with :18 on the clock. The Lion then rode Pagdilao out to lead 8-3 after the first period. Pagdilao chose down to start the second period and Nolf put together a dominant ride, building up 1:38 in riding time before cutting the Sun Devil loose to an 8-4 lead. Paglidao forced a scramble with a low shot and Nolf countered for a takedown of his own to lead 10-4 with 1:58 in riding time after two periods. Nolf chose down to start the third period and deftly scrambled his way to an escape and an 11-4 lead. The Lion senior continued to shoot and took Pagdilao down again with :50 on the clock. Nolf cut the Devil loose and then locked his shoulders between his legs, got the takedown and two near fall points as the period ended. A riding time point thanks to a 2:03 advantage gave Nolf a strong 18-5 major decision.

165: Junior Vincenzo Joseph (Pittsburgh, Pa.), ranked No. 1 at 165, took on No. 5 Josh Shields in a key match-up at 165. The duo battled evenly for a minute, with neither wrestler breaking through the other’s defense. Joseph gained control of Shields’ ankle, worked his way to a wild takedown on the edge of the mat, using leverage and his legs to turn the Sun Devil for four back points at the 1:16 mark. The move gave Joseph a 6-0 lead. Shields tried to work his way free of Joseph’s ride off a reset, but the Lion controlled the Sun Devil junior until the :05 mark to lead 6-1 with 1:18 in time after one period. Joseph chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 7-1 lead. Joseph continued to look to score, forcing Shields into defense for the bulk of the second period. The Lion fought off a solid Shields shot at the end of the period and carried that lead, with 1:14 in time, into the third period. Shields chose down to start the third period and Joseph cut him loose to a 7-2 score with 1:42 left. Shields got hit for a first stall warning with 1:20 on the clock. Joseph picked up a stall point and then capped off the dominating major with a final takedown. A 1:38 riding time edge gave Joseph the 11-2 major over fifth-ranked Shields.

174: Junior Mark Hall (Apple Valley, Minn.), ranked No. 2 at 174, took on No. 1 Zahid Valencia in a rematch of two thrilling NCAA tournament battles from 2017 and 2018. The duo battled evenly for the opening minute-plus, working in the middle of the mat on the Nittany Lion logo. They battled to a stalemate on their feet at the 1:15 mark with the bout scoreless with each man looking for an opening to score. The duo battled for the remainder of the period without scoring and the bout moved to the second stanza tied 0-0. Hall chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 1-0 lead. Hall fought off a Valencia high single at the 1:20 mark, scrambling his way into control of the Sun Devil and rolling through for a takedown and 3-0 lead at the :50 mark, bringing nearly 7,000 Rec Hall faithful to their feet. Hall spent the remainder of the period looking to turn Valencia and, while not getting a near fall, finished off the rideout to lead 3-0 with a :41 riding time edge after two periods. Valencia chose down to start the third period and Hall controlled him front the top position again, building up over 1:00 in riding time in the process. The Lion junior continued his ride deep into the third period. He worked his way into a chance to turn Valencia but only got a quick one count at the :40 mark. Hall finished the match off on top and rolled to a dominating 4-0 win with 2:41 in riding time.

184: Senior Shakur Rasheed (Coram, N.Y.), ranked No. 4 at 184, met Kordell Norfleet. Rasheed was steady to start, taking his time and finding the right spot on the edge of the mat to connect on a low single with 1:41 left. Leading 2-0, Rasheed spent the next minute-plus looking for a chance to turn the Sun Devil wrestler to his back. While not finishing off a cradle, Rasheed finished on top and led 2-0 with 1:41 in time after one period. Rasheed chose down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 3-0 lead. He then quickly turned in on a single and upped his lead to 5-0 with another takedown at the 1:40 mark. Rasheed picked up a riding time point and then began looking to lock up a cradle. A third stall gave Rasheed a 7-0 lead with 3:8 in riding time after two periods. Norfleet chose neutral to start the third period, tried to connect on a low shot, only to have Rasheed roll behind him for another takedown and a 9-0 lead. He upped his lead to 10-0 on another stall, picked up four near fall points at the 1:02 mark and finished on top to post a 15-0 technical fall (with the 4:58 riding time point) at the 7:00 mark.

197: Senior Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas), ranked No. 1 at 197, faced off against ASU’s Austyn Harris. Nickal wasted no time adding to the Lion lead. Nickal spent just 0:30 on his feet before locking Harris up, turning him quickly to his back and getting the fast fall at the 0:35 mark.

285: Senior Anthony Cassar (Rocky Hill, N.J.), ranked No. 5 at 285, met Sun Devil Brady Daniel. Cassar took Daniel down early, opening up a 2-0 lead just over 0:30 into the bout. The Lion senior built up a solid riding time edge, controlling the action from the top position and then working arm control into a turn. Cassar picked up the four count and led 6-0 at the 1:07 mark. Daniel escaped to a 6-1 score with :30 on the clock and Cassar led 6-1 with 1:51 in time after one. Cassar chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 7-1 lead. He then worked his way through a low shot for a scrambling takedown and a 9-1 lead with 1:30 left in the middle stanza. The Lion senior dominated the action from the top position, forcing Daniel into a first stall warning as his time advantage inched closer to 3:00. He cut the Sun Devil big man loose with :35 on the clock and immediately took him down again to up his lead to 11-2. Trailing 11-2, Daniel chose neutral to start the third period and Cassar made him pay for the decision. The Lion senior moved in quickly, picked Daniel up and tossed him to his back A quick reset on top and Cassar posted the fall at the 5:18 mark.