Top-seeds Rivera and Martin go down in semis, Hall and Valencia set for championship rematch

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | March 23, 2019, 12:09 a.m. (ET)

Photo: Zahid Valencia of Arizona State will compete in Saturday’s finals at 174 pounds. Photos by Richard Immel.

PITTSBURGH – Dreams came true and dreams were shattered inside the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh as the 2019 NCAA semifinals and blood rounds went down on Friday night.

At the end of the night, 80 All-Americans were decided, representing 31 different programs.

Leading the way is Penn State with seven All-Americans and five finalists. Iowa boasts six All-Americans and one finalist, followed by three schools who snagged five All-Americans—Ohio State (three finalists), Oklahoma State (two finalists) and Missouri.

In addition to Penn State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, Cornell and Rutgers also sent multiple wrestlers to Saturday night’s NCAA finals.

Following a Friday-morning stunner that saw No. 1 at 165 pounds Alex Marinelli go down, another No. 1 seed fell on Friday night as fifth-ranked Jack Mueller from Virginia knocked off top-seeded Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern in the 125-pound semifinal.

Mueller, now a two-time All-American, was off to a hot start, scoring takedowns in the first and second periods for a 4-0 lead going into the third. Mueller went on to score an escape to open the final frame and a takedown for an eventual 8-2 win.

“This is what I wanted. Everybody has been talking about how weak my schedule was, so it felt good to take down the No. 1 guy. I'm the one to beat now. I'm the 1 seed,” Mueller said.

Waiting for him in the final is reigning NCAA champion at 125 pounds, Spencer Lee of Iowa.

To advance to the finals, Lee avenged a loss from earlier in the season to Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni, the No. 2 seed.

Lee, a sophomore for the Hawkeyes, scored a takedown in each period over the Cowboy and added two nearfall points in the final seconds for an 11-4 decision. Tomorrow night, Lee will make his second NCAA finals appearance in as many attempts.

For the sixth year in a row, there is a freshman in the finals as Daton Fix of Oklahoma State kept the streak alive, advancing to the 133-pound finals.

In the semis, top-seeded Fix dealt 2018 All-American for Ohio State Luke Pletcher a 4-2 loss, headed by an early first-period takedown. Fix added to his lead with an escape in the second. Pletcher closed in with a takedown in the third period, but it was not enough as Fix won with riding time advantage, 4-2.

On the other side of 133, the 2018 NCAA runner-up at 125 Nick Suriano from Rutgers earned his second-consecutive trip to the finals, defeating last year’s 133-pound runner-up Stevan Micic of Michigan in the semis.

Suriano scored the only takedown in the match, picking up two in the first period to lead the Scarlet Knight to a 4-1 victory.

Fix owns a win over Suriano from earlier this season in a dual, where the bout ended with a hands-to-the-face penalty in sudden victory.

Suriano seeks to become Rutgers’ first NCAA wrestling champion.

Defending NCAA champion at 141 pounds Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell outlasted three-time All-American Jaydin Eierman in a nail-biting semifinal.

The two traded takedowns and escapes in the first period, but Diakomihalis pulled away in the final period with a takedown in the last 25 seconds of the match. The Big Red wrestler moved on with a 6-5 decision.

Second-ranked Joey McKenna from Ohio State advanced to the finals, holding off 2018 All-American Nick Lee from Penn State, ranked No. 3 in the field.

Lee took a 1-0 lead into the third period, where most of the scoring happened. McKenna began the period with an escape and scored a takedown shortly after to take the lead, which he held onto for an eventual 4-3 decision.

At 149 pounds, the first four-time All-American in Rutgers’ history Anthony Ashnault added to the historic day, giving the Scarlet Knights two NCAA finalists for the first time.

“We're just excited to have two Rutgers guys in the finals,” Ashnault said. “I came to Rutgers at a time when Rutgers wasn't close to the top 20, and now we're consistently in the top 10 in this tournament, and last year we finished right outside of the top 10. The goal coming in was to have me and Nick be champs, and our whole team supports us for that. It was kind of expected for us both to be in the finals, and now we're ready to go win it.”

Ashnault, who returned this year after an injury kept him out last season, has battled his way into the finals, capping off Friday night with a 2-0 decision over 2018 All-American Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton in the semis.

Tomorrow night, Ashnault will attempt to become the first NCAA champion for Rutgers as he goes head-to-head against three-time All-American Micah Jordan of Ohio State.

Jordan advanced to the title bout with a 7-4 win over North Carolina freshman Austin O’Connor in the semis.

Hayden Hidlay, the No. 5 guy at 157 pounds, had the entire crowd on the edge of its seat with just seconds remaining in his semifinal against two-time NCAA champion Jason Nolf of Penn State. Hidlay had Nolf’s leg in the air, looking for a takedown but could not convert it as the clock ran out.

Nolf held on for 3-2 win, capturing his fourth-straight bid to the NCAA finals.

Looking to challenge the two-time champ is two-time All-American and No. 2-seed Tyler Berger from Nebraska, who put up a 5-3 performance against Kaleb Young of Iowa in the semis.

Saturday night will mark the third time these two have met this season. Nolf won both matchups earlier this year, 10-4 and 12-4, respectively.

At 165 pounds, Mekhi Lewis, another freshman finalist, continued his impressive run at the tournament, defeating 2018 All-American and fourth-ranked Evan Wick from Wisconsin with a solid 5-2 decision in the semis.

Lewis came out with a quick takedown in the first period and led 2-1 after the first. He began the second with and escape and scored another takedown in the third for a spot in the 165-pound finals.

There, he’ll take on two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State.

Joseph edged out third-seeded Josh Shields from Arizona State, 3-2, thanks to a first-period takedown.

A rematch of the 2018 NCAA finals will go down tomorrow night at 174 pounds between two past champions—Mark Hall of Penn State and Zahid Valencia of Arizona State.

Hall, a 2017 NCAA champ, beat No. 4 Myles Amine of Michigan, getting an escape in the tie breaker period for a 2-1 win.

He’ll face Valencia tomorrow, who dominated Missouri’s Daniel Lewis with an 11-3 major decision, avenging a loss from earlier this season. Valencia earned five takedowns to secure his spot in the finals.

A third No. 1-seed was defeated as Cornell sophomore and fifth-ranked Max Dean scored a late takedown over 2016 NCAA champion Myles Martin of Ohio State, who has looked unstoppable all season.

Tied 2-2 going into the third period, Martin, who started the period on bottom, reversed Dean to go up 4-2. Dean escaped shortly after, and with only nine seconds left, Dean came out on top of a scramble for a takedown and a 5-4 win.

“If you're down by 10, you're up by 10, whatever it is, never stop,” Dean said. “That's what we train to do throughout the match. But afterward, it was like, man, this is pretty cool. I got my brother (two-time NCAA champ Gabe) in my corner and Mike Gray, who is like a brother, so getting to share that with them and now to have the opportunity to put everything on the line tomorrow night is pretty special.”

In the finals, Dean will face 6-seed Drew Foster from Northern Iowa.

With two takedowns, Foster became the Panthers’ first NCAA finalist since 2005, defeating No. 15 seed Chip Ness from North Carolina with a 7-4 decision.

Two-time NCAA champion Bo Nickal of Penn State claimed his fourth spot in the NCAA finals in exciting fashion, sticking fourth-ranked Patrick Brucki of Princeton in 4:40 in the 197 semis.

“I felt like I came out a little slow, was probably riding a little too hard,” Nickal said. “But I just kept wrestling, kept working through it. I think when I got the pin is when I started getting my second wind, feeling a little bit better. But he put his head close to his knees, so that's over.”

An NCAA champion at 174 pounds and 184 pounds, this is the third different weight that Nickal will make a finals appearance at.

Aiming for his third title, Nickal will face No. 2 Kollin Moore, a two-time NCAA All-American for Ohio State.

Moore was also dominant in his semi, shutting down 3-seed Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State in a 12-4 major decision win.

The 197 final will be the third meeting between the Nittany Lion and the Buckeye this season.

Nickal holds a win by fall from the dual and a 10-3 decision in the Big Ten finals.

In one of the most anticipated rematches of the tournament so far, Anthony Cassar of Penn State defeated Minnesota freshman phenom Gable Steveson of Minnesota once again, after claiming the 2019 Big Ten heavyweight title two weeks ago.

Cassar scored a takedown in the third period, which would be the deciding factor in a 4-3 win.

On the top half of the bracket, No. 1-seed Derek White of Oklahoma State edged out Jordan Wood of Lehigh for the second time this season with a 3-1 sudden-victory win.

White owns a win over Cassar from earlier in the season, when he won 3-2 in the Southern Scuffle finals.

The consolation semifinals and placement matches will take place on Saturday morning, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. The championship finals are set for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday live on ESPN.

2019 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
at PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Pa. (March 21-23)

Team scores
1. Penn State – 120.5
2. Ohio State – 88.5
3. Oklahoma State – 73.5
4. Iowa – 68
5. Missouri – 54
6. Cornell – 52
7. Nebraska – 51
T8. Michigan – 48
T8. Minnesota – 48
10. Virginia Tech – 45

Finals matchups
125: #5 Jack Mueller (Virginia) vs. #3 Spencer Lee (Iowa)
133: #1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) vs. #3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers)
141: #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) vs. #2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State)
149: #1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) vs. #2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State)
157: #1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) vs. #2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska)
165: #8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) vs. #2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)
174: #1 Mark Hall (Penn State) vs. #3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
184: #5 Max Dean (Cornell) dec. #6 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa)
197: #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. #2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
285: #1 Derek White (Oklahoma State) dec. #2 Anthony Cassar (Penn State)

Semifinal results
125 pounds
#5 Jack Mueller (Virginia) dec. #1 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern), 8-2
#3 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. #2 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State), 10-4

133 pounds
#1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) dec. #5 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), 4-2
#3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. #2 Stevan Micic (Michigan), 4-1

141 pounds
#1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. #5 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri), 6-5
#2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) dec. #3 Nick Lee (Penn State), 4-3

149 pounds
#1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) dec. #5 Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton), 2-0
#2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) dec. #6 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina), 7-4

157 pounds
#1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec. #5 Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State), 3-2
#2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska) dec. #6 Kaleb Young (Iowa), 5-3

165 pounds
#8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) dec. #4 Evan Wick (Wisconsin), 5-2
#2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) dec. #3 Josh Shields (Arizona State), 3-2

174 pounds
#1 Mark Hall (Penn State) dec.  #4 Myles Amine (Michigan), 2-1 TB1
#3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) MD #2 Daniel Lewis (Missouri), 11-3

184 pounds
#5 Max Dean (Cornell) dec. #1 Myles Martin (Ohio State), 5-4
#6 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) dec. #15 Chip Ness (North Carolina), 7-4

197 pounds
#1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) fall #4 Patrick Brucki (Princeton), 4:40
#2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) MD #3 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State), 12-4

285 pounds
#1 Derek White (Oklahoma State) dec. #4 Jordan Wood (Lehigh), 3-2
#2 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) dec. #3 Gable Steveson (Minnesota), 4-3