Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Northern Iowa put together monumental nights in NCAA finals

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | March 23, 2019, 11:09 p.m. (ET)

Photo: Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers ended his college career as an NCAA champion. Photo by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com.

PITTSBURGH – While Penn State claimed multiple national champions, programs like Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Northern Iowa stole the show on Saturday night at the 2019 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Pa.

It was a historic night for Rutgers, which crowned its first two NCAA champions in program history on Saturday night.

At 133 pounds, Rutgers junior Nick Suriano became the first national champion for the Scarlet Knights, defeating freshman and No. 1 seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State in a 4-2 battle.

Trading escapes, the bout was forced into overtime after a 1-1 score in regulation. No points were added in the first sudden-victory period and the pair were tied, 2-2, after the first tiebreaker period with Suriano scoring an escape and Fix drawing a stalling point.

Early in sudden-victory 2, Suriano hit a low leg attack for a takedown and a 4-2 decision over Fix.

“I’m speechless. I just didn’t quit through this whole journey, and it came down to not quitting,” Suriano said.

Suriano interview

Two matches later, Rutgers senior Anthony Ashnault capped off his career at the rising program with a convincing 9-4 decision over three-time All-American Micah Jordan of Ohio State, 9-4. Ashnault used two takedowns and a set of back points to propel him to the 149-pound national title.

Yesterday, Ashnault added to the Rutgers history book becoming the program’s first four-time All-American.

“It's everything that I've worked for up to this point,” Ashnault said. “I try not to idolize wrestling, but a big part of my life was focused on getting a national title. I’m extremely blessed that I got a sixth year. Man, I can't put it into words right now, but I'm just excited. And I just want to go hug my family and be with them and just bask in it for a little bit.”

Ashnault interview

With its two champions, Rutgers took ninth in the team race with 51.5 points for the highest team finish and most points scored by the Scarlet Knights in tournament history.

At the conclusion of the tournament, Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale was named NWCA Coach of the Year.

“I’m just happy that I’m surrounded by some really good people,” Goodale said. “Coach (John) Leonardis has been with me from day one and (Donny) Pritzlaff is as good as it gets. Coach (Brian) Murphy is brand new and has been working with these guys every day. I just think back to those years when people said we’ll never do it. We stayed the course, sunk our teeth in and did it. I’m just so thankful. I’m thankful for everybody who stuck with me. This has been a long-time coming. I’m so excited for this athletic department.”

Virginia Tech also got its first NCAA champion on Saturday as freshman Mekhi Lewis knocked off two-time defending national champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State in explosive fashion.

After a scoreless first period, Joseph started the second on bottom. From top, Lewis locked up a cradle and turned the Nittany Lion for four nearfall points to take an eventual 4-1 lead into the final frame.

In the third, Lewis began with an escape and later countered a Joseph shot for a takedown to win the match with a 7-1 statement.

“I always wanted to be a national champ. So to have this opportunity and go out there and wrestle and try to become one, I'm just so grateful for it,” Lewis said. “It means a lot [to be the first NCAA champion for Virginia Tech] because Virginia Tech wrestling has been really good. It's just that we never really had good finals, good end results. So to be the first one is really special. It means a lot to me. Just so happy that I'm a part of the program.”

Lewis was named the 2019 NCAA Outstanding Wrestler.

Lewis interview

Claiming the crown at 184 pounds, Drew Foster became the first NCAA champion for Northern Iowa since 2000.

The Panther defeated Cornell sophomore Max Dean in a close 6-4 bout.

Trailing 4-3 in the last in the last 20 seconds, Foster secured a takedown and a riding time point to end his collegiate career with a national title.

Foster interview

With the team title already clinched in this morning’s session, Penn State extended its winning margin to 41 points with three champions on Saturday night.

Ohio State finished second with 96.5 points and Oklahoma State claimed the third-place trophy with 84 points. Rounding out the top-five was Iowa with 76 and Michigan with 62.5.

Highlighting the night for Penn State were three-time NCAA champions and seniors Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal. The other national title came from first-time qualifier Anthony Cassar, also a senior for PSU.

Nolf scored a major decision over No. 2 Tyler Berger of Nebraksa en route to his third NCAA title. Most of his scoring came from the first period, where he picked up three takedowns and a set of nearfall points.

Nolf wraps up his career with an impressive 118-3 record.

Nolf interview

At 197 pounds, Nickal picked up his third-straight individual title at three different weights, ending his collegiate career with a 5-1 decision against second-ranked Kollin Moore from Ohio State in the finals.

Nickal tallied late takedowns in the first and third periods for the win.

Nickal and Cael Sanderson interviews

Cassar was the first Nittany Lion of the night to win a national title, with the session beginning at 285 pounds, and had the largest margin of victory for PSU.

Avenging a loss from earlier in the season at the Southern Scuffle, Cassar dominated Oklahoma State’s Derek White, the No. 1 seed.

After a scoreless first period, Cassar turned in a six-point move in the final seconds of the second frame, scoring a takedown and four nearfall. He extended his lead in the third period with a takedown and a rideout for a 10-1 major decision.

Cassar interview

In addition to Nolf and Nickal, others capturing multiple NCAA championships included Spencer Lee of Iowa at 125 pounds, Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell at 141 pounds and Zahid Valencia of Arizona State at 174 pounds.

Lee, a sophomore, repeated as NCAA champion at 125 pounds with a controlled win over fifth-ranked Jack Mueller from Virginia.

To take an early lead, the Hawkeye scored a takedown in the first period for a 2-0 advantage. Although Lee was unable to escape in the second period, he drew a stalling point from Mueller to go up 3-0.

Mueller chose neutral to start the third, and Lee iced the match with a takedown in final 12 seconds to win his second-consecutive national title.

Lee interview

Diakomihalis won a nail-biter in overtime over three-time All-American and Ohio State senior Joey McKenna at 141 pounds.

McKenna scored a takedown in the first 30 seconds and held onto the lead until the last four seconds of the bout, when Diakomihalis scored a takedown in a scramble initiated by the Buckeye.

In sudden victory, McKenna shot on a single, ensuing another scramble. Once again, Diakomihalis came out on top, winning the match, 6-4.

Diakomihalis interview

Defending champion Valencia, who entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed, met up with 2017 NCAA champion Mark Hall of Penn State in the 174-pound finals for the second year in a row.

Hall led after the first period, thanks a takedown, and the Nittany Lion extended his lead with an escape to start the second, but Valencia tied it up with a takedown, 3-3.

In the third period, Valencia picked up an early escape and held on for a 4-3 win.

Valencia interview

The 2020 NCAAs are set for March 19-21 at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

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

Team scores
1. Penn State – 137.5
2. Ohio State – 96.5
3. Oklahoma State – 84
4. Iowa – 76
5. Michigan – 62.5
6. Missouri – 62
7. Cornell – 59.5
8. Minnesota – 53.5
9. Rutgers – 51.5
10. Nebraska – 52

Finals matchups
125: #3 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. #5 Jack Mueller (Virginia), 5-0
133: #3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. #1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), 4-2 SV2
141: #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. #2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State), 6-4
149: #1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) dec. #2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 9-4
157: #1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec. #2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska), 10-2
165: #8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) dec. #2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State), 7-1
174: #3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) dec. #1 Mark Hall (Penn State), 4-3
184: #6 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) dec. #5 Max Dean (Cornell), 6-4
197: #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. #2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State), 5-1
285: #2 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) MD #1 Derek White (Oklahoma State), 10-1

Final results
125 pounds

1st - #3 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. #5 Jack Mueller (Virginia), 5-0
3rd - #1 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) dec. #8 Vitali Arujau (Cornell), 8-3
5th - #2 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) fall #7 Patrick Glory (Princeton), 5:30
7th - #9 Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) dec. #4 Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State), 7-4

133 pounds
1st - #3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. #1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), 4-2 SV2
3rd - #2 Stevan Micic (Michigan) dec. #5 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), 6-1
5th - #7 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) dec. #8 John Erneste (Missouri), 11-6
7th - #6 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) dec. #10 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State), 8-5

141 pounds
1st - #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. #2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State), 6-4
3rd - #5 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) dec. #9 Dom Demas (OU), 2-0
5th - #3 Nick Lee (Penn State) fall #7 Mitch McKee (Minnesota), 4:22
7th - #13 Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven) MD #16 Chad Red (Nebraska), 11-3

149 pounds
1st - #1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) dec. #2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 9-4
3rd - #6 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) dec. #3 Mitch Finesilver (Duke), 7-5
5th - #5 Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton) dec. #4 Brock Mauller (Missouri), 10-6
7th - #8 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State) dec. #10 Pat Lugo (Iowa), 11-9

157 pounds
1st - #1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec. #2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska), 10-2
3rd - #4 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) dec. #5 Hayden Hidlay (NC State), 5-3
5th - #6 Kaleb Young (Iowa) dec. #3 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), 7-5 SV1
7th - #9 Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State) dec. #7 Larry Early (Old Dominion), 3-2

165 pounds
1st - #8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) dec. #2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State), 7-1
3rd - #5 Chance Marsteller (Lock Haven) dec. #4 Evan Wick (Wisconsin), 6-5
5th - #7 Isaiah White (Nebraska) dec. #3 Josh Shields (Arizona State), 8-4
7th - #1 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) dec. #11 Bryce Steiert (Northern Iowa), 9-3

174 pounds
1st - #3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) dec. #1 Mark Hall (Penn State), 4-3
3rd - #4 Myles Amine (Michigan) dec. #2 Daniel Lewis (Missouri), 4-3
5th - #6 David McFadden (Virginia Tech) dec. #10 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska), 4-3
7th - #5 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) dec. #9 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota), 5-1

184 pounds
1st - #6 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) dec. #5 Max Dean (Cornell), 6-4
3rd - #1 Myles Martin (Ohio State) dec. #8 Ryan Preisch (Lehigh), 5-3
5th - #4 Emery Parker (Illinois) dec. #15 Chip Ness (North Carolina), 11-5
7th - #26 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) dec. #3 Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech), 5-4

197 pounds
1st - #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. #2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State), 5-1
3rd - #3 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) dec. #4 Patrick Brucki (Princeton), 7-1
5th - #16 Josh Hokit (Fresno State) dec. #6 Willie Miklus (Iowa State), 7-2 TB1
7th - #5 Jacob Warner (Iowa) dec. #9 Ben Honis (Cornell), 8-4

285 pounds
1st - #2 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) MD #1 Derek White (Oklahoma State), 10-1
3rd - #3 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) dec. #4 Jordan Wood (Lehigh), 4-0
5th - #6 Amar Dhesi (Oregon State) dec. #10 Youssif Hemida (Maryland), 5-2
7th - #9 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) dec. #7 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), 3-1