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Nolf, Joseph help Penn State wrestling to 6th title in 7 years

The Associated Press
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Penn State's Jason Nolf, top, takes down Missouri's Joey Lavallee in their 157-pound championship match during the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, March 18, 2017, in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
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Penn State's Jason Nolf wrestles against Missouri's Joey Lavallee in their 157-pound championship match during the NCAA Division I championships Saturday, March 18, 2017, in St. Louis. Nolf, a Kittanning graduate, won.

ST. LOUIS — Penn State’s NCAA wrestling tournament began with a major loss. The Nittany Lions did almost nothing but win after that.

Two days after learning one of their most explosive wrestlers wouldn’t be able to compete due to an injury, the Nittany Lions pulled away from the field to clinch the team title before the finals even began. Then, they went 5 for 5 in individual championship matches as three vaunted veterans were joined by two freshmen atop their respective championship podiums on Saturday night.

Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Kittanning graduate Jason Nolf (157), Central Catholic graduate Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) won titles to lead the Nittany Lions to their sixth team championship in seven years and seventh overall.

“I don’t think I even have words to describe that,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “It was unbelievable. I’m so happy for those guys. They wrestled amazing. They did it.”

They did it without 125-pounder Nick Suriano, who withdrew from the tournament a day before it began with an ankle injury. There was plenty of firepower left in the lineup, however, as Penn State won 35 of 41 combined matches and earned bonus points — critical to the team race — in 21 bouts. The Nittany Lions finished with 146.5 team points. Ohio State was second with 110 and Oklahoma State third with 103.

Most of those bonus points came from Retherford, Nolf and Nickal, who dominated their divisions for seven technical falls, five pins and a major decision.

Joseph picked up the last bonus point win when he shocked two-time champion Isaiah Martinez to spoil the Illinois wrestler’s shot at a third straight title. The two locked up chest-to-chest and Martinez tried to trip Joseph to the mat. Joseph got the leverage, however, and flattened Martinez for a pin in 5:26.

“He’s 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.”

Nickal, the runner-up last season at 174 pounds, also broke up an opponent’s run at a third title when he outlasted Cornell’s Gabe Dean 4-3.

Retherford pulled away from Missouri’s Lavion Mayes 18-2, Nolf overpowered Missouri’s Joey Lavallee 14-6 and Mark Hall became just the 17th true freshman NCAA champion with a 5-2 win over Ohio State’s Bo Jordan.

Two reigning Olympic medalists capped perfect seasons with finals wins. Missouri’s J’den Cox, who won bronze in Rio, won his third championship with an 8-2 win over Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr in the 197-pound championship and Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder, a gold medalist, beat Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery, 6-3, for his second straight title.

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