The top-ranked and undefeated Penn State wrestling team will be fighting for the sport’s national championship when it heads to the NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden March 17-19.
But Cael Sanderson’s Big Ten champion Nittany Lions got a jump on securing postseason hardware Sunday, when they locked up the NWCA National Duals title by besting No. 3 Oklahoma State, 29-18, at a sold-out Rec Hall.
This is the first year of the NWCA National Dual format, which pits the Big Ten’s top team vs. the best non-Big Ten team for the crown. As expected, PSU dominated the action.
No. 4 Nico Megaludis got Penn State off to a quick start with a second-period pin of No. 6 Eddie Klimara at 125 pounds. Klimara was behind Megaludis, fighting off a single-leg attempt, when the Nittany Lion leaned back and forced the Cowboy’s shoulders to the mat.
No. 5 Jordan Conaway followed that up with an 8-4 decision of Gary Wayne Harding at 133 for a 9-0 team lead.
As young as Penn State is this season, the seniors Megaludis and Conaway set the tone Sunday. They were both wrestling for the final time in Rec Hall.
OSU finally got on the board when No. 1 and undefeated Dean Heil beat unranked Jimmy Guilibon 9-5 at 141. The match was tied 2-2 after two periods before Heil took charge in the third to cut PSU’s team lead to 9-3.
But Penn State countered with back-to-back top-ranked, undefeated wrestlers.
At 149, Zain Retherford’s perfect sophomore season continued with a 4-1 decision over No. 12 Anthony Collica. Retherford’s latest victory featured a first-period takedown, a second-period ride-out and a third-period escape to set the team score at 12-3.
Next, Jason Nolf’s strong freshman season continued with a pin of unranked Ryan Blees at 157. Nolf used four first-period takedowns to forge an 8-3 lead. He continued the catch-and-release attack before nearly getting a pin just before the end of the second period. However, he stayed patient, locking up a cradle in the third period and securing the fall.
It put Penn State ahead 18-3 at intermission.
The string of No. 1 wrestlers continued after the break, as OSU’s Alex Dieringer rolled to a second-period tech fall over unranked Geno Morelli at 165. That set the team score a 18-8
But Penn State once again punched back with it’s own No. 1, this time as freshman Bo Nickal got his own second-period tech fall over unranked Hestin Lamons (18-2) for a 23-8 team lead.
At 184, PSU’s No. 6 Matt McCutcheon was looking for a bit of payback vs. No. 13 Nolan Boyd, who beat him twice earlier in their careers. McCutcheon was up 2-1 in the first period when Boyd grabbed his left knee brace while fighting for a takedown. Boyd had injured the knee earlier in the season.
Boyd was penalized a point, but McCutcheon was shaken up. Boyd went after the leg again in the second period, and McCutcheon was clearly in pain. He ended up taking a medical default, giving OSU six points and cutting the team score to 23-14.
The final No. 1 wrestler to take the mat was PSU 197-pounder Morgan McIntosh, who continued his perfect season and clinched the match for the Nittany Lions with a first-period pin of unranked Andrew Marsden.
Another senior, McIntosh also closed out his Rec Hall career in style. His fall gave the Lions a 29-14 lead.
At heavyweight for Penn State, fill-in Jan Johnson was back in place of rookie standout Nick Nevills, who wrestled unattached over the weekend (winning the U.S. Collegiate Open) to gain experience heading into Big Tens and NCAAs.
Johnson faced No. 5 Austin Marsden and had hit hands full. Marsden grabbed an 18-6 major decision to account for the final team score.
In this new format, only one Big Ten team is eligible to wrestle for the dual title. That left No. 2 and 16-0 Iowa — which did not face PSU during the regular season — out of the mix. By way of comparison, though, Oklahoma State dropped an 18-16 decision at Iowa Nov. 11.
The Nittany Lions are now off until traveling to Iowa for the Big Ten championships March 5-6.