NCAA Wrestling Championship Breakdown

Penn State dominates the team title race once again, and Rutgers makes school history.

Anthony Colavito, Sports Editor

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This year’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were exciting once again. Just like College Basketball, anything could happen in wrestling. It is a matter of who shows up that day. Many upsets happened at all ten weight classes, and it was a great three days of top level wrestling.

The 125 pound bracket was probably the most open. Top seed Sebastian Rivera was the number one seed, and Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni was the two seed. The both of these men have defeated defending NCAA Champion Spencer Lee (Iowa) earlier in the year. Piccininni pinned Lee for the first time in his Iowa days. Lee ended up falling down to the three seed because of this but it didn’t matter. Lee avenged his previous loss to Piccininni in the semifinals with a 9-5 decision. Rivera was upset in the semis, losing to Virginia’s Jack Mueller, the five seed in the tournament. Lee would end up once again winning the title and would make himself a two time NCAA Champion in his sophomore year at Iowa.

133 was just as exciting. Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix was the one seed and was predicted to win it all. Two seed Stevan Micic (Michigan) was hungry after losing in the finals last year to South Dakota State’s Seth Gross. This bracket was star studded, Nick Suriano (Rutgers), Austin DeSanto (Iowa), Ethan Lizak (Minnesota), and freshman sensation Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State). Suriano had a tough way to the finals, but he knew what he has worked so hard for. A 4-1 decision led him to a finals match with Daton Fix, and these two have a lot of history. In high school, these two wrestled in the famous “Marathon Match”. The two wrestled for over 25 minutes non stop and Suriano came out the winner. In the NCAA Finals, they went to overtime once again, with Suriano scoring the final takedown on a reattack. Suriano gave Rutgers its first individual national wrestling champion and would get another one later on in the night.

141 pounds was also open, but it felt like it was open for only two men who were set to face off in the finals from the start of the tournament. Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis and Ohio State’s Joey McKenna. Yianni is known for feeling things as he describes it as a “unique way” and it showed in the finals. While losing the match, he was able to feel his way to a takedown to tie the match and eventually win it in overtime 6-4. This reminded a lot of fans how Yianni was also losing in the finals last year to Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith. Losing in the final seconds, Yianni was able to cradle his way to victory. Like Spencer Lee, Yianni is also a sophomore and is looking to be the first Cornell wrestler since Kyle Dake to win four national titles. 

The 149 pound bracket saw another Rutgers hammer win a championship. Anthony Ashnault had a tough semifinals match against Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik and was set for a Big 10 finals rematch against Ohio State’s Micah Jordan. Jordan’s older brother Bo also wrestled for Ohio State. He was a four time All American, NCAA Finalist, Big 10 Champion, as well as a three time Big 10 Finalist. Jordan had never beaten Ashnault before, and their matches were always close. Coming down to the last second, Ashnault always scores a bunch of points of off a mistake made by Jordan, and capture another championship for Rutgers. Rutgers went from having zero to two national wrestling champions in one night.

Once again at 157 pounds, Penn State’s Jason Nolf made it look easy. He pinned and tech falled his way to the finals against Tyler Berger out of Nebraska. Berger went to twitter on January 25 saying “I’ll be stepping away from social media the next 57 days. This will be a time to prepare my body and mind for March 21-23. I plan on taking five heads home with me after the NCAA tournament and yes, that includes Jason Nolf’s. I’m out.” Looking back on this it seems silly because Nolf defeated Berger by a score of 10-2, completely embarrassing him. This made it Nolf’s third championship in his career, and helped Penn State win the team title once again.

The 165 pound bracket was probably one of the best to watch throughout the whole tournament. By the end of the quarterfinals, everyone was cheering for Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis. Lewis went into the tournament as the eight seed and would knock of top seeded Alex Marinelli from Iowa. Lewis wrestled Evan Wick (Wisconsin) in the semifinals where Lewis dominated the match and won 5-2. Some people thought the Cinderella Story would end there, with Lewis having to wrestle Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph. The match was close at one point, before Lewis locked up a cradle towards the edge of the circle to jump out to a huge lead. Lewis didn’t let Joseph score anything besides one point, and this match helped Lewis win the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award for the whole tournament.

174 pounds could’ve gone many ways, but all NCAA wrestling fans wanted to see a rematch between Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia and Penn State’s Mark Hall. Hall and Valencia have a history together. In the 2017 NCAA Championships Hall defeated Valencia while on his to winning the tournament. The next year in 2018, the two battled it out again in the finals which Valencia won. And earlier this year, Hall defeated Valencia 4-0 with 2:41 riding time in front of a sold out Rec Hall. Hall had the one seed and Valencia had the three seed. In another exciting clash between the two, Valencia won 4-3 and celebrated by mocking Hall by “smashing the axe.”

More upsets came at 184 pounds. Ohio State’s Myles Martin was expected to win it all after losing in the finals last year. But this didn’t happen. Cornell’s Max Dean went into the semi finals confident in himself and knocked off the defending Big 10 champion 5-4. There were also big upsets early in the tournament. Number two seed Shakur Rasheed out of Penn State fell to the 15 seed Chip Ness out of North Carolina. Rasheed had to forfeit the Big 10 title to Martin due to an injury, which could have played a role in his early loss. Ness would lose in the semi finals to Drew Foster from Northern Iowa. Foster would end up winning the tournament with a 6-4 decision. Myles Martin would come back to take third in his senior year.

Penn State is known for having hammers. And one of their top hammers came at 197 pounds. Bo Nickal came into the tournament looking for his third national title and won it. He pinned and dominated his way throughout the whole tournament. With a 5-1 dominant win over Ohio State’s Kolin Monroe, Nickal did his thing and dominated. There really isn’t much more to write about Nickal, besides the fact that he will see a spot on the United States World team in his future.

The final weight class was the big boys. The heavy weights. The real highlights came in the semis. A Big 10 finals rematch in the semis, between Minnesota’s Gable Stevenson and Penn State’s Anthony Cassar. Cassar won once again 4-3, but these two dominated throughout their journeys to wrestle each other again. Gable Stevenson dominated throughout his entire freshman season, but ultimately fell to Cassar twice. Once in the Big 10 finals, and in the National semi finals. The winner would wrestle the number one seed Derek White from Oklahoma State. White was favored to win it all, but Cassar silenced the doubters and dominated from start to finish and won with a 10-2 major decision.  In total, the Nittany Lions had five wrestlers in the finals, and three national champions. They have continued their dominance in wrestling, and some teams on the rise gave them a run for their money.