Wrestling wins eighth NCAA title in last nine years

March 23, 2019

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Penn State Nittany Lions, under the guidance of head coach Cael Sanderson, entered the final session of the 2019 NCAA Championships having already clinched their eighth team title in the last nine years.  Sanderson's squad left the National Finals and PPG Paints Arena with three individual national champions. Penn State won the 2019 crown by over 40 points. 

Penn State had five NCAA finalists for the fourth straight year and won three titles, beginning at 285 with senior Anthony Cassar winning his first.  Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal each won their third straight crows. The Nittany Lions won the team race with 137.5 points, finishing over 40.0 points ahead of second place Ohio State, which had 96.5. Oklahoma State finished third with 84.0.  Penn State was the only team to score over 100.0 points.   

Cassar, the No. 2 seed at 285, met No. 1 Derek White of Oklahoma State in the first of Penn State's five national title bouts. The duo battled evenly for the first minute, neutral in the center circle. A stalemate was called at the 1:30 mark with each man battling for control on the NCAA logo and the bout moved below the 1:00 mark of the opening period without a score. Cassar made the first two offensive pushes of the period but White was able to defend each move and the bout moved to the second tied 0-0. White chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 1-0 lead. The duo battled evenly for the next minute with neither man able to break through on offense. Cassar kept close tabs on White and with just 0:10 on the clock, took a single leg that ended in a takedown and four near fall points as the period ended.  Leading 6-1, Cassar chose down to start the final period and escaped to a 7-1 lead.  He then moved in on a fast low single and took White down once more to open up a 9-1 lead.  The Lion then built his riding time up over 1:00 and finished the bout on top to roll to the 10-1 major decision. Cassar ends his fantastic season with a 30-1 record with five falls, two techs and 15 majors. The Lion senior won both the Big Ten championship and the NCAA championship in his first trips to the tournaments.

Nolf, the No. 1 seed at 157, took on No. 2 Tyler Berger of Nebraska in his fourth straight NCAA finals match-up. Nolf wasted no time setting up his offense, working the center circle until he turned a low single into a takedown and a 2-0 lead at 2:15.  Nolf cut Berger loose and went back to work on his feet. The Lion senior continued to shoot and connected on a high single that he used to take Berger down and to his back for two near fall points. After cutting Berger loose one more time, Nolf notched a third takedown and led 8-2 at the :40 mark. Nolf finished on top and led 8-2 with 1:16 in riding time after one. Nolf chose down to start the second period. Berger was able to control the Lion for the first minute and more. Nolf escaped to a 9-2 lead with 0:30 on the clock and then countered a late Berger shot to end the period. Trailing 9-2, Berger chose down to start the third period and Nolf went to work on top, controlling the action to build his riding time back op over 1:00. The Nittany Lion finished the period on top, rolling up a 1:46 riding time edge, and posted the 10-2 major decision to win his third straight NCAA championship. He became Penn State's third three-time NCAA champion as well. Nolf ends his season with a 31-0 record with 15 falls, five techs and six majors.  He ends his Lion career with a 117-3 record, including 60 pins.

Junior Vincenzo Joseph, the No. 2 seed at 165, met No. 8 Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in his third straight NCAA title bout. The duo battled evenly for a minute with Lewis taking a first shot and Joseph deftly stepping back from the effort to keep the bout scoreless. The Lion fought off a second Lewis shot as the clock moved below 1:00. The bout moved to the second period in a scoreless tie. Joseph chose down to start the second period and Lewis moved to lock up a cradle off the whistle. Joseph fought off the move and worked his way to an escape but the Nittany Lion junior trailed 4-1. Joseph tried to finish off a high single as the period ended but Lewis was able to kill the clock and Joseph trailed by three after two. Lewis escape to start the third period and took a 5-1 lead.  Joseph pressed on offense and Lewis was able to back away from each of his shots. The Nittany Lion sophomore continued to shoot and Lewis countered a final effort for another takedown, handing Joseph a tough 7-1 loss. Joseph lost at the NCAA tournament for the first time after winning the NCAA title in both 2017 and 2018.  He ends his season with a 27-2 record with 14 pins, two techs and four majors. 

Junior Mark Hall, the No. 1 seed at 174, took on No. 3 Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in his third straight NCAA title bout. The duo battled evenly for the opening minute with each wrestler low singles but connecting on none. Valencia tried to work in on a single leg that Hall was able to counter, forcing a scramble that ended with the Lion turning in to a takedown and a 2-1 lead at the 1:45 mark. Hall carried that lead late into the period and then fought off one final Valencia shot to lead 2-1 after one. Hall chose down to start the second period and quickly escaped to a 3-1 lead.  Valencia connected on a low single, forcing a scramble on the edge of the mat that Hall was able to fight off for a bit before the Sun Devil got the takedown to tie the match at 3-3 with :43 on the clock. Penn State challenged the call but it stood and action continued. The Lion was unable to escape and the match moved to the third period tied 3-3. Valencia chose down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 4-3 lead.  Hall pressed the action, forcing Valencia into a stall with :25 on the clock.  The Lion was unable to break through the Sun Devil's defense late and dropped a hard-fought 4-3 decision.  Hall, suffering his first loss of the year, ends his season with a 30-1 overall record, with six pins, three techs and five majors.

Nickal, the No. 1 seed at 197, met No. 2 Kollin Moore of Ohio State in the evening's final title bout and the fourth straight NCAA finals match of Nickal. The duo battled evenly for over a minute and the score held at 0-0. Moore took a slight shot at the 1:45 mark but Nickal controlled his shoulders and forced a stalemate at the midway point of the opening period.  Nickal took control of Moore's shoulders with :55 on the clock, looking to move behind the Buckeye for a takedown but Moore was able to slide out of trouble. Nickal persisted and notched a slick takedown on the edge of the mat with just seconds left to lead 2-0 after one period. The Lion was unable to break through Moore's defense as the second period moved on and Nickal led 2-1 after two. Nickal chose down to start the third period and quickly escaped to a 3-1 lead.  Moore took a quick shot at the :50 mark but Nickal quickly stepped away from it and maintained his 3-1 lead as the clock hit :30. Nickal then locked up a cradle and got the takedown for the bout's final points.  Nickal posted the 5-1 victory to win his third straight NCAA title, becoming Penn State's fourth three-time NCAA champion. Nickal closes out his season with a 30-0 record with 18 pins, three techs and six majors. Nickal ends his Penn State career with a 120-3 record with 59 falls. Nickal was honored as the 2019 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler.

The Nittany Lions finished the tournament with a 35-11 overall during the tournament, tallying 28.0 bonus points off seven majors, two techs and nine pins.  Penn State has now had 26 individuals win a total of 46 national championships, including 23 under Sanderson. Nolf and Nickal leave Penn State as four-time All-Americans, four-time NCAA finalists and three-time NCAA champions. Nolf ends his Lion career 16th on the all-time wins list with 117 while Nickal leaves with 120 wins, good enough for 13th all-time. Nolf leaves as Penn State's all-time leader in falls with 60 while Nickal leaves in second with 59. The duo each posted identical 19-1 career records in the NCAA tournament. They take with them 237 combined wins, 119 combined pins, 38 combined NCAA tournament victories, eight combined All-America honors, eight combined trips to the NCAA finals and a combined six NCAA individual titles.

True freshman Roman Bravo-Young became yet another Lion All-American with an eighth place finish at 133. Bravo-Young went 4-3 at his first NCAA tournament and ended a superb first season as a Nittany Lion with a 25-7 record. Sophomore Nick Lee is now a two-time All-American after his fifth place finish at 141. Lee went 4-2 at nationals with three pins and ends his sophomore campaign with a 31-4 overall record. Redshirt freshman Brady Berge went 2-2 at 149 and bowed out of the tournament on Friday.  He ends his first year as an NCAA qualifier with a 20-5 record. Senior Shakur Rasheed bowed out of the tournament with a 2-2 mark at 184. Rasheed, a 2018 All-American, went 20-2 in his first season at 184 this year.

Penn State's seven All-Americans tops the field this year as well. The Lions have had five or more All-Americans in all but Sanderson's first season as head coach. Penn State now has 221 All-Americans, including 35 under Sanderson.

Penn State has clinched its eighth NCAA title in the last nine years and its fourth straight, which is Penn State's second four-year title streak within this, Sanderson's 10th year as Penn State's mentor. Penn State has now won nine NCAA titles, also owning a crown from 1953, which is third most in NCAA history.

The Nittany Lions concluded the 2019 dual season with a 14-0 record and won a share of the Big Ten regular season (dual meet) title with a 9-0 conference mark.  Penn State has now won 59 straight dual meets dating back to the end of the 2014-15 season. The Nittany Lions won the 2019 Big Ten Championship on March 9-10 in Minneapolis, crowning four champions to run away from the rest of the field, winning by 30.0 points.

Last Updated November 25, 2019