ST. LOUIS – Penn State’s Zain Retherford was among seven wrestlers remaining unbeaten and advancing to the finals in the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Friday night.
Retherford, the reigning champion in the 149-pound division, was joined in the final round by fellow top seeds Dean Heil of Oklahoma State (141 pounds), Nittany Lions teammate Jason Nolf (157), Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez (165), Cornell’s Gabe Dean (184), Missouri’s J’den Cox (197), and Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder (285).
Retherford and Nolf had bonus-point wins in their semifinal matches against Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen and Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, respectively.
Retherford wasted little time against an opponent who pushed him to the brink in a 9-8 win earlier this season. Retherford dominated this time, hooking one of Sorensen’s arms and running the Hawkeye over to his back for a pin in 2:36. It set up a championship bout with Missouri’s Lavion Mayes who beat Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen in the other semifinal.
“I felt I had a secure lock on it,” Retherford said. “I just had a position where I was looking for back points or getting the fall. As soon as I adjusted, I heard the ref say 30 seconds and I was like, `I think I have enough time to do it.“’
Nolf, who lost in the finals last season, started methodically but came on with five takedowns to beat Berger 13-5. Nolf will face Missouri’s Joey Lavallee in the finals.
Cox, Dean and Martinez will compete for their third individual titles Saturday, and Snyder, a reigning Olympic gold medalist, will wrestle for his second.
Cox outlasted Virginia Tech’s Jared Haught 6-2 and will face Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr. Snyder pulled away from Duke’s Jacob Kasper for a 19-6 win. He’ll face Wisconsin’s Conor Medbery in the finals.
Martinez hung on for a 2-1 win over Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan to set up a finals match with Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph. Heil beat Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault 4-2. He’ll face Virginia’s George DiCamillo who emerged from a back and forth with Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith with a 10-7 win.
Dean beat Oklahoma State’s Nolan Boyd 9-3. It set up a finals showdown with Penn State’s Bo Nickal who made quick work of semifinal opponent Sammy Brooks of Iowa.
Nickal helped the Nittany Lions take a commanding lead in the team standings and all but clinch their sixth team championship in seven years when he locked up with Brooks and tossed the Iowa wrestler to his back for a pin in 1:02. It was Nickal’s third straight pin in the tournament and it capped a perfect night for a Penn State squad that sent all five semfinalists into the finals.
The Nittany Lions lead second place Ohio State 121-89.5 in the team race. Oklahoma State is third with 86.
Not all of the No. 1 seeds advanced to the finals.
Iowa’s Thomas Gilman (125), Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello (133) and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (174) had their dreams of individual championships spoiled, suffering their first losses of the season.
Gilman fell in sudden victory to Lehigh’s Darian Cruz and Tomasello surrendered a lead, dropping a 7-4 decision to Iowa’s Cory Clark. Valencia lost to Penn State’s Mark Hall 4-3.
Cruz pushed the pace late and slipped behind the tough-talking Gilman for the winning takedown with five seconds left in the extra period. Cruz will meet Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak for the 125-pound championship.
“He bullied a lot of people,” Cruz said of Gilman. “So when I got out there and tied it up with him, I don’t know if I’m strong or he’s not that particularly strong to me, but that aspect helped me out mentally.”
Heartbreak turned to elation quickly for the Hawkeyes.
Clark, wrestling with a shoulder injury, avenged his Big Ten finals loss to Tomasello in his team’s next match. Clark and South Dakota State’s Seth Gross will go for the 133-pound title. Gross became the Jackrabbits’ first NCAA finalist with a 12-3 win over Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock.
“Happy to put the team on the map,” Gross said. “The goal is the NCAA Championship, so I will get the shot at that tomorrow, so I’m just keeping focused on that right now and doing everything right until then.
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