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Nolf, Nickal, Cassar help Penn St. dominate

Hawkeyes’ Lee defends crown

AP PHOTO - Iowa’s Spencer Lee, left, celebrates his win over Virginia’s Jack Mueller in their 125-pound match in the finals of the NCAA wrestling championships Saturday in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH — Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal came to Penn State after the Nittany Lions had already seized control of college wrestling. The dynamic duo helped them tighten their grip.

Nolf (157 pounds) and Nickal (197) ended their careers with individual championships hours after the Nittany Lions claimed a fourth-straight NCAA team title and their eighth in nine years.

With help from 285-pound champion Anthony Cassar, the Nittany Lions totaled 137.5 team points to top second-place Ohio State’s 96.5. Oklahoma State was third with 84, followed by Iowa (76) and Michigan (62.5).

Penn State has used a simple approach to distance itself from all competitors in the grueling, three-day tournament. Keep attacking, pile up points and put as many opponents on their backs as possible.

Nickal embodied that on a weekend the Nittany Lions totaled nine pins, seven major decision and two technical falls. Nickal had three pins before beating Ohio State’s Kollin Moore 5-1 for his third title. Nolf beat Tyler Berger of Nebraska by major decision, 10-2.

AP PHOTO - Northern Iowa's Drew Foster, right, celebrates after his win over Cornell's Maxwell Dean in their 184-pound match in the finals of the NCAA wrestling championships Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Nolf and Nickal, who are first and second in total pins for the program, joined former Penn State star Ed Ruth as the only Nittany Lions to win three titles.

Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125), Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis (141) and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (175) all repeated. Lee beat Virginia’s Jack Mueller 5-0 while Diakomihalis snagged a takedown in overtime to edge Ohio State’s Joey McKenna 4-2. Valencia beat Penn State’s Mark Hall 4-3 in a rematch of last year’s title match.

“This is a gladiator sport,” Lee said. “We’re tough guys and we put everything on the line. And props to Jack Mueller; he put everything on the line.”

Lee, the No. 3 seed, scored takedowns in the first and third periods, and forced a pair of stalling calls on Mueller to win the title for the second-straight year.

“[Assistant coach] Terry Brands always tells me big-time wrestlers show up at big time moments. We preach that at the University of Iowa, and everyone on my team believes that they’re a big-time wrestler because that’s the mindset you have to have to be in this sport,” said Lee, who became the 17th two-time champion in school history and first since Mark Perry in 2007-08.

Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault became Rutgers’ first NCAA champions with wins against Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, respectively.

Virginia Tech freshman Mekhi Lewis (165) was seeded eighth but brought the Hokies their first title with a 7-1 win over Penn State two-time defending champion Vincenzo Joseph.

Drew Foster (184) won Northern Iowa its first title in 19 years with a 6-4 win over Cornell’s Max Dean. He scored a takedown inside the final 30 seconds and rode it out to victory.

“That’s practice, that’s practice from habits,” said Foster. “That’s coaches putting us in situations where it’s a tie match and you’ve got to go get a score.”

Foster is UNI’s first champion since Tony Foster won in 2000. The Panthers hadn’t had a national finalist since 2005.

The Hawkeyes placed fourth with 76 points. Iowa crowned six All-Americans, including Lee, Austin DeSanto (133), Pat Lugo (149), Kaleb Young (157), Alex Marinelli (165), and Jacob Warner (197).

Northern Iowa tied for 13th with 40.5 points, its highest finish in head coach Doug Schwab’s tenure. Bryce Steiert fell to Iowa’s Marinelli 9-3 for eighth place, giving UNI two All-Americans.

Iowa State took 16th place with 32 points, led by All-Americans Jarrett Degen at 149 and Willie Miklus at 197. Miklus came away with sixth place and Degen, seeded eighth, finished seventh. Degen defeated Iowa’s Lugo 11-9, in the medal match, while Miklus fell to Josh Hokit of Fresno State, 7-2.