Penn State began practices today, looking to build on one of the most dominant active dynasties in college sports. Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions are seeking a third consecutive team title, and the Nittany Lions will sport one of the best lineups in school history. Penn State will return all five of their national champions from last season, but it is not that simple in determining who the best team will be at the end of the season.
Ohio State is going to put up a heck of a fight, they have American Hero and Russian Conquerer Kyle Snyder (285), former champions Nathan Tomasello (125) and Myles Martin (184), and two additional contenders in Kollin Moore (197) and Bo Jordan (174). While Penn State returns five national champions, it is possible Ohio State could find a way to get five champions themselves if everything broke right for them. They also added 2016 3rd place finisher Joey McKenna (141 or 149), and Micah Jordan (up to 157) was incredibly successful against wrestlers in the non-Zain Retherford category last season. Luke Pletcher (133), Keshawn Hayes (141 or 149) and Te'Shan Campbell can get some team points at nationals too. They are not a squad that should be underestimated at all, they will put up a challenge. Penn State will still find a way to get it done.
Zain Retherford is coming off of his first world team appearance this year, he is the defending Hodge Trophy winner, and he is seeking to join Ed Ruth as the only three-time NCAA champions in school history. Given Zain's successes, it would be easy to think that he could relax and lose focus, but that just wouldn't be Zain Retherford at all. He is as ruthless as he is fun. After using a bow and arrow to turn Lavion Mayes for back points in the 2017 finals, he described that he likes the move because it hurts a lot. If he wasn't a Nittany Lion, we'd probably pass a donation bucket for hospital bills for his fallen opponents.
Jason Nolf is among the most exciting wrestlers in the country and the only guy he's lost to in NCAA competition is Isaiah Martinez. He could also end up joining Ruth as a three-time champion, and it is through his relentless pace and ingenuity. Nolf will try front flips to escape double legs and might even try jiu-jitsu transitions to get back points. Here's a video of Nolf's eccentricity that Flo Wrestling made that featured his best moments from the Keystone Classic. As flowy and fun as Nolf can be, he regularly breaks his opponents through persistence and stubbornness. He does not have the most painful looking moves, but he does have incredible instinct and can score when needed.
Bo knows wrestling, it's on a shirt so it has to be true. Nickal is a two-time finalist and fresh off of a win in one of the best NCAA finals in recent history over two-time champion Gabe Dean. There may not be a wrestler who can wrestle through positions better than Bo. He can hit a spladle from his butt, but he can also throw studs on their back for pins. Multiple times a season Bo will pull something out that just did not even seem remotely possible until he does it, and to make it more captivating he makes it look simple. Bo is a man of many moves, though maybe not a man of many words.
Bo Nickal, man of action pic.twitter.com/b6NUq7UTiR
— Farmer Jones (@thefarmerjones) March 18, 2017
Then the Lions sport two returning freshmen champions in Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph. All Hall did after winning the NCAA Title was win another junior world title. Hall has wrestled in two junior world finals, combined they have lasted a little over one minute. Hall was the No. 1 recruit coming into college last season, another year of development and growth could easily lead him to be even more dominating than he was last season. Even with stiff competition at 174, he announced that he is going to fill into this weight, which sounds simply terrifying for his opponents.
Joseph pinned Isaiah Martinez, in case you forgot we have video of it here. You may want to watch that pin once, or 100 times, it's as beautiful recorded as it was live. Any time a wrestling moment can get Ironhead to crack his voice, you've witnessed something special. The pin is etched in memory, forever ingrained. Joseph has been quiet this summer and did not compete in freestyle, but another year in the room and grooving with Nolf and Hall could only do him a world of good. It'll be interesting to see how much better he can be, especially at what may be the toughest weight in the NCAA. Any person who can pin Isaiah Martinez can win a title, see Nolf, Jason and Joseph, Vincenzo.
This does not even go into other guys who will contribute at nationals.
- Nick Nevills finished 5th at heavyweight, and could easily replicate that or better it this time around.
- Matt McCutcheon fell one round short of being an All-American, but he can better that finish in an open field at 197.
- Nick Lee, if he starts at 141, has been training at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club for a year already. Even if it is tough to predict how good he can be without collegiate experience, being able to see Zain day after day will only make him better.
- Corey Keener has come home to Pennsylvania with one year of eligibility. He can contribute team points at Nationals, and has won matches there before.
- Even if 125 is an unknown entity and even if Penn State gets nothing at nationals from this weight, they can still score 130+, which may be insurmountable regardless of what the Buckeyes do.
- Penn State also scores more bonus points than any other team at Nationals year after year. Do not expect that to change in 2018.
The favorites are here in Happy Valley and in March they'll be standing in the middle of Quicken Loans Arena with a third consecutive title.