No. 1 Penn State wrestled No. 9 Arizona State before a national audience and a sold out Rec Hall crowd on Friday night. The raucous crowd was treated to one of the most memorable demolitions of the Cael Sanderson era with the Nittany Lions winning 41-3. You could argue it wasn't even that close.
Arizona State coach Zeke Jones and Cael Sanderson could not be further apart in matside demeanor. Zeke Jones is emotional, shouting instructions to his wrestlers, and at times was close to entering the center circle. Sanderson was as stoic as ever, and his wrestlers wrestled with that calm attitude throughout the night. The only negative on a great night for Penn State is that this dual did not finish at 174 pounds for a Mark Hall and Zahid Valencia main event. The crowd could not have cared less, however, as the Nittany Lions won nine of 10 bouts, putting the rest of the country on notice once again.
The dual opened at 125 pounds with Devin Schnupp taking on Brandon Courtney. Courtney is a promising freshman and will undoubtedly wrestle in the NCAA Tournament at some point in his career. Schnupp may not be able to stay the same, but he stays true to the Penn State attitude: keep wrestling no matter the score. Schnupp saved a team point for Penn State in this one despite being outclassed by his opponent. Courtney was up 13-5 and on top in the dying seconds of the match before Schnupp was able to score a reversal to keep the lone loss for Penn State a decision.
Jones then decided to move up 125-pounder and All-American Ryan Millhof to 133 pounds against stud freshman Roman Bravo-Young. Bravo-Young was clearly bigger than Millhof, and really just took it to him. He scored a couple of takedowns in the first, and it became apparent that Millhof was really going to struggle to get out from underneath him. Bravo-Young ended up getting a very impressive 14-1 major to give Penn State a lead they never relinquished.
At 141, No. 4 Nick Lee started to open up the Penn State lead against Cory Crooks. Lee dominated and won via a first-period pin.
One of three ranked matchups took place at 149 pounds between No. 11 Josh Maruca and No. 12 Brady Berge, with Berge able to do just enough to hang on to a 5-4 victory. Berge's offense looks pretty good, and he can really develop as the season goes along. Berge's pressure was good too, forcing Maruca into an early stall warning. That said, he's going to have to do a little bit more to close in on the Micah Jordans and Anthony Ashnualts of this weight class.
No. 1 Jason Nolf toyed with No. 16 Christian Pagdilao in an 18-5 major decision. Nolf was dominant and gave Penn State a 17-3 lead at the intermission.
The dual restarted at 165 pounds, and No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph kept up his 100 percent bonus point victory start with an 11-2 major decision over No. 5 Josh Shields. Joseph was able to get a takedown plus four exposure points in the first period that effectively ended any chance for Shields. Joseph's such a strong and talented wrestler, falling behind him by such a margin early is basically a lost cause. Shields tried, but he couldn't crack Joseph. This is Joseph's first win of the season over a top-five opponent.
The match of the dual came at 174 pounds between No. 2 Mark Hall and No. 1 Zahid Valencia. This match was tense, tight, and really showcased Hall's ability to ride. Hall ended up winning 4-0 in a less chaotic match than their NCAA final just a year ago. He came out on top in a scramble in the second period, and never let Valencia back up. Hall ended up riding out Valencia in the third period to lock up a riding time point, and that was that. Rec Hall gave Mark Hall the ovation he deserved for such an excellent performance. Don't be surprised if we see these two in the main event of the NCAA Tournament in March.
MARK HALL JUST BLEW THE LID OFF REC HALL! pic.twitter.com/9gFEQqQ2qF— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) December 15, 2018
It was quite a fitting redemption for Hall to get this win in such a way, and it may have been the best performance of his Penn State career, and will move to No. 1 at 174 pounds. Valencia is still an elite talent, and will continue to push the matter, but it was big for Hall to silence the doubters that were saying Valencia had far surpassed Hall based on last year's NCAA Final. These two elite wrestlers will wrestle close matches until the end of time, so just sit back and enjoy that the outcome of any one match could go to either guy.
The dual closed out in typical dominating fashion for Penn State. It's no surprise that Arizona State didn't want to start at 184 pounds considering their lineup after Valencia cannot match the Nittany Lions. No. 4 Shakur Rasheed defeated Kordell Norfleet 15-0. No. 1 Bo Nickal got a first period fall over Austyn Harris in just 35 seconds. The dual ended with No. 5 Anthony Cassar against Brady Daniel. Cassar dominated and really just piled on the points in this one. His fall was very impressive, essentially turning a double leg into a powerful slam that planted Daniel onto his back in the third period to give Penn State the 41-3 win.
Penn State will be off for a few weeks until the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1 and 2. This was a fitting end to a great first semester for the team. It will be exciting to see them take on a very talented Oklahoma State team in the Scuffle and the tough Big Ten schedule.