Penn State Wins 8th National Championship in 9 Years: Nolf, Nickal, and Cassar Win Individual Titles

By Rob Dougherty on March 24, 2019 at 11:15 am
The team celebrates their fourth consecutive national title.
Douglas DeFelice - USA Today Sports

For the eighth time in the past nine years, the Nittany Lions are national champions. Though they weren't able to capture all five individual titles they had a chance at, they still cruised to yet another team title. Additionally, they also captured their first individual heavyweight title since 1997. So while it wasn't the complete individual dominance that fans have come to expect, the Lions still shined on wrestling's brightest stage.

When all was said and done, Penn State closed out the 2019 championships with seven All-Americans and three national champions.

Penn State Wrestlers NCAA Performance
133 pounds No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young 4-3, 8th
141 pounds No. 3 Nick Lee 4-2, 5th
149 pounds No. 12 Brady Berge 2-2, DNP
157 pounds No. 1 Jason Nolf 5-0, 1st
165 pounds No. 2 Vincenzo Joseph 4-1, 2nd
174 pounds  No. 1 Mark Hall 4-1, 2nd
184 pounds No. 2 Shakur Rasheed 2-2, DNP
197 pounds No. 1 Bo Nickal 5-0, 1st
285 pounds No. 2 Anthony Cassar 5-0, 1st

Bo Nickal finished his career with a solid 5-1 decision over No. 2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State). Nickal controlled the action and Moore was a gamer as always, but just couldn't hang in the end. Nickal's third NCAA title likely sealed his bid for the Hodge Trophy as well, as he won four matches at the national tournament by bonus, including three pins. We will have more to write about Bo in the coming weeks, but it was a privilege to watch him wrestle for Penn State. He's been the most exciting and most feared wrestler in NCAA, now it's his time to get that title internationally.

Anthony Cassar picked up the first heavyweight title of the Cael Sanderson era in a 10-1 major decision over No. 1 Derek White (Oklahoma State). After a very tense first period, White was up 1-0 when Cassar scored a big six-point move at the end of the second period to put the match out of reach. A third period takedown and ride out secured the win for the Long Island native. Here is the six-point move that won Cassar his first national title: 

Cassar would seem to have a slam dunk case for a medical redshirt for next season if he wants one. Cassar's career was slowed down with a shoulder injury he sustained representing the USA in the 2015 junior world championships, and he was out of action for two years due to shoulder problems. He wrestled well last season at 197 pounds, but he really blossomed at heavyweight. 

Cassar wrestled a tremendous March, where he ran the gauntlet to win Big Ten and NCAA titles. He beat freshman phenom Gable Steveson twice, and avenged his only loss of the season in Derek White. If this is the end of Cassar's college career, it certainly is a great storybook ending. 

Jason Nolf put the finishing touches on a wonderful career at Penn State with a 10-2 major decision victory over No. 2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska). Nolf set the tone of this match early with a takedown plus two nearfall points to put himself up 6-1, and Berger was unable to make up the deficit. And all of this after Berger claimed he was going to get Nolf's scalp on social media in January.

Nice try, Tyler.

Nolf and Nickal both finish their careers as three-time NCAA champions and four-time finalists. They also graduate as the top two pin leaders in school history, Nolf in first with 60 pins and Nickal in second with 59. These two have dominated college wrestling more so than anyone in their time at Penn State. They will undoubtedly go on to great success internationally and it will be fun to see these two try to get a world or Olympic medal. 

Vincenzo Joseph suffered his first loss in the NCAA finals to No. 8 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech). Joseph was unable to crack Lewis' defense, and Lewis' athleticism bailed him out of some dangerous situations. Lewis was able to lock up a cradle on Joseph and got four nearfall points in the second period. Joseph tried to get back into the match with several shots in the third period, but Lewis was able to evade all of them and scored a counter late in the match to ice it.

Mark Hall lost his rematch to No. 3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) 4-3. Hall was able to get the first takedown of the match early on, but Valencia's second period takedown and ride out was able to make the difference. Hall is now 2-3 in his collegiate career against Valencia. After the match, Valencia strummed an air guitar, similar to what Hall did after he beat Valencia in Rec Hall earlier this season. Then, Valencia smashed the guitar, adding more fuel to the fire of the best rivalry in the sport. 

Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee finished up their seasons in Saturday morning's consolation session. Lee finished in fifth after he pinned Mitch McKee (Minnesota) in the second period. His loss came to Dom Demas (Oklahoma), where Lee really struggled to deal with Demas' inside trip and upper body prowess. Bravo-Young finished in eighth and lost to Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) 8-5. 

Penn State will not wrestle again until next season, but freestyle season is about to heat up, and the Lions have a number of current wrestlers and alumni who will be looking to make a world team this summer.

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