ST. LOUIS (AP) — Penn State’s chance to win its sixth NCAA Wrestling Championship in seven years took a hit when one of its most dependable point-scorers withdrew with an injury before the tournament even began.
Then the rest of the Nittany Lions stepped up.
The defending champions sent seven of eight wrestlers into quarterfinal matchups at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Thursday and led the team score after two sessions. The quarterfinals kick off Friday morning inside Scottrade Center.
“The guys are wrestling well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They’re having a good time. A big day tomorrow, obviously. Friday is always big, then Saturday gets bigger. Every match gets bigger. It’s going to get more difficult tomorrow. The quarterfinals are one of the best rounds in the sport of wrestling.”
After 125-pounder Nick Suriano’s left ankle prevented him from taking the mat, Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (184) helped the Nittany Lions take control of the team race with six combined bonus point victories in the first two rounds.
Retherford, the defending champion at 149, turned in back-to-back technical falls as did Nolf, last season’s runner-up at his weight. Nickal, who lost in the 174-pound finals last season, also notched a technical fall and pinned his second-round opponent to give the Nittany Lions a 30.5-26 lead over Ohio State. Oklahoma State is third with 25.5.
Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) also advanced to the quarters for Penn State and Jimmy Gulibon (141) is still alive in his consolation bracket.
“We’ve just gotta keep doing what we’re doing and it’ll take care of itself,” McCutcheon said of the team race. “Coaches can do that job, that’s their job to tell us where we’re at. As a team all we have to worry about is to go out there and score as much as possible.”
Five Buckeyes moved on to the quarterfinals with defending heavyweight champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder leading the way with two technical falls. Nathan Tomasello (133), Micah Jordan (149), Bo Jordan (174) and Kollin Moore (197) also advanced for Ohio State.
Ohio State suffered a major setback when Myles Martin, last year’s 174-pound champion, fell to Illinois’ Emery Parker in the second round.
Parker caught Martin in a vulnerable position and put the returning champion to his back for a four-point move that helped him take a 14-9 decision.
Martin is still alive in the consolation bracket with teammates Jose Rodriguez (125) and Luke Pletcher (133).
“Myles is going to come back strong,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “We cannot win this without Myles. I think he’s been dealing with a lot of stress of being the returning champ. So I’m pretty confident in Myles coming back.”
Oklahoma State, Iowa and Missouri are also in position to challenge for the team title. The Cowboys have seven wrestlers in the quarters while the Hawkeyes and Tigers sent six and five, respectively.
The Cowboys also were stung by an early round upset when No. 2 seed Anthony Collica lost to Rutgers’ Kenny Theobold 9-3 in sudden victory in Round 2. They’ve still got Nick Piccininni (125), Kaid Brock (133), Dean Heil (141), Joseph Smith (157), Chandler Rogers (165), Nolan Boyd (184) and Preston Weigel (197) in the quarters.
Collica and 174-pounder Kyle Crutchmer can still wrestle back and finish as high as third.
Cornell’s Gabe Dean is going for his third straight championship and turned in two major decisions at 184 pounds to punch his way into the quarterfinals. Missouri’s J’den Cox, also looking to become a three-time champion, led the Tigers with a fall and major decision to advance.
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