2018 was more of the same as 2017 for Penn State wrestling.
The Nittany Lions crowned six individual champions and finished first in the Southern Scuffle with a team score of 197.0 points, well ahead of second place Northern Iowa’s total of 127.0 points. During the two-day wrestling marathon that kickstarted the new year on January 1 and 2, Penn State’s 18 wrestlers went a combined 56-19 with 22 pins.
The Nittany Lions captured their seventh title in seven trips to Chattanooga, Tenn. after sitting out last winter. With 198 points, Penn State were a point away from tying Oklahoma State’s tournament record for the most post scored at the Scuffle.
At last year’s NCAA Championships, Penn State dominated the middle and upper weights by winning five straight consecutive individual titles from 149 to 184 lbs. On Tuesday, Shakur Rasheed joined Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal, who all won NCAA titles in 2017, at the top of the podium by placing first in the Scuffle.
Rasheed was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after going 5-0 with three falls. After majoring his first two opponents, Rasheed pinned his way through the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. Hall earned the same honor last January after winning the 174 lb. title as an unattached wrestler.
While Rasheed’s title was the most surprising, Joseph’s win was also a reassurance for Penn State after he hadn’t competed since the team’s dual against Bucknell on November 12. Joseph looked up to par in his return; he finished with a pin and two technical falls. Retherford, Nolf, Hall, and Nickal performed as expected. Among them, they had 13 falls.
The only championship bout that a Penn State wrestler lost came at 141 lbs. where unattached true freshman Nick Lee was pinned by Oklahoma State’s Kaden Gfeller. Before he was pinned, Lee had put together an impressive tournament run, with two falls, a technical fall, and a major. Lee was leading Gfeller 7-4 in the second period before being reversed and pinned shortly after. Lee’s biggest moment of the tournament came in the closing seconds of the semifinals when he dramatically threw and pinned No. 7 Josh Alber of Northern Iowa. Current 141 lb. starter Jered Cortez was 3-0 on day one, but injury defaulted out of the second day of competition. How head coach Cael Sanderson uses Lee down the stretch remains to be seen, especially after his strong performance and Hall’s success in a similar situation last year.
Also placing at the Scuffle were unattached freshman Jarod Verkleeren (7th/149 lbs.), Anthony Cassar (3rd/197 lbs.), and Nick Nevills (4th/HWT). Cassar missed a finals matchup with teammate and drill partner Rasheed off a controversial semifinal call where his 7-4 lead was erased by officials at the end of regulation and Northern Iowa’s Jacob Holschlag won via sudden victory with a takedown. Rasheed’s unexpected run gave Sanderson an even tougher decision at 197 lbs. Senior and three-time NCAA qualifier Matt McCutcheon also entered the tournament at 197 lbs. and won his first bout with a fall before bowing out in the second round with an injury default.
Penn State’s struggles at 125 lbs. persisted. Devin Schnupp was eliminated from the tournament after losing to a pair of wrestlers from Chattanooga.
The Nittany Lions resume conference dual competition January 12 when they visit Michigan.