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Penn State Wrestling Claims Fifth Straight Southern Scuffle Title

If there’s one team that’s familiar with winning a staggering streak of titles, it’s the four-time defending champion Penn State wrestling team.

No. 4 Penn State continued its run of early season dominance this week, heading down south to Chattanooga, Tenn. to claim its fifth straight Southern Scuffle title.

Despite not having any Nittany Lion grapplers capture individual titles, Cael Sanderson’s squad showed off its strong depth to claim the team championship. Penn State placed first with 165 total points, followed by Missouri (150), Oklahoma State (135.5), Nebraska (116.0) and Michigan (88.5).

How it happened

Penn State put together a strong performance right from the get-go, posting an incredible 38-7 overall record on New Year’s Day. The Lions were 8-1 in the first round plus nine byes, followed by a 14-2 mark in the second round and 10-4 in the third. In the consolation rounds, Penn State finished 6-0, with heavyweight Jimmy Lawson sidelined by a medical forfeit. Heading into the second day of bouts, 10 Nittany Lions remained undefeated with a shot at earning an individual crown.

Jimmy Gulibon, ranked No. 5 at 133, entered Thursday’s action as the tournament’s top seed and earned two straight major decisions to advance to the quarterfinals. The sophomore would defeat Drexel’s No. 15 Kevin Devoy in the quarters, but was upset by Iowa State’s No. 13 Earl Hall in the semifinals, 5-2. Gulibon beat No. 14 Mackenzi McGuire of Kent State in the consolation semis, but fell to No. 6 Mason Beckman of Lehigh in third place match, 3-1, taking fourth place. Gulibon defeated Beckman 8-3 earlier this season in a hotly-contested match during Penn State’s victory over Lehigh to begin the season.

At 125, fifth-ranked Jordan Conaway entered the tournament as the third seed, but was upset by Cleveland State’s Ben Willeford in the third round. The junior would rebound to win three straight consolation matches before being upended by No. 17 Tim Lambert of Nebraska, losing 8-5. That would set up a rematch with Willeford with Conaway winning handily this time, 10-4, to finish a disappointing seventh place.

NCAA finalist and All-American Matt Brown, No. 4 at 174, was the second seed. Brown cruised over unranked foes into the semis, where he was able to defeat No. 5 Tyler Wilps of Pittsburgh in a 5-4 nail-biter. The senior would meet top-seed Robert Kokesh of Nebraska, ranked No. 1 nationally, in the finals. Brown gave up a second period takedown that proved to be the difference, as Kokesh’s stellar defense held strong for a 3-2 win. Brown placed second with a 5-1 record, including a pin, a tech fall, and a major.

Penn State’s final top-five contender Morgan McIntosh, No. 4 at 197, entered the Scuffle as the fourth seed. After a first round bye and three straight victories, including a 7-4 decision over No. 12  Max Huntley of Michigan in the quarters, the junior took on Mizzou’s No. 3 J’Den Cox in the semifinals. A second period escape and a riding time bonus allowed Cox to earn a close 2-1 win, sending McIntosh into the consolation semifinals where he beat No. 18 Jace Bennett of Cornell with a first period pin. McIntosh would go on to earn a 4-3 win over No. 15 Elliott Riddick of Lehigh to take third place.

Man of the Match

Jason Nolf. The true freshman, red-shirting this season, surprised everyone by rocketing into the finals at 157 pounds. Nolf knocked off No. 4 Brian Realbuto of Cornell with a 7-4 decision in the third round, cruised past unranked Tommy Gantt of North Carolina State in the quarters, and dominated Army’s No. 12 Russell Parson in the semifinals to advance to the title bout against Nebraska’s second-ranked James Green.

Nolf battled the three-time All-American, but dropped a tough 7-4 decision to the Husker senior. Though he wasn’t able to complete a miraculous run to an individual title, the 18-year-old turned heads this week with an impressive showing in Tennessee.

Quote of the tournament

After going 3-0 on day one to advance to the quarterfinals, junior Luke Frey was asked by GoPSUSports what his plans were for the upcoming night to prepare for another long day of wrasslin’.

“Go back, have a Jimmy John’s sandwich,” said Frey. “I’m 1.2 pounds under, so I have some weight to gain, so have a little drink, have some sandwiches. I don’t know, I’ve been reading Harry Potter, so I might read some chapters before I head to bed.”

Sandwiches and Harry Potter. What more can you ask for? Frey would be pinned by No. 2 John Kindig of Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals on day two, but would bounce back to pin Nebraska’s Tyler Berger in his eighth match to finish 6-2 overall and claim fifth place.

Tournament notes

  • Penn State wrestlers placed in nine of ten weight classes, with red-shirt freshman Garrett Hammond failing to place at 165 pounds. 12 of the 18 wrestlers placed.
  • After a 38-7 first day, Penn State went 33-22 on day two of the event, posting a final 71-29 overall mark. The Lions tallied 33 bonus point victories over the tournament’s two day run (12 majors, three technical falls, 14 pins, four forfeits).
  • Three Nittany Lions competed as redshirts (Nick Nevills, Bo Nickal, and Jason Nolf), finishing with a combined 9-3 record, including a second-place finish by Nolf.
  • Penn State’s four starting freshman (Kade Moss, Cody Law, Garrett Hammond, and Matt McCutcheon) remained solid, producing an impressive 16-9 record against opponents from 31 top wrestling programs, including a 4th place finish by McCutcheon at 184 pounds.

What’s next?

Penn State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) returns to action for a home match in Rec Hall at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 9, against Indiana.

Photo: GoPSUSports

About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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