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Get Ready For Another Mark Hall/Zahid Valencia Barn Burner In The NCAA Finals

The wrestling world got the finals it wanted when Penn State wrestling’s Mark Hall and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia each won their semifinal matches on Friday night.

Hall, the No. 1 seed at 174 lbs., and Valencia, the No. 3 seed, have wrestled four times since they began their college careers during the 2017 season. Each wrestler has won two of the match-ups, so tonight will be a rubber match of sorts…until they inevitably cross paths again next season, at the Olympic Team Trials, and throughout the World team-qualifying circuit.

“It’s been a great rivalry between us, so I’m excited to do whatever it is..part three, four, whatever. I’ve lost count,” Valencia said Friday night.

Unlike the Nick Lee/JoeyMcKenna rivalry or Hall’s own history with Michigan’s Myles Amine, there hasn’t been a common thread among these bouts.

In the 2017 NCAA semifinals, Hall beat Valencia off a controversial headgear pull call. Valencia took the next two meetings, first with a 3-2 win in the NWCA All-Star Classic and then a commanding 8-2 decision in last year’s NCAA Finals. Hall responded with a commanding win of his own during their teams’ dual earlier this season, winning 4-0 and riding out Valencia in the third period.

Both wrestlers seem to anticipate Saturday night’s title bout to be be more like their first two meetings: a tight, low-scoring affair with both jockeying for control. Fortunately for fans, those types of matches are where both are at their best and feel the most confident.

A pair of losses this season to Hall and No. 2 Daniel Lewis of Missouri made Valencia re-evaluate his training methods. He focused on improving his conditioning in order to prepare himself for the grind of wrestling elite opponents for an entire seven minutes.

“I need to keep pushing the pace,” Valencia said. “I don’t think [Hall] will be able to hang with me at the end of third period.”

That’s a bold statement to make, considering the success Hall has found late in bouts this season. He’s 6-0 in bouts decided by two or fewer points and seems more willing to fight to the end than aggressively seek out bonus points, something he did more of during his first two seasons.

That change was sparked after Valencia handed Hall his only loss last season in the finals. Although he doesn’t have the flashy stats to show for it like his teammates, the new approach has worked out well for Hall, who’s won his last 30 matches.

“My discipline has gotten better” he said. “Throughout the season, I felt like I was clutching things out, winning the close ones, and getting the late takedown when I’m by six or seven to make it a major decision. A year ago, I was getting the bonus point wins and pins. This year, I’ve been winning in different ways. If I wrestle hard, all the other things will take care of themselves.”

These high-pressure situations seem to be a situation Hall is familiar with. After all, he practices in the most competitive wrestling room in the country. On any given day, there can be at least ten national champions working out in the Lorenzo Wrestling Conference.

“[The Penn State wrestlers] all wrestle together. People think it’s big match after big match out there, but we have big matches together every single day [in practice],” Hall said after beating Amine on Friday night.

“In the wrestling room, I need to hold down Vincenzo Joseph. I need to hold down Cael Sanderson. If I can find a way to hold that guy down for 30 seconds, I can hold anyone down for 30 seconds.”

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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