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Jason Nolf’s Road To Three Peat Goes Through Familiar Foe Ready To ‘Tear His Head Off’

Jason Nolf’s run for a third consecutive NCAA Championship at 157 pounds almost ended in an instant.

With the exception of his injury default against Rutgers last season, he hadn’t lost since the NCAA finals his freshman season. That was all on the line with 2018 national finalist Hayden Hidlay making desperate lunges down 3-2 in the final seconds. He had Nolf by the leg, but the top seed thwarted his opponent until time finally expired.

“Well, we work on short time a lot. I was trying to keep my hands down — he must’ve got under them,” Nolf said. “But then, I know I had to scramble, so I was just trying to keep the position moving and not stand still. And lucky I got my foot out at the end there so he didn’t score.”

Nolf, tied atop the program’s all-time pins list with Bo Nickal, staved off his challenger Hidlay for the closest decision win of his career. The result pushes Nolf into a position to make history, becoming Penn State’s first four-time finalist to win three national titles.

The only thing that stands in his way is a familiar foe: Tyler Berger.

The Nebraska senior has been wrestling Nolf since high school. The two have faced off in college five times, with Penn State’s star winning all of those bouts. Nolf’s racked up bonus points in all but one of those bouts, winning a 10-4 decision earlier this season in Rec Hall.

That hasn’t stopped Berger from hyping these matchups. This time, however, he says he’s keeping it relaxed before the final. Studying tape of Friday night’s near upset of Nolf won’t be in his preparation.

“I’ve wrestled the guy eight, nine times. I know what he’s good at. I’ve studied him a lot. I have books full of Jason Nolf,” Berger said. “I’m going to get fueled up. I’m probably going to spend a lot of time with family and just lay down and get ready for my match.”

True to form, Nolf isn’t playing anything up either. Even with the finals near his hometown, he says he doesn’t care where he wrestles. He’s staying level-headed regardless of what’s happened in the past three years, or past 24 hours.

“I’ve had a lot of great matches at this tournament, but I’m still focused on one match at a time and not looking ahead and just trying to do the best that I can,” Nolf said. “That match [against Hidlay] was probably not the best that I can do, but I gave 100 percent attitude and effort and that’s all I’m really asking myself. Just didn’t have the offense tonight, but I got it done and I will tomorrow.”

Does it matter to him that he’s facing an athlete he has so much history against in his wrestling career?

Who knows, but you can bet on Berger bringing it for his final college bout in his very first NCAA final.

“I respect him a lot, but I’m not going to wrestle him passive. I’m gonna go out there to tear his head off and I’m sure he’s going to do the same with me,” Berger said. “I would expect nothing less.”

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.

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