By Ken Wunderley
Tri-State Sports & News Service
Penn State’s dynamic duo of Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal joined an exclusive club at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament, which concluded Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Both hit the trifecta by winning a third consecutive NCAA Division I title, Nolf at 157 pounds, and Nickal at 197 pounds.
They are the 51st and 52nd wrestlers in the 89-year NCAA history of the tournament to win three or more titles.
Four members of the group are four-time champions: Pat Smith (1990,91,92,94), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002), Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-13), and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (2012-15).
The other 48 members of the group, which now include Nolf and Nickal, are three-time champs.
“It’s not as good as a four-time national champ, but I’ll take it,” said Nolf, who finishes his career with a 117-3 record. “Coming into college, everybody wants to be a four-time champion. I was definitely willing to work for it and sacrifice. I fell short of reaching that goal, but I was able to win three titles.”
Nolf (31-0), a Kittanning graduate, made his fourth appearance in the finals and claimed his third title with a 10-2 major decision of Nebraska’s Tyler Berger (28-4). Nolf finished his career with a 117-3 record and holds Penn State’s record with 60 pins.
Nickal (30-0), like Nolf, made his fourth consecutive appearance in the finals and claimed his third title with a 5-1 win over Ohio State’s Kollin Moore (23-2) at 197 pounds. Nickal concludes his career with a 120-3 record, which included 59 pins.
Both also celebrated Penn State’s fourth consecutive team title.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of such a good team,” Nolf said. “I’m blessed to be around people who have such a clear mind and know exactly what they want and are willing to sacrifice in order to reach our goal.”
It was a unique ending to their careers – careers they started together back in 2014. Like Jason Nolf, Nickal spoke of being blessed on Saturday night after his third National title.
“It’s really been blessing after blessing.” Nickal said. “Since the first time I stepped foot on campus it’s been incredible. And there’s so many people that have just put so much time and effort and energy into me — and my coaches my trainers and countless others. And I’m incredibly grateful for it.”
And being able to go through it with a guy like Jason Nolf is something that’s amazing and a true blessing. And that’s a guy I know I can count on, and I know we’re going to be friends for a long time to come.”
Nittany Lions teammate Vincenzo Joseph had a chance to join Nolf and Nickal as three-time champs, but came up short.
Joseph (27-2), a Pittsburgh Central Catholic grad who was seeded No. 2, made his third consecutive appearance in the finals, but dropped a 7-1 decision to Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis (28-2), who at No. 8 was the lowest seeded finalist. Lewis broke a scoreless tie with four nearfall points midway through the second period, then added another takedown in the third period.
Joseph is only a junior, so he still has one more chance to become a three-time champ. Iowa’s Spencer Lee, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia will also have that opportunity next year.
Spencer Lee, a Franklin Regional graduate, won his second title at 125 pounds with a 5-0 win over Virginia’s Jack Mueller.
Diakomihalis won his second title with a 6-4 overtime win over Ohio State’s Joey McKenna at 141 pounds.
Junior Zahid Valencia claimed his second title with a 4-3 win over Penn State’s Mark Hall at 174 pounds.