Rules of the Game
Freestyle wrestling is a men’s sport, conducted in the late fall and winter. Penn State’s team wrestles in Rec Hall, although the Jordan Center has hosted dual meets, and Big 10 and NCAA championships. Wrestlers participate on a mat that contains a circular wrestling area with a 32 to 43 foot diameter and a surrounding area of at least five feet. Wrestlers are assigned to one of ten weight classes, ranging from 125 lbs. to heavyweight (183-285 lbs.); each weight class is between eight and thirteen lbs. heavier than the next lowest weight class. In a dual meet (between two teams), one wrestler in each weight class may participate for each team.
A match between wrestlers consists of three periods, with a length of three, two, and two minutes respectively. If the score is tied after seven minutes, overtime rounds take place, each consisting of a 30 second “sudden-victory” format, followed if necessary by two full 30 second periods. If still tied, subsequent overtime rounds are wrestled.
Wrestlers earn points by gaining control over an opponent on the mat (takedown, 2 pts.), escaping from an opponent’s control (escape, 1 pt.), escaping from control and as part of the same move gaining control over the opponent (reversal, 2 pts.), pinning an opponent’s shoulders to the mat for one second (fall, immediate victory), or controlling an opponent such that the opponent is in danger of being pinned (2, 3, or 4 pts. depending upon duration). In addition, a point is awarded if one wrestler, over the duration of the match, controls his opponent for at least one minute (time advantage). A wrestler may earn a technical fall if he has a lead of 15 points or more over his opponent at any time during the match. Freestyle wrestling differs from Greco-Roman wrestling; Greco-Roman wrestlers may not attack their opponents legs or use their own legs to execute moves.
In a dual meet, a team earns 6 pts. for each win by fall, default, disqualification, or forfeit, 5 pts. for each technical fall that includes a near fall, 4 pts. for each technical fall that does not include a near fall, 4 pts. for each major decision (victory margin of 8-14 pts.), and 3 pts. for every other individual victory. Tournament team scoring is more complicated. The number of points a team earns is based on the number of scoring places recognized for each weight class (usually 4, 6, or 8), the particular round a wrestler is participating in, the results of each match, and the results of “wrestle-backs” (in which participants losing in early rounds may continue to participate).
Penn State Wrestling History
Penn State wrestling began in 1909, and over the years has produced some of the greatest coaches and wrestlers in NCAA history. The Nittany Lions have won 5 NCAA Championships (1953, 2011-2014), four national dual team championships, have had winning streaks of 34 matches (1950-54) and 41 home matches (1969-76). Eight wrestlers have been 4-time All-Americans, and 15 wrestlers were 3-time All-Americans. Jim Martin holds the school’s all-time record for wins, with 155. Charlie Speidel is recognized as one of the great all-time collegiate wrestling coaches.
As members of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) from 1918-1974,Penn State won 16 team and 105 individual championships. The Nittany Lions won 15 team (12 consecutive) and 59 individual Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) championships from 1976-92, and 34 individual Big 10 championships since 1993. Included among these champions are football greats Mike Reid, Dave Joyner, Charlie Getty, and Steve Sefter.
Penn State wrestlers also have excelled nationally and internationally. Four Nittany Lions have wrestled in the Olympics, and four have won Pan-American Games gold medals. Thirteen wrestlers have won University National freestyle championships (Kerry McCoy won five consecutively from 2000-05), and three have won U.S. Open freestyle championships. McCoy was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014.
Following the 2009 season, 4-time All-American and Olympic champion Cael Sanderson replaced Troy Sunderland as head coach. In his 1st 5 seasons, has won 4 consecutive National and Big 10 championships, he was 2012 and 2013 National Coach of the Year, and Big 10 Coach of the Year in 2011, 2013 (tie), and 2014. After the 2011 season, Sanderson qualified to represent the U.S. in the World Championships (84 kg), and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The 2014 season was exceptional. The team won its 4th consecutive Southern Scuffle, Conference, and National Championship. Sanderson was Big 10 Coach of the Year. Ed Ruth and David Taylor were National Champions, and Big 10 Champions for the 4th time; neither ever lost a match against a Big 10 opponent. In his final appearance in Rec Hall, Taylor pinned his opponent in 11 seconds, the fastest pin in school history; Taylor ended his career with pins, tied for the most at PSU with 53.
Penn State alumnus and current assistant coach Frank Molinaro placed 5th at 65 kg (143 lbs.) at the 2016 Olympics.
In the 2016-2017 season ,the Nittany Lions went undefeated in the dual meet season (14-0, 9-0 in the Big Ten). They won their 2nd consecutive National Dual Meet Series Championship, defeating then undefeated Oklahoma State 27-13 in Stillwater, after falling behind 13-0. After finishing 2nd in the Big Ten Championships to Ohio State, the team won Penn State’s 7th NCAA Championship (6th in the past 7 years) by 36.5 points over 2nd place Ohio State.
Five Nittany Lions won individual National Championships, Cael Sanderson was National Coach of the Year, Mark Hall was National Freshman of the Year, Jason Nolf was Big 10 Wrestler of the Year, and Zane Retherford was the National Wrestler of the Year (for the 2nd consecutive season) and also won the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best wrestler. Retherford and Nolf were both undefeated, Big Ten Champions, and along with Matt McCutcheon were named 1st team Academic All-Americans.
The National Championship finals were a smashing success. Even before the first match, Penn State had clinched the team title. In the finals, 5 consecutive Nittany Lions won individual titles. Retherford and Nolf both completed undefeated seasons with victories. Then, at 165 lbs., freshman Vincenzo Joseph stunned undefeated and top-ranked Isaiah Martinez with a fall in the 3rd period. (Two-time National Champion Martinez has lost only matches in 3 years, both by pins to Penn State wrestlers.) At 174 lbs., Mark Hall defeated Ohio State’s Bo Jordan to avenge his loss in the Big Ten finals, and Bo Nickal capped off the evening by upsetting number 1 Gabe Dean.
Much more history followed in 2017-18. The Lions extended their dual meet winning streak to 45 with a 14-0 record (9-0 in the Big Ten). In one of the most exciting matches in Rec Hall history, and with defending National Champion Jason Nolf at 157 lbs, 2nd ranked Ohio State exploded to a 10-0 and then a 15-5 lead. Then at the heavier weights, the Lions roared back, taking the lead at 197 lbs. when Anthony Cassar defeated then top-ranked Kollen Moore. At heavyweight, defending National, World, and Olympic Champion Kyle Snyder needed only a major victory to give the Buckeyes the win, but Penn State’s Nick Nevills held Snyder to a 15-10 decision to clinch the Lion victory.
Nolf’s injury kept him out of the Big 10 Tournament’s final 2 matches, and Ohio State won the Conference Tournament championship. At Nationals, with Nolf fully recovered, the Lions again fell behind early but again came through in the clutch. Retherford and Nolf repeated as champions, and Vincenzo Joseph again defeated top-ranked Isaiah Martinez for the 165 title. The 184 match decided things – top-ranked Nickal vs. the Buckeye’s Myles Martin. The winner’s team would win the National Championship. In the 1st period Martin took Nickal to his back, but Nickal immediately reversed and pinned Martin – one of the most dramatic finishes in Penn State wrestling history!
The 2018-19 season brought more thrills. Penn State extended its unbeaten dual meet streak to 59 matches, completing another undefeated season. The Lions were Southern Scuffle Champions for the 8th time in their last 8 appearances, scoring the most points in that Tournament’s history. At the Big Ten Championships, they finished ahead of 2nd place finisher Ohio State by 35 points, and two weeks later won the National Championship by 41 points over the Buckeyes, their 4th consecutive title and 8th in the last 9 seasons. Cael Sanderson was once again the Big Ten Coach of the Year, Jason Nolf (157 lbs., Mark Hall (174 lbs.), Bo Nickal (197 lbs.), and Anthony Cassar (heavyweight) won Conference Championships, and Nolf, Nickal, and Cassar went on to become National Champions as well. Eight Nittany Lions earned All-American honors.
Two main themes stood out. First, the senior combo of Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal closed out their mirror-image careers spectacularly. Both were four-time NCAA finalists, 3-time National Champions, and 2-time Big Ten Champions. Nickal won the Hodge Trophy signifying the nation’s Most Outstanding Wrestler, Nolf finished in 2nd place. Nickal was also the nation’s Most Dominant Wrestler (highest average points earned per match) and Nolf again was 2nd. Nolf set a Penn State record for career pins with 60, Nickal finished 2nd with 59. Nickal also was named the Big Ten male Ahtlete of the Year.
But as big a story as Nolf and Nickal was the journey of Anthony Cassar. Wreslting at heavyweight (2 classes up from last year), Cassar lost only one match all year, by 1 point to Oklahoma State’s Derek White. Wrestling for the first time at a Big Ten Tournament, Cassar faced the nation’s top-ranked heavyweight, Minnesota freshman Gable Steveson, who had not been taken down all season. Trailing by 1 point with 20 seconds remaining, Cassar took down Steveson and held on for the Championship. Two weeks later, Cassar, wrestling in his first NCAA Championship Tournament, defeated Steveson again in the semi-finals. Remarkably, Steveson was taken down only twice this season, both times by Cassar, who then avenged his only loss during the season by dominating White to win the National Title.
The icing on the cake: Former Nittany Lion David Taylor won the 86 kg. World Championship, Assistant Coach Casey Cunningham was named the Outstanding Freestyle Coach by USA Wrestling, and former wrestler/coach Rich Lorenzo was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The 2020 team encountered major personnel losses due to injury and graduation, and the 60 match unbeaten streak ended in a 19-18 loss at Arizona State. Despite another narrow loss at top-ranked Iowa by a score of 19-17, the Lions finished with a 12-2 record (8-1 in the Big Ten) and a number 2 national ranking. Highly touted freshman Aaron Brooks had his redshirt pulled and wound up winning the Big Ten Championship at 184 lbs.; Brooks was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. At the Big Ten Championships, the Lions placed 5 wrestlers in the finals; Brooks and Mark Hall (174 lbs.) emerged as champions. Penn State finished in 4th place at the Tournament, in large part due to the previous injuries and another one during the meet to heavyweight Seth Nevills. Seven wrestlers qualified for the National Championships, with Hall earning a top seed, and Nick Lee and Vincenzo Joseph earning 2 seeds at 141 and 165 lbs. respectively. The Championships were subsequently cancelled, and the National Wrestling Coaches Association subsequently named the top eight seeds at each weight 1st Team All-Americans after the tournament was cancelled, giving Penn State five more All-Americans.
Wrestling resumed in January 2021, with a reduced schedule that included no out-of-conference opponents. By the end of the season, Penn State was starting 6 freshmen (five of whom qualified for the National Championship Tournament). A showdown meet at top-ranked Iowa was cancelled due to the Coronavirus, and Penn State (6-0) and the Hawkeyes tied for the 2021 Big Ten dual meet championship. At the Big 10 Championships, Iowa was the easy winner and Penn State finished in second-place, well ahead of third-place Nebraska. In the finals, top-seeded Roman Bravo-Young (133) and Aaron Brooks (184) won championships, and undefeated Nick Lee (141) and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Carter Starocci (174) lost to Iowa’s top-seeded Jayden Eierman and Michael Kemmerer, respectively.
At Nationals, Iowa again won the Championship going away, and Penn State took second-place, well ahead of Oklahoma State. Six Lions earned All-American honors, including freshmen Starocci, Michael Beard (197), and Greg Kirkvliet (heavyweight). Four wrestlers competed in the finals (as opposed to 3 for Iowa) and all 4 became champions. Top-seed Brooks won his match, Bravo-Young defeated top-seeded Daton Fix of Oklahoma State, and Lee (2nd seed) and Starocci (3rd seed) avenged their Conference championship losses to top-seeded Iowa wrestlers. No takedowns were recorded against any of the Penn State wrestlers in the finals.
NCAA Tournament National Champions
1953, 2011-2014, 2016-2019
Top 10 NCAA Tournament Finishes
48 times, including 1950-57,1971-76, 1983-1999, 2008, 2011-2019
NWCA National Dual Meet Series Champions
1918-21, 1924-5, 1936-7, 1942,1951-3, 1957, 1960 (tie) 1971,1973
Big 10 Champions
2011-2014, 2016, 2019
Charlie Speidel (1927-1942, 1947-64)
1953 National Championship
14 Top 10 NCAA Tournament Finishes
8 EIWA Championships
National Wrestling Hall of Fame (1979)
Bill Koll (1965-1978)
6 Top 10 NCAA Tournament Finishes
1971, 1973 EIWA Championships
1976, 1977, 1978 EWL Championships
5 unbeaten seasons
Rich Lorenzo (1979-1992)
11 Top 10 NCAA Tournament Finishes
1982-1992 EWL Championships
1992 NWCA Coach of the Year
6 time EWL Coach of the Year
2019 National Wrestling Hall of Fame
Cael Sanderson (2010-present)
2012, 2013, 2017 National Coach of the Year
2011, 2013(co), 2014, 2016, 2019 Big 10 Coach of the Year
Coach of 2011-2014, 2016 Big 10, National Champions, 2019 Big 10
Coach of the Year
2012, 2013, 2016-19 National Coach of the Year
2011-14, 2016-19 Coach of National Champions
2011-14, 2016, 2019 Coach of Big Ten Champions
National Wrestling Hall of Fame (2011)
Andy Matter (1970-1972) 167 lbs
1971, 1972 National Champion
1971, 1972 All-American
1970, 1971, 1972 EIWA Champion
Jeff Prescott (1989-1992) 118 lbs.
1991, 1992 National Champion
1990, 1991, 1992 All-American
1990, 1991, 1992 EIWA Champion
Kerry McCoy (1993-95, 1997) Heavyweight
1994, 1997 National Champion
1997 Hodge Award – Nation’s Most Dominant Wrestler
1994, 1995, 1997 All-American
1994, 1995, 1997 Big 10 Champion
1993 University Freestyle Champion
2000, 2004 U.S.Olympic team
2001-2004U.S.Open National Freestyle Champion
2000, 2003 Pan Am Games Champion
Rohan Murphy (2005-06) 125 lbs.
Murphy had both legs amputated at age 4, yet competes at the varsity level
Set U.S.powerlifting record (281.1 lbs.) in 123 lbs wt. class at 2006
2007 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Award
Set U.S.powerlifting record (350lbs.) in 126 lbs wt. class in 2009
Frank Molinaro (2009-2012) 149 lbs
2012 National Champion
2011, 2012 Big 10 Champion
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 All-American
Quentin Wright (2009, 2011-2013)
2011 National Champion (184 lbs)
2013 National Champion (197 lbs)
2009, 2011-2013 All-American
2013 Big 10 Champion (197 lbs)
Ed Ruth (2011-2014)
2011-2013 Big 10 Champion (174 lbs)
2014 Big 10 Champion (184 lbs)
2012, 2013 National Champion (174 lbs)
2014 National Champion (184 lbs)
2011-2013 Southern Scuffle Champion
2013 Big 10 Wrestler of the Year
136-3 career record, 104 with bonus pts.
David Taylor (2011-2014) 165 lbs
2011-2014 Big 10 Champion
4 time finalist, 2012, 2014 National Champion
2011, 2012, 2014 Southern Scuffle Champion
Big 10 Wrestler of the Year 2011, 2012, 2014
2014 Big 10 Male Athlete of the Year
2012, 2014 Hodge Trophy Winner
134-3 career record, 125 with bonus pts
53 Career falls (Tied for 3rd in PSU history)
2011-2014 1st team Academic All-American
2019 World Champion (86 kg)
Zane Retherford (2014, 2016-8) 149 lbs
2016-18 BigTen Champion, National Champion
2016-18 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler
2016, 2018 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year
2017-18 Hodge Trophy Winner
95 match winning streak (career 126-3) – longest in PSU history
53 career falls (tied for 3rd in PSU history)
3 time 1st Team Academic All-America
Jason Nolf (2016-2019) 157 lbs
2017, 2019 Big Ten Champion
2017-2019 National Champion
117-3 record (includes 1 injury default)
60 career falls (most in PSU history)
Bo Nickal (2016-2019) 184/197lbs
2018-2019 Big Ten Champion
2017-2019 National Champion
59 career falls (2nd most in PSU history)
2-17 Gorriaran Award
2019 Hodge Trophy
2019 Nation's Most Dominant Wrestler
2019 Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year
Vincenzo Joseph (2017-2020) 165 lbs
Mark Hall (2017-2020) 174 lbs.
2018, 2019 Big Ten runner-up
2017, 2018 National Champion, 2019 runner-up
2018-2020 Big Ten Champion, 2017 runner-up
2017 National Champion, 2018, 2019 runner-up
National Champions - Howard Johnston (1935, 165 lbs.); Joe Lemyre (1952, 167); Hud Samson (1953, 191); Larry Fornicola (1955, 137); Bill Oberly (1955, Hvywt.); John Johnston (1957, 130); Andy Matter (1971, 1972, 167); John Fritz (1975, 126); Carl DeStefanis (1984, 118); Scott Lynch (1984, 134); Jim Martin (1988, 126); Jeff Prescott (1991, 1992, 118); John Hughes (1995,142); Sanshiro Abe (1996, 126); Kerry McCoy (1994, 1997, Hvywt.); Glenn Pritzlaff (1999, 174); Jeremy Hunter (2000, 125); Phil Davis (2008, 197), Quentin Wright (2011, 184; 2013, 197),Frank Molinaro (2012, 149),David Taylor (2012, 2014, 165),Ed Ruth (2012, 174; 2013, 2014, 184)Matt Brown (2015, 174),Nico Megaludis (2016, 125),Zain Retherford (2016-2018 149)Jason Nolf (2017-2019, 157);Vincenzo Joseph (2017-2018, 165),Mark Hall (2017, 174),Bo Nickal (2017-2019, 184/197), Roman Bravo-Young (2021, 133); Aaron Brooks (2021, 184); Nick Lee (2021, 141); Carter Starocci (2021, 174).
All-Americans -230 selections.
EIWA Champions - 105 champions.
EWL Champions - 59 champions
Big Ten Champions - 48 champions, including 4-time Champion David Taylor (2011-2014. 165)
Big 10 Wrestler of the Year - David Taylor (2011, 2012, 2014); Ed Ruth (2013); Zain Retherford (2016, 2018), Jason Nolf(2017, 2019 tie), Bo Nickal (2019 tie)
Big 10 Freshman of the Year – Jason Nolf (2016), Aaron Brooks (2020), Carter Starocci (2021).
Big 10 Male Athlete of the Year -David Taylor (2014); Bo Nickal (2019)
Hodge Trophy -(Kerry McCoy (1997 -285); David Taylor (2012, 2014 - 165); Zane Retherrford (2016-2018); Bo Nickal (2019-197)
National Freshman of the Year – Mark Hall (2017)
NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler -– Ed Ruth (2012); David Taylor (2014); Zane Retherford (2016-2018); Bo Nickal (2019)
Gorriaran Award - David Taylor (2013); Bo Nickal (2017 -184)
NCAA Most Technical Pins Award - David Taylor (2013)
2016 Olympics – Frank Molinaro (5th, 143 lbs)
World Champions - David Taylor (2018, 86 kg)
Terry McCann Award (USA Wrestling Freestyle Coach of the Year)-Casey Cunningham (2019)