PSU Wrestling dominates Arizona, 41-3

By ANDY ELDER

For The Express

UNIVERSITY PARK — For the 6,676 fans who packed Rec Hall on Friday night for No. 15 Arizona vs. No. 1 Penn State, one question rose above the many that provided the backdrop for the nationally televised dual meet.

Who’s the best 174-pounder in NCAA wrestling? Is it Sun Devil defending champion Zahid Valencia. Or is it 2017 NCAA champion Mark Hall?

Hall left no doubt, at least on this night, that he is.

The junior Nittany Lion’s dominating 4-0 win highlighted another Penn State rout. The Lions won nine of 10 bouts to send the Sun Devils back to the desert on the receiving end of a 41-3 thumping.

“First off, it’s a tremendous place to wrestle. I think our guys got a nice education on what it’s like to come into a really hostile environment with guys who want to fight really hard,” Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones said.

“I think that was one. Two, our overall effort wasn’t great, for a variety of reasons. Maybe we were outmatched in a couple of weights. When it got hard and tough at times, we didn’t match it. You can’t compete with a team like that unless you’re effort’s a hundred percent every second.”

Penn State’s domination was about as thorough as it could be. The Nittany Lions racked up three falls, two major decisions, two decisions and a technical fall. PSU’s 27-6 advantage in takedowns was lopside, but even more so when you consider all six of ASU’s takedowns came in its only win of the night, at 125 pounds.

While the sellout crowd seemed a bit more amped than usual throughout the night, it saved its loudest cheers for the rematch of the 2018 NCAA 174-pound final, which Valencia dominated, 8-2.

This time it was Hall who dominated.

After a scoreless first period, Hall chose bottom and worked his way free relatively easily. He then converted the match’s only takedown and rode Valencia the rest of the period, building 41 seconds of riding time.

Valencia chose bottom to start the third and Hall kept him there the entire period. Hall hooked Valencia’s ankle and wouldn’t let him out. On the two or three occasions the Sun Devil was able to stand, Hall returned him to the mat. Valencia was never really close to escaping.

Hall seemed to indicate effort was the difference.

“Just wrestling hard through positions, not giving him an escape, just because he comes up, just because he gets up doesn’t mean you’re out, right? Just wrestling through everything,” he said.

“Just putting on that hard ride was what I was thinking about. Whether it was the second period or third period, that was what I was thinking of doing. Trying to throw my leg in, get a cross-wrist, trying to turn him.”

With 17 seconds to go in the match and Valencia showing no interest in trying to escape, the crowd rose as one to its feet as it roared approval.

When the final buzzer sounded, Hall jumped to his feet and strummed a few licks of air guitar as the crowd cheered wildly.

“I thought Mark wrestled really well and I’m really happy for him,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Just solid, solid all the way around. Looking forward to that next match.”

Jones said Hall was able to execute his plan better than Valencia.

“I think Mark did a fantastic job today of executing his plan. Zahid didn’t execute his plan. You didn’t see Zahid like you’ve seen him in the past,” he said.

“The great thing is Zahid is a very bright wrestler. He’s very smart. He has a high wrestling IQ. He’ll need to go back and say, ‘what didn’t I do that I normally do that makes me good?’ He’s a smart enough guy to do that. He’s got to do more than he did tonight.”

The match featured three other matchups of ranked wrestlers and Penn State won them all.

At 165, top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph used a six-point move in the first period to engineer an 11-3 major decision over No. 5 Josh Shields, a former Young Guns Wrestling Club teammate.

“I think I wrestled hard but I would have liked to get more opportunities throughout the match,” Joseph said.

At 149, No. 12 Brady Berge made his Rec Hall debut memorable in a 5-4 win over No. 11 Josh Maruca. Berge used two slick counter takedowns to fuel the win.

“That’s his first time in Rec Hall and Maruca’s a quality opponent. He wrestled well, a little conservative. Maruca’s obviously very good and knows what he’s doing in those positions but Berge did a great job getting two takedowns and that match was a big step for him,” Sanderson said.

The other matchup of ranked wrestlers, at 157, was lopsided. No. 1 Jason Nolf used seven takedowns in an 18-5 rout of No. 16 Christian Pagdilao.

Penn State got pins from No. 4 Nick Lee at 141 (2:18), No. 1 197-pounder Bo Nickal (:35) and No. 5 285-pounder Anthony Cassar (5:18).

Shakur Rasheed rolled to a 15-0 technical fall in seven minutes at 184.

Jones, in an apparent attempt to try to steal two wins early, sent out Brandon Courtney instead of No. 7 Ryan Millhof at 125. The move paid off as Courtney piled up six takedowns, four in the first period, in a 13-7 decision over Devin Schnupp.

Millhof bumped up to 133 to take on unranked freshman Roman Bravo-Young. Jones’ gambit backfired as Bravo-Young dominated Millhof, scoring four takedowns, coaxing two stall points and piling up 3:16 in riding time in a 14-1 major.

“I thought Roman wrestled really well also. His opponent bumped up from 25. I thought that was a nice move on Arizona State’s part, they came here to win, which says a lot. But Roman wrestled well, he wrestled smart against a tough opponent with a lot of experience.”

Penn State returns to action Jan. 1-2 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the Southern Scuffle

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