Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee, Penn State win NCAA wrestling titles
CLEVELAND — The host city of the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship has a theme song: "Cleveland Rocks."
If Cleveland rocks, then Iowa freshman Spencer Lee and Penn State must roll. Or rule.
That's what the 2017 Franklin Regional graduate did all weekend at Quicken Loans Arena in winning his first NCAA title. Penn State did the same in winning its seventh team title in eight years.
Penn State's clincher came when Bo Nickal won his second title by pinning Myles Martin in the first period at 184 pounds. Martin had taken Nickal down and to his back for a two-point nearfall, but Nickal rolled him over and pinned him.
"That's why I came to Penn State, to win titles," Nickal said.
Lee (22-2) used takedowns in the first and third periods and handed Rutgers sophomore Nick Suriano his first loss of the season, 5-1, to capture the 125-pound title.
After the win, Lee pointed to his heart and then to his family and girlfriend.
The victory completed a perfect, dominating performance. Heading into the finals, Lee posted two 18-0 victories and two pins, including a third-period fall of Ohio State senior Nathan Tomasello in the semifinals Friday.
Lee outscored his five opponents, 61-4.
"I don't know if it's really set in," Lee said. "I got to hug my teammates and my family. That was an awesome feeling.
"I got the best teammates in the world. And (Mike) Kemerer, (Brandon) Sorensen and (Alex) Marinelli, they're great leaders, and I can name the whole team. They did a good job of making me believe in myself, and I think that's why I'm here."
Lee and Suriano last met in the Super 32 tournament in 2013 before Lee's freshman season at Franklin Regional. Lee won that match, and Suriano beat him in 2012.
Suriano (25-1) was a four-time New Jersey state champion, posting a 159-0 record, and this was only the second loss of his collegiate career. He lost to Thomas Gilman of Iowa when he wrestled at Penn State in 2017 before injuring an ankle.
Lee was denied his fourth PIAA title as a senior because of a right knee injury. He lost to Austin DeSanto at the buzzer on a controversial takedown.
He said getting the first takedown gave him confidence he could take Suriano down later in the match.
"I got the takedown, and I knew it's going to be there again," Lee said. "We haven't wrestled each other since I was a freshman in high school. He was a sophomore. We've both have improved a lot."
Lee said losing the state title was tough, but he was able to bounce back.
"You know my motto: You get punched in the face; you get up and you hit them back again," Lee said. "After losing, the plan was to get my knee healthy. … The coaches believed in me, and my family and friends and teammates believed in me. And that's why I'm here."
Penn State's started its run when senior Zain Retherford (31-0) won the 149-pound title by defeating Lock Haven senior Ronnie Perry, 5-2, for his third national title.
It was Retherford's 94th consecutive win.
Junior Jason Nolf (Kittanning) followed with his second title by defeating North Carolina State redshirt freshman Hayden Hidlay, 6-2, at 157.
Nolf (26-1) overcame a right knee injury in late January to secure his second title. It was the third consecutive season Nolf was in the finals.
"I definitely felt a little bit slower since I got injured, but I feel better now than I did before," Nolf said. "I was hesitant because I wanted to protect my knee."
Vincenzo Joseph (25-2) made it three in a row for the Nittany Lions by winning his second title, defeating Illinois' Isaiah Martinez, 6-1, at 164.
"Pretty much the same as last year, just two guys wrestling hard," Joseph said. "I was able to get two quick back points today, which really helped out. Winning the team title means more than winning my second title."
Penn State sophomore Mark Hall was denied his second consecutive title, losing to Arizona State's Zahid Valencia, 8-2.
But Nickal (31-0) secured the team title with his dramatic pin.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.