Focus fueled Penn State wrestler Jason Nolf’s remarkable run
Jason Nolf became a dominant wrestler with a forward-thinking mindset: He never got caught looking too far ahead, nor did he spend much time thinking about what already passed.
But even he took a few moments for reflection upon the end of a decorated collegiate career that ended with one more championship in the region where he first took up the sport.
Nolf capped his five-year run at Penn State with his third individual NCAA title Saturday at PPG Paints Arena, coinciding with the Nittany Lions’ fourth consecutive team championship. The former Kittanning star, as usual, left no doubt, putting on a dominant performance against Nebraska’s Tyler Berger for a 10-2 victory.
In many ways, Nolf’s Penn State career mirrored his high school accomplishments: four NCAA finals appearances and three championships after three PIAA finals berths and three titles at Kittanning. But while Nolf always shined under bright lights, he spoke frequently during his last NCAA title run about his growth as a wrestler and a person.
“I think I just found a lot of wisdom through my coaches that I can’t even begin to make a list of all the things I’ve learned,” Nolf said Saturday after his win over Berger. “But I’m definitely blessed, and I’m looking forward to having an impact on others’ lives as well and to share my faith with others.”
Nolf said his faith grew during his time at Penn State, crediting his wife, Penn State women’s soccer player Maddie (Elliston) Nolf, for helping to foster that. The couple met at Penn State and wed in June 2018.
“I was kind of naive a little bit, and then I met my future wife at that time and grew with her in faith,” Nolf said. “I kind of found my relationship with Jesus, and I think that’s definitely changed me as a person.”
Even as Penn State redshirted Nolf during that first season on campus, he showed his potential by posting a 15-1 record while competing as an unattached wrestler, his only loss coming in the finals at the Southern Scuffle tournament.
He finished as a Big Ten and NCAA runner-up the following season, dropping a pair of close matches to Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez.
“Coming into college, I think everybody wants to be a four-time national champ,” Nolf said Saturday. “I was definitely willing to work for it and sacrifice. But after the first year, my goal was to be a three-time national champ, and that’s what I am.”
After those two losses to Martinez as a redshirt freshman, Nolf tasted defeat just once more in his collegiate career: by injury default last season in a match he led at the time.
He rolled to three national titles, his closest call coming in a 3-2 semifinal victory over N.C. State’s Hayden Hidlay on Friday at PPG Paints Arena. On Saturday, he and teammate Bo Nickal each won their third national titles. The pair also finished first and second in Penn State history in career pins, Nolf with 60 and Nickal with 59.
“They do everything right,” said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, who won four national titles during his days wrestling at Iowa State. “I think that pays off in big moments like this.”
Nolf spoke about giving back in the sport, similar to the way former Penn State wrestler David Taylor, a two-time NCAA champion and 2018 world champion, is doing with his M2 Training Center. Nolf credited his family and coaches for instilling those philosophies in him.
“I think everybody that I’ve touched has definitely had an impact on my life,” he said. “And it’s hard to say if I didn’t have this person would we still do this. I think I’d still be me. But all of my coaches have had an impact in such different ways.
“It’s just unbelievable, the surroundings I’ve been surrounded with. And all my coaches have always told me to surround myself with great people. That’s what I’ve done at Penn State.”