Stevan Micic with Bill Hawkins after being named Outstanding Wrestler at the Dapper Dan Wrestling ClassicTeam USA wrestlers set the tone early and often in Sunday night's dual meet at Fitzgerald Field House on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. After a scoreless first period in the 126 pound match, which was the opening bout as the weight class order was scrambled, No. 1 Stevan Micic (Hanover Central, Ind.) opened up a barrage of scoring on No. 3 Zeke Moisey (Bethlehem Catholic) in a 13-4 major decision victory. The performance was worthy of Micic earning Oustanding Wrestler honors for the USA squad.
Two takedowns in the second period made it 4-2 after that stanza, and then a pair of four-point moves off of leg attack finishes was the scoring for Micic in the third period. "I felt confident on my feet, and knew that if I was persistent, the scoring would come," he commented after the match.
Next up for team USA was fellow Northwestern signee Bryce Brill (Mt. Carmel, Ill.), who is the nation's No. 1 wrestler at 152 pounds, and will possibly be Micic's roommate next year in Evanston. With a takedown in each the first and second period, Brill upended No. 3 T.C. Warner (Cumberland Valley, Pa.), who is an Old Dominion signee. After two bouts, the USA squad held a 7-0 lead that would never be relinquished.
However, it was not for the lack of battle and effort from a very game Pennsylvania squad. In the next match at 113 pounds, it was a pair of nationally ranked 120 pound wrestlers who took to the mat. No. 6 Ethan Lizak (Parkland) would upend No. 10 Brent Fleetwood (Smryna, Del.) 2-1 on a reversal midway through the third period to get the Keystone State on the board. This result avenged a 3-1 Fleetwood win from 14 months ago in the 2013 Escape the Rock Tournament championship bout.
After that bout, it was three consecutive decision victories for the USA squad to push the advantage out to 16-3 after six bouts. This stretch started with a 3-2 decision for No. 3 Josh Alber (Dakota, Ill.) against Ian Brown (Hanover). Alber had to fend off a very deep leg attack and scramble during the second period, but was able to score the go-ahead takedown midway through the third period, and then hang on for the victory. This augmented an undefeated in-season high school career for the Northern Iowa signee.
The first of three Penn State signees to wrestle on the evening was next in the 170 pound bout, as No. 2 Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas) surged with five takedowns between the second and third period to score a 14-9 victory over No. 12 Stephen Loiseau (Lancaster Catholic), who was wrestling down one weight class from where he won state last weekend. Nickal did give up the opening takedown, but surged back with reversals in the first and third period, along with the previously mentioned barrage of takedowns.
Finally in this streak of matches, it was the nation's top Class of 2014 prospect Kyle Snyder (Good Counsel, Md./USOTC) coming through with a 10-3 victory over No. 5 Michael Boykin (Coatesville). Boykin had a very deep leg attack midway through the first period that Snyder fended off. In the very next sequence, right before the end of the first period, Snyder scored a takedown off a very crisp shot and finish.
From there, it was more of the same, as Snyder scored a takedown in the second period, and two more in the third period to cement the match victory. "I've gotten a lot better over the last year," said Snyder about his experience training with senior level wrestlers at the USOTC. "The experience has been very helpful, and I'm ready to make an immediate impact next year (at Ohio State, in the 197 pound weight class)."
Bouncing back from that three-match losing streak, the seniors from Pennsylvania came through with a pair of consecutive victories to cut the deficit to 16-9. First up was No. 3 Zack Zavatsky (Greater Latrobe), who earned a 3-1 overtime victory over No. 9 Joel Dixon (Edmond North, Okla.)
"I didn't think about (the 16-3 deficit)," Zavatsky said. "I went out there and did what was needed, happened to be in dramatic fashion with a late takedown in overtime to win it. Ultimately, it was great to get the crowd back into the match."
Next in line was another national No. 3 in Garrett Peppelman (Central Dauphin). The University of Virginia signee upended No. 1 Ryan Blees (Bismarck, N.D.) by a 4-3 score with a takedown inside the last 20 seconds of the third period. "It was all about composure, just having to keep after it," said Peppelman about his go-ahead takedown. "Going into a ‘short time' situation, it's about looking for the right shot. Fake, fake, fake then find the opportunistic attack, and hope (to God) that you can finish it."
A key match in the dual meet came next as No. 4 Chip Ness (Buford, Ga.), a Super 32 Challenge champion earlier this season, was able to rally back from giving up the bout's initial takedown to earn a 12-8 victory over No. 20 Tristan Sponseller (Bermudian Springs). The match was a true barn-burner, as Ness rallied to lead 6-4 after one period, scored a late reversal to lead 10-8 after two, and then got a reversal midway through the third for the final margin.
The Keystone State bounced back with what was the most dominant performance for any wrestler on the evening, as No. 6 at 126 Dalton Macri (Canon-McMillan) totally dominated No. 2 Nathan Boston (Woodford County, Ky.) in the 120 pound match. Ranked as the No. 52 overall Class of 2014 prospect, Macri earned a 9-0 major decision over Boston, who came in at No. 45. Macri scored takedowns in the first and second periods, before getting a reversal and near fall in the third. That performance earned the Cornell signee the Outstanding Wrestler award for the Pennsylvania squad.
One last turning point came in the evening's most anticipated match, a battle of the top two 285 pound wrestlers in the country. In addition, there was peripheral narrative with the college recruitment of each, as No. 1 Nick Nevills (Clovis Calif.) committed to Penn State, while No. 2 Thomas Haines (Solanco) will be at Ohio State.
This pair of highly talented wrestlers will see each other often over the next four-to-five years, and in this initial meeting, it was Nevills who came out on top. He scored takedowns in the first and second periods, and more or less had control of the bout during a 5-3 victory.
"It was fun and exciting to actually be pushed for the full six minutes," said Nevills, who went undefeated during his senior season with every match being a bonus point victory, many of them first period pins. "I was glad to show the Pennsylvania audience that I can perform at a high level."
With the lead extended to 22-13, and just two matches left, No. 1 Joey McKenna (Blair Academy, N.J.) put the final clinching dagger for the dual meet. Keyed by a first period takedown, he upended No. 3 at 145 Solomon Chishko (Canon-McMillan) by 3-1 decision in the 138 pound match.
The final match of the evening, was a matter of revenge for No. 2 Jason Nolf (Kittanning, Pa.), who upended No. 6 at 152 Tyler Berger (Crook County, Ore.) by a deceivingly close 8-5 score at 145 pounds. Nolf scored a pair of takedowns in the opening period to take a 4-1 lead that would sustain throughout the match. A reversal in the second period and takedown midway through the third made it 8-3. However, Berger had a very late reversal - almost to the back -- to reduce the final margin of defeat.
Just over eleven months ago, Nolf lost a 2-0 decision to Berger in the final of the FloNationals. "I watched that match," he commented after Sunday's victory, "and realized that I had to open up and take more shots." The improvement was beyond a shadow of a doubt to all present.
The Nolf victory made it three-for-three for the future Penn State wrestlers. "It got to meet Bo (Nickal) and Nick (Nevills) for the first time," said Nolf, "and I'm glad they'll be (at Penn State) with me."
Team USA 25, Pennsylvania 16
126: No. 1 Stevan Micic (Hanover Central, Ind.) maj. dec. No. 3 Zeke Moisey (Bethlehem Catholic), 13-4
152: No. 1 Bryce Brill (Mt. Carmel, Ill.) dec. No. 3 T.C. Warner (Cumberland Valley), 5-1
113: No. 6 at 120 Ethan Lizak (Parkland) dec. No. 10 Brent Fleetwood (Smyrna, Del.), 2-1
132: No. 3 Josh Alber (Dakota, Ill.) dec. Ian Brown (Hanover), 3-2
170: No. 2 Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas) dec. No. 12 at 182 Stephen Loiseau (Lancaster Catholic), 14-9
220: Kyle Snyder (Good Counsel, Md./USOTC) dec. No. 5 Michael Boykin (Coatesville), 10-3
182: No. 3 Zack Zavatsky (Greater Latrobe) dec. No. 9 Joel Dixon (Edmond North, Okla.), 3-1 SV
160: No. 3 Garrett Peppelman (Central Dauphin) dec. No. 1 Ryan Blees (Bismarck, N.D.), 4-3
195: No. 4 Chip Ness (Buford, Ga.) dec. No. 20 Tristan Sponseller (Bermudian Springs), 12-8
120: No. 6 at 126 Dalton Macri (Canon-McMillan) maj. dec. No. 2 Nathan Boston (Woodford County, Ky.), 9-0
285: No. 1 Nick Nevills (Clovis, Calif.) dec. No. 2 Thomas Haines (Solanco), 5-3
138: No. 1 Joey McKenna (Blair Academy, N.J.) dec. No. 3 at 145 Solomon Chishko (Canon-McMillan), 3-1
145: No. 2 Jason Nolf (Kittanning) dec. No. 6 at 152 Tyler Berger (Crook County, Ore.), 8-5