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PSU leads team race after dominant semifinal round

Mark Hall celebrates after his semifinal win (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

CLEVELAND -- On the second day of the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, the focus was on two major elements: which wrestlers would make it to the finals Saturday night ... and which team would leave Quicken Loans Arena with the team title?

For much of Session IV Friday evening, the team title lead bounced back and forth between Ohio State and Penn State. However, as the semifinals moved into the upper weights, the Nittany Lions took a hold of the lead ...and did not relinquish it.

At the end of Day 2, Penn State had accumulated 120 points ... with Ohio State in second place in the team title race, with 109.5 points. Iowa was a distant third, with 86.5 points, followed by Michigan at 73.5 points, and North Carolina State with 69.5 points for fifth place.

Penn State has five wrestlers in the finals, all in the upper-middle weight classes ranging from 149 pounds to 184: Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal. Ohio State has two finalists: Myles Martin at 184, and Kyle Snyder at heavyweight. The other two schools which each have two wrestlers in the finals are Michigan and N.C. State.

A total of thirteen schools have at least one grappler on the mat Saturday night for the championship round, including a couple programs that are new -- or at least somewhat new -- to having finalists, including Rutgers, South Dakota State, and Lock Haven, which hasn't had a finalist in two decades.

On Saturday, action will be begin with matches to determine All-American honors in the morning ... with the championship matches beginning at 8 p.m. ET that night, concluding with the "Clash of the Titans" between two-time defending champ -- and 2016 Olympic gold medalist -- Kyle Snyder facing the man who handed him a loss earlier this season, in Michigan's Adam Coon.

Here is a brief recap of Friday night semifinals action ... along with quotes from a number of the finalists as they anticipate Saturday night's action.

125:
No. 4 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. No. 1 Darian Cruz (Lehigh), 2-0
No. 3 Spencer Lee (Iowa) pinned No. 2 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State), 6:05

It was not a good night for past NCAA 125-pound champs, as the 2017 and 2015 titlewinners fell in the semifinals. Defending national champion and No. 1 seed Darian Cruz of Lehigh lost to No. 4 seed Nick Suriano of Rutgers, 2-0. Suriano escaped in the second period, while Cruz was called for stalls in the first and second periods. Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello, 2015 champ, was pinned at 6:04 by No. 3 seed Spencer Lee of Iowa, the Hawkeye freshman phenom's second fall of the championships. The Buckeye has lost three straight semifinals to three different Hawkeye opponents.

Suriano is the first Rutgers wrestler to make it to the NCAA finals, having transferred to the New Jersey-based Big Ten school after starting his collegiate career at Penn State.

When asked about his history-making role in the post-semis press conference, Suriano said, "It's awesome. I'm glad I'm the one to lead the way. I think there's going to be more to come. Hopefully Jersey's pumped. We're wrestling a competitor, world champ, all the accolades. I've faced him before.

"It's another match. I really believe I'm the best and we're going to scrap tomorrow."

Suriano and Lee have faced each other in high school, with a 1-1 record between them.

Seth Gross gets nearfall points in his semifinal match (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

133:
No. 1 Seth Gross (South Dakota State) pinned Tariq Wilson (NC State), 7:18 SV
No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan) dec. No. 3 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), 8-4

South Dakota State's top-seeded Seth Gross did not score any takedowns in regulation in his semifinals match ... but then pinned unseeded Tariq Wilson of North Carolina State at 7:18. The No. 2 seed, Michigan's Stevan Micic, scored a four-point move from the neutral danger takedown in the last ten seconds of his semifinals match with Ohio State's Luke Pletcher to win 8-4 and find himself in the finals.

Gross and Micic have wrestled each other before, at the All-Star Classic at the very beginning of the season ... an issue that Micic addressed after the semifinals, saying that he thought the two were a bit out-of-shape for that match, then adding, "Now that I'm prepared and it's the NCAA Tournament, the Finals, I'm feeling the best I've ever felt. So, you know, it's time to leave everything behind me. I'm looking forward from there."

Gross was runner-up at the 2017 NCAA finals. "Last year's final, you know, I don't know what it was -- my warm-up wasn't good; I didn't eat right that day, or what," Gross said. "But I'll make sure I get my sleep tonight, eat right after weigh-ins and just do everything right. And as soon as I get out there, I'll block everything else out and focus on the match and what I need to do to win."

141:
No. 1 Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) dec. No. 4 Joey McKenna (Ohio State), 1-0
No. 3 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri), 6-4 SV

Top-seeded Bryce Meredith of the University of Wyoming will be making his second finals appearance in three years, defeating Ohio State's Joey McKenna -- the fourth seed -- 1-0, thanks to a second-period escape. His finals opponent, Yianni Diakomihalis, the No. 3 seed from Cornell, got a 6-4 overtime win over second-seeded Jaydin Eierman of Missouri.

Meredith and Diakomihalis bring a bit of on-the-mat history to the 141 finals.

"First time I was surprised by his ability, his flexibleness, his ability to wrestle in certain positions," Meredith said of their previous bout. "I remember I shot in in there and we got in a minute-and-a-half scramble that I probably wasn't mentally ready for it, my fourth match in December ...

"He's a really unique wrestler. And I'm just looking forward to it. That's been my one loss of the year. And it really did break my heart a lot more than losses have in the past."

Ronnie Perry reached the NCAA finals as the No. 15 seed at 149 pounds (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

149:
No. 1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) dec. No. 4 Troy Heilmann (North Carolina), 10-4
No. 15 Ronnie Perry (Lock Haven) dec. No. 11 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton), 5-3

Top-seeded, two-time NCAA champ Zain Retherford hopes to become only the second Penn State wrestler to win three national titles (joining Ed Ruth) as he faces No. 15 seed Ronald Perry from Lock Haven, the first finalist from that Pennsylvania school since 1997.

Asked how many people believed he would make it to the finals, Perry responded, "Maybe three, three or four. Me, my coaches, so that's three. Maybe my parents, my girlfriend, a couple friends ...

"It's an amazing feeling, something I never thought I would feel to be honest ... I don't think it's going to get super real until tomorrow maybe. But I'm just trying to do my best to stay relaxed and stay focused and go one match at a time."

When asked about his finals opponent, the wrestler known as "Zain Train" said, "This past summer, Lock Haven would come to our room and wrestle some freestyle with the club, the guys that were eligible through USA Wrestling. So I wrestled a few times with Ronnie when he came this summer. I know he's excited, so it'll be fun."

"My thought is, 'Enjoy this last match, enjoy this time as a team. This is the last one.'"

Freshman Hayden Hidlay topped Alex Pantaleo (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

157:
No. 1 Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State) maj. dec. No. 5 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan), 10-2
No. 3 Jason Nolf (Penn State) tech. fall No. 7 Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 16-0

It'll be a battle of Pennsylvania natives for the second consecutive finals bout, as top-seeded Hayden Hilday of North Carolina State goes up against third-seeded Jason Nolf of Penn State. Hilday beat No. 5 seed Alec Pantaleo of Michigan, 10-2, in the semifinals ... while the Nittany Lion scored a 16-0 technical fall midway through the second period vs. Ohio State's Micah Jordan.

When asked about his finals rival, Nolf said, "I wrestled him a couple times when we were younger. Not really familiar. I know he's a good wrestler, and he's strong ... so I just got to work on getting to what I do."

In anticipating making it to the 157 championship match, Hilday said, "I think last year whenever I was sitting at home watching the Nationals, I was on a redshirt so I didn't come with the team. I was just sitting in my apartment visualizing myself being here, and I think once I beat Lavallee earlier this year who made it to the national finals, I'm going to go forward and go after the top guy."

165:
No. 1 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) dec. No. 5 Alex Marinelli (Iowa), 5-2
No. 3 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) dec. No. 2 David McFadden (Virginia Tech), 3-1

The one rematch of the 2017 NCAA finals will take place at 165 pounds between IMar and Joseph, which the Nittany Lion won last year. Martinez came out on top at the 2018 Big Ten conference championships. Top-seed Martinez scored takedowns in each of the first two periods to get the win over Iowa's Marinelli ... while Joseph got a takedown late in the second period to defeat No. 2 seed David McFadden of Virginia Tech, 3-1.

"Of course, I wanted him again in the finals," said the Illini 165-pounder of the wrestler he'll face in a rematch of last year's title bout. "We did it at the Big Ten finals, now it's time to do it for real."

"Whenever me and Isaiah wrestle, it's usually pretty exciting match, pretty offensive," said Joseph. "We're both looking forward to it. We know it's going to be a good one, and we're just ready to put on a show."

174:
No. 1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) dec. No. 5 Myles Amine (Michigan), 7-5
No. 2 Mark Hall (Penn State) pinned No. 3 Daniel Lewis (Missouri), 6:22

It'll be a battle of the top two seeds at 174, as No. 1 seed Zahid Valencia of Arizona State rallied from 5-2 deficit to beat No. 5 seed Myles Amine of Michigan, 7-5 ... while No.2 seed Mark Hall of Penn State got the fall towards the end of his match with Missouri's Daniel Lewis.

Valencia was asked about his on-the-mat history with Hall, and he responded, "We're still great friends. We've been wrestling each other since we were eight years old. I mean, we both know what happened, but it was a fun match. I know he did not want to win that way. But we get another rematch in the finals. I know I'm going to leave it all out there, and he usually always does, so I think it's going to be pretty exciting for the fans."

184:
No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. No. 5 Domenic Abounader (Michigan), 6-3
No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) dec. No. 6 Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech), 8-4

Yet another title bout featuring the top two seeds who have faced each other nine times ... and a rematch of the 2016 finals at 184 that Martin won by upset.

"He's a really strong wrestler. He's really tough, so I'm excited to have that opportunity and to be able to go out there and compete for a national championship because that's what I trained for," Nickal said at the post-semifinals press conference. "It doesn't really matter who it's against, but this being our ninth time wrestling, we're really familiar with each other, and so I think that you can look at it a couple different ways. You can look at it as like, oh, we know a lot of what we're going to do. He knows what I'm going to do, I know what he's going to do. But in my mind, I don't even know what I'm going to do. So if he's trying to figure it out, then good luck."

"I guess you can call it a rivalry," said Martin. "He's really tough. I'm really tough, and it's always fun watching us compete. But when I wrestle him tomorrow, I'm just going to throw all my attacks, get him on my offense. If I lose, I'll know he beat the best of me, not I wish I could have done this, I wish I could have done that. I just want to put it all out there and compete to the best of my ability with God on my side."

Mike Macchiavello won by fall in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

197:
No. 4 Mike Macchiavello (North Carolina State) pinned Kyle Conel (Kent State), 4:19
No. 3 Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) pinned No. 2 Ben Darmstadt (Cornell), 5:41

It's an all-ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) showdown at 197 between a Wolfpack wrestler and his Hokie rival. Macchiavello is the second N.C. State wrestler in this year's finals, which is believed to be a first for the program.

Haught described a special exercise he and his teammates practiced to prepare for an NCAA finals appearance: "Last week at practice, we did a little simulation. We had the carpet out, we had some smoke, ran up some steps, wrestled a match. So I've had experience like wrestling in front of our guys."

285:
No. 1 Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) dec. No. 4 Jacob Kasper (Duke), 10-5
No. 2 Adam Coon (Michigan) dec. No. 6 Amarveer Dhesi (Oregon State), 4-2

Arguably the most anticipated match of the evening, as these two Big Ten big men have faced each other twice this season, with Coon coming out on top during a regular-season dual (handing Snyder his first collegiate loss in nearly three years) ... and Snyder avenging that loss in the 2018 Big Ten finals. It will be the last college match for both wrestlers. If Snyder wins, he will be only the fifth wrestler to have won three NCAA Division I heavyweight titles, and the first in nearly three decades.

When asked about facing Coon one last time in folkstyle competition, Snyder responded, "I'm excited about it, you know. I'm not going to lie. I was hoping somebody might be able to take him out on that other side so I didn't have to wrestle him. But now that it's here, I always embrace the challenge. It's going to be an epic match, round 3."

Coon was very respectful of his college rival. "He's just a solid wrestler all around. That's why he's won multiple world championships and an Olympic championship, just because he's such a solid wrestler, and I've just got to sort of find any sort of chink in his armor, which there's very few, if any at all. So I've just got to find a way. That's the biggest challenge, just find a way."

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