Rutgers gets 1st two wrestling national champs

PITTSBURGH -- Ten minutes after winning the first wrestling national title in Rutgers school history, Nick Suriano stopped answering a question about the feat and pointed to a TV in the background of his news conference. He had a proclamation to make about a teammate.

"Anthony Ashnault, on the screen right there, is going to do it next. And this is going to be a day in history. It's a blessing," Suriano said.

Sure enough, after no national champs since 1930, Rutgers got title No. 2 a half-hour later at PPG Paints Arena.

Suriano's 149-pound teammate, Ashnault, finished his Scarlet Knights career with a 9-4 win over Ohio State's Micah Jordan. Two bouts earlier, Suriano had avenged a regular-season loss to Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, beating the Cowboy 4-2 in the second sudden-victory period this time around.

At his postmatch news conference, Suriano paused before the first question as footage of his dad celebrating the win rolled in the background.

"I'm just watching my dad go nuts," he said, before continuing. "It came down to not quitting this last match. I was this close."

Suriano needed a late escape from bottom to get the match to the second sudden-victory period, but he got it -- then made school history with a takedown against Fix.

Suriano was a decorated New Jersey high school star, going unbeaten en route to four state titles. He went to Penn State for a year before transferring to Rutgers. He lost in the 125-pound final last year but roared back this season to win the 133-pound division in what most observers considered to be the toughest top-to-bottom weight class.

Ashnault battled back from injuries earlier in his career and received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. He swept through 2018-19 with a 36-0 record, culminating in Saturday night's national title. Because of the order of the finals, which started at heavyweight, Suriano took the mat first and beat Ashnault to the historic punch.

At his news conference, Ashnault cut off a question that mentioned he should be tied for first with Suriano in school history.

"Nah, he's first," Ashnault said. "I had three chances. I didn't get it done."

The two individual titles propelled Rutgers to a ninth-place finish in the team standings.

Virginia Tech also saw its first national champion, as eighth-seeded Hokie Mekhi Lewis upset two-time defending champ Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State 7-1 in the 165-pound final.

As expected, Penn State romped to its eighth team title in nine years, putting five wrestlers into the finals, with three champions.

Heavyweight Anthony Cassar walloped Oklahoma State's top-seeded Derek White 10-1 to get the night started. Nittany Lions Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal later ended their careers in style, with the seniors winning their third individual NCAA titles and fourth team title since they arrived in State College. Nolf handled Nebraska's Tyler Berger 10-2 for the 157-pound crown. Nickal beat Ohio State's Kollin Moore in the 197-pound final 5-1.

Penn State's Mark Hall fell in the 174-pound final to rival Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in a tight 4-3 decision. Valencia also beat Hall to win last year's NCAA title.

In the other three finals, Spencer Lee of Iowa was a 5-0 winner over Virginia's Jack Mueller at 125 pounds, Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis defended his 141-pound championship by edging Ohio State's Joey McKenna 6-4 in overtime and Northern Iowa's Drew Foster downed Maxwell Dean of Cornell 6-4 at 184 pounds.

The final team standings went Penn State (137.5 team points), Ohio State (96.5), Oklahoma State (84), Iowa (76) and Michigan (62.5).