The biggest weekend of the year in college wrestling began Thursday, with the 2019 NCAA championships getting underway from the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Penn State once again enters this year's tournament favored to win a national championship. The Nittany Lions are the three-time defending champions and have won seven of the last eight dating back to 2011.
Head coach Cael Sanderson led Penn State to a No. 1 ranking in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association poll after going 14-0 in the regular season.
Looking at individual competition, the 285-pound weight class is guaranteed to have a new champion for the first time since 2015. Kyle Snyder capped off his historic career at Ohio State last year by winning a third straight national title.
Before getting into the biggest individual and team storylines from the NCAA wrestling championships, here are the Day 1 point standings, via NCAA.com:
1. Penn State (32.5 points)
2. Ohio State (25.5)
3. Iowa (24)
T4. Minnesota (20)
T4. Oklahoma State (20)
6. Missouri (17.5)
7. Virginia Tech (16)
8. Northern Iowa (15.5)
9. Michigan (15)
10. Nebraska (14.5)
Penn State Continues to Reign
There were no signs from Penn State on the first day of competition that a changing of the guard is going to happen.
The Nittany Lions finished the afternoon session a perfect 9-0 with five pinfall victories and a dominant showcase for Shakur Rasheed against Princeton's Kevin Parker:
The three-time defending champions would finish their day 15-3 overall and seven victories by pinfall.
Penn State's roster of talent in the field features three No. 1 seeds in their respective weight classes. Jason Nolf, the two-time defending champion at 157 pounds, disposed of Duke's Ben Anderson in 43 seconds in his first match.
Senior Bo Nickal is looking to end his college career with three straight titles at 184 pounds. His opening bout with Ethan Laird from Rider took two minutes, 34 seconds before he was able to get a pin.
Nickal followed up that effort with another pin late in the first round against Fresno State's Josh Hokit to secure a spot in Friday's quarterfinals:
The Nittany Lions couldn't have scripted a better start on the road to another national title. Sanderson's group came in focused and left with a commanding lead despite a wealth of quality competition chasing after them.
Top Seeds Dominate
Even though Penn State will draw most of the headlines for its overall performance, there were a number of showcase moments throughout the first two sessions by the top seeds.
Northwestern sophomore Sebastian Rivera ran his season record to 28-1 with two victories, including a controlled win over Michigan's Drew Mattin to reach the 125-pound quarterfinals.
Daton Fix of Oklahoma State continued his dominant season with two easy wins Thursday. The No. 1 seed in the 133-pound weight class earned a 9-3 decision win over Matt Schmitt of West Virginia. His quarterfinal matchup will be against Missouri's John Erneste.
One of the best individual showings was courtesy of Rutgers star Anthony Ashnault. The senior star had eight combined minutes of riding time in wins over Malik Amine (Michigan) and Davion Jeffries (Oklahoma).
“I felt great today. I felt like I could have scored more, but I got dominant wins and I was moving well the whole time,” Ashnault told NJ.com's James Kratch after advancing to the quarterfinals.
One of the most intriguing potential finals matchups remains on track in the 165-pound group. Iowa's Alex Marinelli is the top seed in the weight class after a 24-0 regular season. He placed sixth at this event last year and finished 19-6 overall.
Marinelli is chasing Penn State's two-time defending champion Vincenzo Joseph, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed. Neither man had any problem advancing through to the quarterfinals.
The one top seed who has a lot to prove Friday is Oklahoma State's Derek White. The top 285-pound wrestler in the nation looked fine with a 10-2 major decision over Brandon Ngati in the first round.
Session two, though, left a lot to be desired from White's performance. He squeaked by Ohio State's Chase Singletary in a 5-2 decision that was actually closer than the score would indicate:
With Snyder out of the picture in the heavyweight division, it seemed like the field would open up to other competitors. Penn State has a chance to add another individual champion, with No. 2 seed Anthony Cassar earning a 10-2 major decision over Tate Orndorff in the evening session.