Nolf, Nickal to get senior day sendoff
STATE COLLEGE — For Penn State wrestling fans, Sunday’s 2 p.m. season finale against Buffalo will surely be bittersweet.
Another Rec Hall sell-out crowd will be treated to one last performance by the three-time defending NCAA champions. What promises to be a lopsided win over the Bulls will likely culminate in the Nittany Lions’ fourth consecutive undefeated season and a 59th consecutive win.
Most fans, though, will lament the fact that it will be their final time watching two of Penn State’s and college wrestling’s all-time greats — Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal — as the team celebrates senior day.
“They are two of the best who will ever wrestle,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, who many consider the best ever, said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“I believe that and we’re very grateful they’re here and just want to continue to wrestle with some gratitude and some enthusiasm as they push through here in March. We’ve had some great kids come through here. We’ve been very blessed. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Heading into Sunday, Nolf and Nickal have combined for a 219-6 record, 112 pins, four NCAA individual championships and six NCAA finals appearances. Nolf has a 108-3 record with 57 pins. Nickal has a 111-3 record and 55 pins. Each has three finals appearances and two championships.
In addition to Nolf and Nickal, one other Nittany Lion who confirmed he will be recognized is 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed.
“I will be out there for senior day, unfortunately. I am (looking for the sixth year) but we don’t know. Right now we plan on it being my last year, so I’m going to be out there for sure,” he said.
“I didn’t get to compete the last five matches and that’s pretty hard, but I’m out here now and ready for Big Tens and nationals and that’s all that matters. I’m happy I get to get out there in front of the crowd for one last hoo-rah. That will be fun.”
Rasheed has had a front row seat for all four years of Nolf and Nickal’s spectacular careers. He provided an apt description of two wrestlers he called “brothers now. We’re all family.”
“Nolf is like an artist. Very creative. You don’t know what he’s going to do out there. Bo, he’s a showman. He likes to put on a show. He’ll go for the thing that people won’t and I think that makes each of them special,” he said.
“Nolf is a showman, obviously, too. You watch him and you’re like ‘dang.’ You can show him (Nolf) moves you made up and he will do it and I’m like ‘oh, I was just kidding. You’re not supposed to do that.’ He’s my favorite to watch out of anybody for sure.”
Five years of practices and road trips and championships has helped to close the 1,262-mile gulf between Nickal’s hometown of Allen, Texas, and Yatesboro, where Nolf grew up.
“I think that we’re really good friends and we challenge each other a lot and we can learn from each other in so many different ways. Wrestling wise, he definitely is somebody who’s super creative and I like just being able to watch him compete,” Nickal said.
“He’s one of my best friends, so Jason’s somebody I’m really happy to have met here and he’ll be a friend the rest of my life.”
That feeling of friendship is clearly mutual for Nolf.
“He’s obviously an amazing wrestler but he’s a better person,” he said. “Being around and being there for me if I ever need him, and the same with me.”
Rarely one to be particularly chatty with the media, the prospect of his last match in front of the adoring Rec Hall fans had Nolf in a reflective mood.
“It’s been amazing, the last five years. I was just talking to my dad on the phone today and realized how fast it had actually gone,” he said.
“I was talking to Matt McCutcheon on Instagram and saying like how fast it goes, and it really does fly by fast, you don’t even realize it. It’s been the best five years of my life. I met my wife and I met some of the best teammates I could have ever met…it’s been awesome.”
Sanderson said Nolf and Nickal’s impact has been felt on and off the mat.
“It has to be on the mat. If you’re not winning matches, people don’t really care what you’re doing outside the mat. It has to start with guys who can compete and represent Penn State on the mat correctly and then being able to do the right things,” he said.
“Doing well in school and being good examples of the kinds of men that kids can look up to and not worried about them ever in any situations and how they’d react. That speaks volumes about who they are.”
Nittany Lion fans will have one more chance to roar their appreciation in Rec Hall to Nolf, Nickal and all of the seniors. On Tuesday, Nickal was speaking for himself, but probably for all of his teammates, about how he feels facing his last home dual meet.
“I’m extremely grateful for everything that I’ve received from being at Penn State and all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet with and have relationships with … I’m really grateful,” he said.
“I appreciate the support. I appreciate all the times they’re out there cheering for me and stuff like that. It’s pretty awesome to have experienced that. There’s no place like Rec Hall. We have the best fan base and the best place to wrestle in the country.”