- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - Penn State sent five wrestlers to the semifinals of the NCAA Wrestling Championship and has a stranglehold in the team standings Friday.

Nico Megaludis (125 pounds), Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal (174) and Morgan McIntosh (197) advanced to Saturday’s finals at Madison Square Garden to help push the No. 1 Nittany Lions toward their fifth team championship in six years. Penn State led No. 5 Oklahoma State 114-79.5 after four sessions. Penn State needs 6.5 points to clinch the team title.

“These guys feed off each other,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They love to compete and you see them. They’re smiling and joking around. They go out and get right after it. Five guys have a chance to win a national title. (Jordan) Conaway (133) has a chance to come back and take third. It’s a pretty good team.”

Only three teams - Iowa in 1986 and1997 and Oklahoma State in 2005 - have fielded five individual champions. This year’s version of both squads spent most of the evening session as the only teams with a chance to catch Penn State.

No. 4 Iowa sent three wrestlers to the finals and Oklahoma State advanced two.

“This morning’s round and this afternoon’s round put us in a position obviously to take a trophy home,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. “So with that, that’s a sense of pride.”

But after taking control of the team race with a 5-1 showing in the quarterfinals earlier on Friday, Penn State padded its lead in the semis. Retherford and Nolf, who both redshirted last season when Penn State’s four-year title run was snapped by Ohio State, were key cogs again.

Retherford, the top seed at 149 pounds, dominated Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo, turning the Wolverine grappler to his back for his third fall of the tournament in 4:49. Nolf added his fourth bonus-point win of the tournament with a 19-4 technical fall of Rider’s Chad Walsh. Nolf will face defending champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois for the 157-pound title Saturday night. Retherford will wrestle Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen.

“It’s never fun to lose, and it’s not fun when you kind of just sit and watch and you can’t really contribute physically out there like I am able to do this year,” Retherford said. “But last year my focus was helping the guys that were wrestling get ready to go, as ready as they could be. So that was my approach last year, as well as making sure I was getting ready for this year.”

Sanderson encouraged the strategy a year after losing two-time Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor and three-time champion Ed Ruth to graduation. He figured it would eventually maximize his lineup’s potential with Nickal, Nolf and two-time finalist Megaludis - who also redshirted last season - entering the fold.

“We wanted to get those guys with this freshman class and let them lead this freshman class,” Sanderson said. “You never know if you have a chance to win a national title or not. You have to believe you do and you have to put out a lineup that can score points for you. You never know until you get here.”

CHASING HISTORY: Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer (165) and N.C. State’s Nick Gwiazdowski (285) will try to become just the 25th and 26th three-time NCAA champions.

Dieringer majored Missouri’s Daniel Lewis 14-4 to set up a match with Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan, who beat his cousin Bo Jordan of Ohio State 5-4. Gwiazdowski outlasted Michigan’s Adam Coon and will battle Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder who beat Virginia Tech’s Ty Walz 10-6.

OTHER FINALS SET: Megaludis beat American’s David Terao 8-2 to set up a finals bout with Iowa’s Thomas Gilman, who pinned defending champion Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello in 7:37 in a sudden victory.

The 133-pound final will pit Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett against Iowa’s Cory Clark. Garrett pinned defending champion Cody Brewer of Oklahoma State in 0:21. Clark who edged Illinois’ Zane Richards 4-3 in the semis.

Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil beat Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault 8-3 and will face unseeded Bryce Meredith from Wyoming in the 141-pound finals. Meredith beat Stanford’s Joey McKenna 5-3.

Nickal came from behind to beat Indiana’s Nathan Jackson 4-3 to advance to his first title match. He’ll face Ohio State’s Myles Martin who pulled away from Iowa State’s Lelund Witherspoon 8-2.

Cornell’s Gabe Dean outlasted N.C. State’s Pete Renda 9-4 to set up his first title defense at 184. He’ll battle Nebraska’s Timothy Dudley who majored Missouri’s Willie Miklus 12-4.

McIntosh will face Missouri’s J’Den Cox, the 197-pound champion from two years ago. McIntosh edged Iowa’s Nathan Burak 4-2 and Cox pinned Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr in 6:29.

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