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21 Questions with NCAA Champ Mark Hall

Mark Hall is an NCAA champ and 2x Junior World champ. The Penn State junior is 16-0 this season and ranked #1 at 174 pounds. 

1. You only won 6 high school state titles. Any advice for a young wrestler who has dreams of winning 7?

I actually had a chance to win state 7 times. My (first) 7th grade year, I wrestled in Kentucky. They have the same rule as Minnesota. I went 42–3 and lost in the state finals to a guy I beat about a month prior to that.

For any of you kids reading this that want to win 7 state titles, all you have to do is go through 7th grade twice, move to a different state that allows the same middle school rules, and then pray that you’re more clutch than I was in the postseason. Good luck with that.

2. A lot of people counted you out as as a top contender in 2017 after you lost to #13 Alex Meyer of Iowa in your freshman debut. What are your takeaways from that loss and how did it affect you?

What a show. Wrestling in Carver-Hawkeye was awesome, truly. It did suck losing, but those fans helped me get over something REALLY fast. I’m pretty unfazed going into hostile crowds now. Don’t get me wrong, home-mat advantage is a real thing, and it takes A LOT of focus on my end to tune them out. I just know that there will be nothing as hostile as them. I would NEVER thank an Iowa fan for anything, but I guess I should thank them for that.

Mark went on to win the NCAA title that year.

3. Any interesting encounters with Iowa fans or particular slurs you remember hearing from them? Any other team’s fans?

Running out to my match, I heard a lot of “you suck” and some other…vulgar things. On the way back after my match, I heard some of the same things. Those people are ruthless. Some of the nicest fans are Michigan fans. I showed them how much I appreciate them last year at the Big Ten Championships.

4. I’ve seen some atrocious celebrations from college wresters this season. Any advice for those guys who just don’t seem to have the “it” factor like you?

If you don’t know how to celebrate, you probably shouldn’t do it. Those really good guys that don’t celebrate isn’t because “they want to act like they’ve been there.” It’s because they don’t know how.

5. Who’s your least favorite guy to wrestle at practice?

Has to be Zain Retherford (3x NCAA champ at 149 pounds). I DREADED the days when Zain would ask me to wrestle. He wrestles hard and he is stubborn. I’m not even sure if he knows how to drill. He has one speed. No eyes are safe when you wrestle him, along with your ankles and a variety of other body parts. I don’t really feel bad about saying these things either, because I know for a fact I’m not the only one who thinks it, but I’ll be those people’s voice for now.

6. Do you have any hobbies that don’t involve wrestling?

First, I love video games. I plan on being a Twitch streamer when my career is all said and done. Second, this year we have been having game nights. Jason Nolf is so obsessed with winning that he keeps a spare pair of ankle bands by him and when he wins a game he lines them up, taps them, and raises both of his hands in victory, just like he does after a match. For how much he wins on the mat, he doesn’t hit that victory dance during our game nights at all.

Mark currently lives with Jason and Jason’s wife, Maddie (in a separate bedroom). 

7. What’s something about your rivalry with Zahid Valencia that most people wouldn’t know?

We are actually pretty good friends. We wrestle together at camps and go out together when we’re both in Colorado Springs. He was also my host on my Arizona State visit my senior year of high school. He helped me get ready for all three of our junior world teams and I did the same for him. When we were kids, he beat me all the time and I never beat him. Our first time wrestling I was winning 7–1, and lost 8–7…pretty demoralizing.

(Mark beat Zahid in the 2017 NCAA finals and lost to him in the 2018 NCAA finals. This season, Mark defeated him in a regular season dual match 4-0 to claim the #1 ranking at 174 pounds.)

8. Without admitting to doing anything illegal, did Zahid show you a good time at Arizona State?

Arizona State is not what you think it is. Most people think they are a party school. I’ll be the first to say, that university is as classy as they get. On the same night their football team honored Pat Tillman during the in-conference game vs. Oregon, we just had a little team bonding session in the dorms after the hard fought loss in a triple OT thriller. We stayed up till a reasonable time and just talked about wrestling and the great friendships we’ve made along the way.

9. What are your thoughts on the recent post-match shenanigans from Iowa’s Austin Desanto?

That guy is a loose cannon. Trust me, I appreciate his intensity. He works hard and is a mad man, but I hope he’s not a “just a matter of time” case. After seeing what he did to Micic last year, and Lizak this year, you can tell it was intentional. But something I think people don’t realize is that wrestling is not a fun sport, and you have to protect yourself at all times. If Lizak doesn’t lay there with his head on the mat as time ticks down, Desanto nearly ripping Lizak’s arm off his body doesn’t happen, and no one questions Desanto’s sanity.

Seeing him yell in Suriano’s ear after his match-winning takedown was suspect and I didn’t really like that approach either. Apparently, he’s working on it. He did own up to it after the match as well. I think that was pretty good of him to do that! Class act.

10. Nick Suriano (Rutgers 133 pounder and former Nittany Lion) lost an overtime nail-biter to Daton Fix. Do you think that match would’ve went differently if he was still in a Penn State singlet? If so, in what ways?

If Suriano had Jake Varner in his corner, that official would’ve thought twice before calling that hands to the face in SV. Just kidding. I love both of those two as competitors. Clearly, both guys are some of the best scorers in NCAA Wrestling. It’s harder than people think to always have that “let it rip” attitude. I only know two guys with it, and thankfully we’re on the same team.

11. I searched your Twitter for anything inappropriate or offensive that I could use to tarnish your reputation, but you’re squeaky clean. Have you ever been involved in any scandals or faced backlash from an online community?

In high school, I had to sit out the match against our rival school for something I tweeted. It was a good one too. I had a picture of the Moneyball scene where Brad Pitt puts his hand up and says “there are rich teams…there are poor teams…there is 50 feet of crap…and then there’s us,” but instead of “Us” I put in our high school rival’s name. The athletic directors of both parties didn’t like that one too much.

12. What’s the wildest rumor you ever heard about yourself?

This isn’t a rumor but it’s a funny story from when I was at the Cheesehead tournament in Wisconsin my 7th grade year. My mom was sitting in the stands and overheard some people talking about how old I was. They were saying things like “Yeah, he’s only in 7th grade, but I bet he’s about 15–16 years old” and for anyone who knows my mom, knows that she doesn’t play that.

She turned around, gave them a stern look, and said “That’s my son, and he’s not 15–16 years old, he’s 13, and if you don’t believe me, I have his birth certificate in my purse.” My mom’s white, so obviously they weren’t going to believe her. She whipped that birth certificate out so fast, and then forced them to move to a different section of the bleachers. Don’t mess with my mom. She’s a sweetheart, but she is also as tough as they come.

13. Who’s the worst person you’ve ever roomed with on a wrestling trip?

Typically, on our trips we don’t get to pick who we room with, and all of last year, I was with Vincenzo Joseph. Blessing and a curse. Sure, he takes some meds before bed and you won’t hear a noise out of him until the morning. Makes for a great night’s sleep for me considering I cut the most weight on the team. But during the day, I don’t think he knows what silence is. Sometimes, I pretend like I’m sleeping if it means he wouldn’t talk for 30 minutes. Also, he ignores the universal “headphones in, world out” rule.

Check out my interview with Vincenzo.

14. Both of us placed 6th at the 2011 FloNationals after making the semi finals and then losing three straight matches. My excuse is that I just wasn’t that good. What’s your excuse? Besides the fact that you were a 7th grader wrestling high school juniors and seniors.

I win a lot of tournaments but that one still pisses me off to this day. The three matches I lost were by a combined total of 4 points. Jason Tsirtsis won my bracket and I don’t even want to get started on what I think about him. I’m triggered. Next question.

15. If Kim Jong-Un offered to fund your trip to North Korea to wrestle in a Beat the Streets-style event in downtown Pyongyang, would you accept?

Yes, next question.

16. Favorite and least favorite college wrestler and coach from another team?

Favorite wrestler: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)

Favorite coaches: Kyle Ruschell (UT-Chattanooga) and Chris Bono (Wisconsin)

Least favorite wrestler: Dean Heil (Oklahoma State). I know he graduated but d*ng I used to hate watching him wrestle.

Least favorite coach: Tom Ryan (Ohio State)

17. Any weight-cutting horror stories?

Six days before Junior Nationals, the summer after my freshman year, I weighed 184, and for that tournament I had to make 163. I managed to get myself to about 5 pounds over by the time we arrived in Las Vegas. The workout that took me about 55 minutes to get off 5 pounds at Junior Worlds, took me about 3-and-a-half hours to get off 5 pounds at Junior Nationals. When I was walking to weigh-ins, my entire body was cramping and I could barely sit up right without leaning over to a side. I know it’s not the worst thing you’ve probably ever heard, but I don’t cut too much weight. Now when I do, I make sure I do it the right way.

18. How do you keep yourself distracted from the stresses of wrestling season? 

Music is huge. You’d be amazed how controlling Nickelback has been on my mind and helping me keep my head on straight. Rockstar and Photograph just put me in a different zone. When i’m not listening to them, I love to listen to Kodak Black and 6ix9ine. Not class act guys, but man, they can make some influential music.

19. How do you feel about Romano Bravo-Young (Penn State’s true freshman 133 pounder) and what he brings to your lineup?

Just to be clear, I am 100% against bullying and hazing. This guy…he just asks for it. Roman and I were cool before he got to Penn State, but he’s changed since he’s been here. The guy gets on SportCenter’s Top 10 one time and starts ghosting the whole team because of how much better than us he is.

20. If I interviewed Spencer Lee, what would you want me to ask him? What about Gable Steveson?

Spencer: Ask him if he would rather have Pokémon be real-life or end world hunger.

Gable: Ask him if PEDs are a regular part of his diet or if he just takes them periodically, that way he has a chance for whenever he gets drug tested. No freshman should be that big.

Gable is a true freshman and currently ranked number 1 in the country at 285 pounds. 

21. If you could go back and re-wrestle any match, which would it be and why?

This is a true story. I was at a camp when I was in 5th or 6th grade. The live portion of the camp was set up like a tournament and my first match, I had to wrestle this dude who was pretty much a dwarf. Like, he was as short as you can get without actually being called a dwarf. I’ll tell you, he had one of the MEANEST headlocks I’ve ever felt. He hit it on me, I went to my back, and he pinned me. After the camp, my dad and I got back home and the next practice we had, there were printed-out pictures of midgets along the walls. Nightmares.

Follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram