Penn State Wrestling Sends 5 to NCAA Finals, Moves Closer to Team Title
Penn State saw five wrestlers advance to the national finals as the Nittany Lions all but locked up another team title on Friday night at the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
No. 1 seed Roman Bravo-Young (133), No. 1 Carter Starocci (174) and No. 3 Aaron Brooks (184) will each wrestle for their third national titles on Saturday night, while Levi Haines (157) and Greg Kerkvliet (285) will be seeking their first individual NCAA championships.
No. 6 Beau Bartlett (141) and No. 12 Shayne Van Ness (149) both dropped into the consolation semifinals and still have a shot at third place after coming up short in their semifinal bouts. No. 9 Max Dean (197) will wrestle for seventh place on Saturday after losing in sudden victory in the consolation quarterfinals to No. 2 seed Bernie Truax.
Seeking their 10th team title under Cael Sanderson and 11th overall, the Nittany Lions further widened the gap in the overall standings. Penn State is in first with 116.5 points, well ahead of second-place Iowa’s 77. Cornell (64), Ohio State (62) and Missouri (55) round out the top five.
Action continues at 11 a.m. EDT on Saturday in the BOK Center with the consolation semifinals to be followed by the third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches. That session will air on ESPNU.
The national finals will begin at 7 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Roman Bravo-Young – 133 pounds
Looking to reach his third consecutive NCAA final, top-seeded Bravo-Young wrestled an active but ultimately scoreless first period against No. 4 seed Michael McGee of Arizona State. McGee took down to start the second and turned in for a reversal to take a 2-0 lead. A Bravo-Young escape narrowed it to 2-1 before the end of the period. The Nittany Lion escaped to tie it in the third after McGee built his riding time over one minute. Bravo-Young then scored his first takedown out of a scramble to go up 4-2. A McGee escape and riding time point sent the bout to sudden victory tied 4-4. In the extra period, Bravo Young got in on McGee’s left leg and stayed with it, driving through and stepping around for the decisive takedown and a 6-4 decision. It was Bravo-Young’s 56th consecutive win and the 100th of his career.
What’s next: Bravo-Young will look to finish his collegiate career with a third straight national championship when he takes on No. 3 seed Vito Arujau of Cornell on Saturday night. Arujau upset No. 2 seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State — who RBY defeated in the 2021 and 2022 title bouts — in the semifinals.
Beau Bartlett -141 pounds
Sixth-seeded Bartlett fell behind early in his semifinal bout against No. 2 seed Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado, who scored a first-period takedown followed by a Bartlett escape for a 2-1 lead. Alirez escaped to start the second then fended off a Bartlett shot, took a shot of his own and stepped around for a second takedown. Bartlett escaped in the third, but that was all he could get. With a riding time point Alirez won a 6-2 decision to advance to the final.
What’s next: Bartlett moves to the consolation bracket and can finish as high as third and no lower than sixth. In the consolation semifinals, he will face No. 11 Clay Carlson of San Diego State, who Bartlett beat 3-2 in the second round.
Shayne Van Ness – 149 pounds
Van Ness, the No. 12 seed, faced a tall task in the semifinals against top seed and three-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. For a moment, it looked like he might pull off a monumental upset. Both wrestlers had good shots but no takedowns in the first, Van Ness’ best chance coming late in the period with Diakomihalis’ leg in the air and off balance as time expired. The Nittany Lion redshirt freshman escaped to start the second and Diakomihalis did the same to start the third to tie it 1-1. Van Ness then countered a shot with a low single for a takedown and a 3-2 lead. But Diakomihalis quickly responded with an escape and a double leg for a takedown followed by a turn for four back points. Diakomihalis won an 8-3 decision to move on to the final.
What’s next: Van Ness heads to the consolation bracket and can finish as high as third and no lower than sixth. He will face No. 4 seed Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech in the consolation semifinals.
Levi Haines -157 pounds
No. 2 seed Haines met No. 3 seed Peyton Robb in a rematch of their Big Ten title bout won by the Nittany Lion in sudden victory. After a scoreless first period, Robb got on the board with an escape in the second. Haines answered with a head outside single that he worked for the bout’s first takedown. Robb escaped to tie the bout 2-2 heading into the third. Haines opened the final period with an escape. Both wrestlers locked up side by side out of a scramble, and the Penn State true freshman won the battle, stepping behind for the takedown and a 5-2 lead. Robb escaped with two seconds left, but Haines won the decision and became the third Nittany Lion freshman to advance to the national finals, joining Cary Kolat and Mark Hall.
What’s next: Haines will look to become the 21st true freshman wrestler to win an NCAA title when he faces No. 1 seed Austin O’Connor of North Carolina.
Carter Starocci – 174 pounds
No. 1 seed Starocci set the pace early against No. 4 seed Chris Foca of Cornell, getting in on a single leg and working for an opening takedown then riding out the remainder of the first period to build 1:45 in riding time. A quick escape to start the second extended Starocci’s lead to 3-0. After Foca took neutral to start the third, Starocci dropped in on his leg and tripped him to the mat for a second takedown. Starocci stayed on top the rest of the way and with 2:30 in riding time secured a 6-0 decision to advance to his third NCAA final.
What’s next: Starocci will seek his third national title when he takes on No. 2 seed Mikey Labriola of Nebraska in a rematch of the Big Ten title bout, which Starocci won by a 6-1 decision.
Aaron Brooks – 184 pounds
Brooks, the No. 3 seed, faced No. 2 seed and Lewistown native Trent Hidlay of NC State in a rematch of last year’s semifinals won by Brooks. The Nittany Lion took control early, connecting on a single and pulling in Hidlay’s leg for a takedown. Hidlay escaped, but Brooks tossed him for another takedown and rode out the period with a 4-1 advantage. Brooks escaped for the only point of the third and a 5-1 lead. Hidlay took bottom to start the third and picked up a point on a questionable stall call against Brooks, then escaped to narrow the score to 5-3. But Brooks allowed nothing else and added a riding time point to move on to the finals with a 6-3 decision.
What’s next: Brooks will wrestle for his third consecutive national title when he faces No. 1 seed Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa in the final. Brooks and Keckeisen most recently met in November’s NWCA All-Star Classic, where the Nittany Lion won 12-8, although the bout did not count toward season records.
Max Dean -197 pounds
Dean, the No. 9 seed, continued his work in the consolation bracket against No. 11 seed Jaxon Smith of Maryland. Dean used a second-period escape and a third-period takedown to win a 3-2 decision and move on to the consolation quarterfinals against No. 2 seed Bernie Truax of Cal Poly. Truax got the early advantage with a pair of first-period takedowns followed by Dean escapes for a 4-2 lead. Dean escaped to start the second and after multiple good shots finally finished off a takedown to move ahead 5-4. Truax took bottom to start the third and Dean built his riding time over a minute. Truax, however, turned in for the late reversal and prevented a Dean escape the rest of the way. With Dean’s riding time point, the bout went to sudden victory tied 6-6. In the extra period, Truax went to work quickly and got the takedown for an 8-6 decision.
What’s next: Dean heads to the seventh-place bout, where he will meet No. 10 seed Jacob Cardenas of Cornell.
Greg Kerkvliet – 285 pounds
No. 3 seed Kerkvliet battled No. 2 seed Wyatt Hendrickson of Air Force in the heavyweight semifinals. The Nittany Lion junior got in on a single leg but Hendrickson countered and got the opening takedown for a 2-0 lead in the first period. Kerkvliet escaped to make it 2-1 at the end of one and took bottom to start the second. Hendrickson got his riding time up to 1:45, but Kerkvliet turned in for a reversal and took control of the match from there, riding out the period and knocking down Hendrickson’s riding time. Hendrickson chose bottom to start the third and Kerkvliet dominated on top, riding out the period and tacking on a riding time point for a 4-2 decision.
What’s next: Kerkvliet will seek his first national championship in what will be another Big Ten title bout rematch. He will face top-seeded Mason Parris of Michigan, who won in sudden victory in the conference final and who is the only wrestler to beat Kerkvliet this season.