Tuesday, May 30, 2023

PSU crowns four Big Ten champs; team finishes second

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LINCOLN, Neb. — In the final analysis, any number of close losses on Saturday and Sunday prevented Penn State from winning the 2022 Big Ten Wrestling Championships. To pinpoint one specific loss wouldn’t be fair.

Even with a series of uncharacteristic losses late in bouts and in overtime, it took a historic performance by Michigan for the Wolverines to edge Penn State by 1.5 points.

“We lost a lot of close matches but we gave ourselves a chance to win. Our guys competed hard, especially today,” head coach Cael Sanderson said. “Michigan wrestled great. I mean, they just kept winning every match. Congratulations to those guys. They did a great job.”

The Wolverines, despite going 2-5 in the finals compared to Penn State’s 4-1, edged the Nittany Lions to earn their first title since 1973 on Sunday in front of 11,163 fans.

Michigan finished with 143 points to the Nittany Lions’ 141.5 points and four champions. Iowa, with just one champion, finished in third with 129.5 points. The team race literally came down to the last match of the day.

Penn State’s champions included Roman Bravo-Young, with his second title at 133, Nick Lee at 141, Carter Starocci at 174 and Max Dean at 197. It was the first title for Lee, Starocci and Dean.

Aaron Brooks was denied a third consecutive title, as he lost in the finals. Greg Kerkvliet finished third at 285, as did Brady Berge at 157. Beau Bartlett wrestled back for a seventh-place finish at 149 and Drew Hildebrandt finished 10th at 125.

All nine of those Nittany Lions earned automatic berths to the NCAA Championships scheduled for March 17-19 in Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Creighton Edsell, who went 1-2 at 165 and was eliminated on Saturday, was awaiting word on a possible wild card selection when they were announced on Tuesday, after press time.

The first of Penn State’s four wins in the finals came at 133, where Bravo-Young picked up his second consecutive title.

Bravo-Young ran his record against Iowa’s Austin De-Santo to 5-2 with his 3-1 win in the finals. Late in the third period, the Nittany Lion fended off a shot by DeSanto and put him in the danger position, with DeSanto’s back exposed, long enough to be awarded a takedown.

“He was in on my leg and I had to do something because I was already called for stalling. So, I just did a little crotch lift and held him there,” Bravo-Young said of his winning move.

The call was reviewed and upheld. Bravo-Young rode him the final 20 seconds after the review for the win.

“I felt a lot calmer and smoother this match than I did at Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” Bravo Young said.

The win likely sets up the Nittany Lion as the No. 1 seed at 133 pounds at the NCAA Championships. Those seeds and brackets were to be released on Wednesday.

After two runner-up finishes, Lee earned his first Big Ten title by medical forfeit over Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman.

“It is what it is,” said Lee, who had a blackened left eye with several stitches above it. “You want to wrestle all of the matches, but I don’t think about.”

Lee said the injury occurred in practice when one of the younger wrestlers “got a little chippy” and he had to get stitches, which kept opening back up.

Like his teammate before him, a Big Ten title likely sets up Lee as the No. 1 seed at the NCAA tournament.

After losing in the finals a year ago, Starocci climbed the final step up the podium with a 5-1 win over Michigan’s Logan Massa. Starocci swept in for a single in the first period to set the tempo. He added an escape, a penalty point for Massa’s third caution and a riding time point for 1:27 in advantage.

Starocci, too, should be the No. 1 overall seed at 174 at NCAAs.

Dean gave the Nittany Lions their fourth title with a 4-2 win over Eric Schultz of Nebraska. Much like Starocci, Dean struck first snapping down the taller Schultz and spinning around for the takedown with 30 seconds left in the first period.

Schultz was able to escape with just seconds left in the period. Dean rode Schultz for most of the second period before the Cornhusker escaped with 26 seconds left. Dean quickly escaped in the third and kept Schultz at bay, getting a point for 1:55 in riding time for the 4-2 final.

Dean, who should also be in line for a No. 1 seed at NCAAs, said he tried to not let the team race distract him from doing his job.

“It can be hard, but luckily we’ve got good coaches with good guidance. The best thing you can do for the team, they say all the time, is just take care of what you can take care of,” he said.

Brooks looked well on his way to another win over Myles Amine in the 184-pound final. He scored the initial takedown early in the first period and led, 3-1, through two periods. Amine started the third on bottom and Brooks ceded an escape early in the period.

With under 30 seconds to go, Amine converted on a low shot to take a 4-3 lead. But, with just four seconds left, Brooks escaped to send the match into the sudden victory period. But, with 15 seconds left in the extra period, Amine shot in on a low single, snatched Brooks’ other leg and collapsed him to the mat for a takedown and 6-4 win.

“Brooks wrestled great,” Sanderson said. “He’s right there. There’s a left lean or one second here or there was the difference between winning and losing.”

Berge bounced back from his disappointing semifinal loss in a big way. He took Purdue’s Kendall Coleman down to his back and stuck him in 2:59 in the consolation semifinals to earn a rematch with Kaleb Young of Iowa in the third-place bout. After regulation ended 1-1, Berge beat Young for the second time in the tournament as he converted a single leg takedown for a 3-1 win in sudden victory.

Kerkvliet, too, overcame the heartbreak of a semifinal loss with a win on Sunday morning. He rallied from a 3-0 deficit to post a 5-3 win over Lucas Davison of Northwestern. That set him up with a third-place bout against Michigan’s Mason Parris. Kerkvliet beat the Wolverine as he did in the dual meet, this time 5-3.

Bartlett secured a berth in the NCAA tournament with a clutch late takedown against Kanen Storr of Michigan in the seventh-place bout. With the bout tied 1-1, Bartlett countered a Storr shot, locking up a near cradle to get the takedown and finished the period in that position for a 3-1 win.

Hildebrandt started the day on a promising note for Penn State, posting a 4-0 win over Indiana’s Jacob Moran in ninth-place semifinal bout. With the win, he earned his automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. He then medically forfeited his ninth-place bout to Justin Cardani and settled for a 10th-place finish.

Almost to a man, the Nittany Lions hinted at bigger things to come in two weeks. History supports that as Sanderson’s teams have won eight national titles and six Big Ten titles.

“We’ll wrestle great in two weeks. That’s kind of the way we design things,” Sanderson said. “Our guys did a great job today and gave us a fighting chance. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. As long as we’re giving our best effort, we can live with that, and I think our guys did.”

Results Sunday from the 2022 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.