Freshman heavyweight makes surprising, impressive debut for Penn State wrestling team

NATE COBLER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Cael Sanderson

UNIVERSITY PARK — Monday night may have been Penn State wrestling's last dual meet of the season, but there was still plenty of time left for surprises.

Redshirt freshman Greg Kerkvliet got the call at heavyweight in the Nittany Lions' regular season finale at Rec Hall, after coach Cael Sanderson had previously indicated the former No. 1 recruit wouldn't be available to wrestle this season.

Kerkvliet started the dual out at 258 pounds with a pin as the Nittany Lions routed Maryland 44-0 for their first shutout since Dec. 2, 2018.

One pin wasn't enough for the four-time Minnesota state champ, as he got another in extra matches. Despite that performance, Sanderson still wasn't ready Monday to publicly commit to a heavyweight between Kerkvliet and Seth Nevills for the postseason.

"It is something we'll have to figure out between now and next weekend," Sanderson said. "He was cleared to compete, so he competed."

Kerkvliet didn't waste any time in his debut. He secured a takedown 15 seconds into the bout and proceeded to recorded two others.

Kerkvliet locked up a cradle on his third takedown and stuck Maryland's Garrett Kappes in 1:12.

It took Kerkvliet just two takedowns in the extra match to lock up another cradle for the fall in 1:18 of Connor Bowes.

"Greg is a competitor and just wants to compete," Sanderson said. "He's been ready to go for a long time. He got the green light, so he's out on the mat. He was able to get a second match also there at the end."

While Monday night was recognized as Senior Night, it was the freshmen who stole the show.

True freshman Robert Howard followed Kerkvliet at 125 pounds, looking to rebound from Friday's loss against Ohio State's Malik Heinselman. Howard got to work early picking up a takedown and four near-fall points.

The New Jersey native turned the Terrapins' Zach Spence to his back again for another set of near-fall points. After a Spence escape, Howard secured one more take down to hold a 12-1 lead after one period.

In the second period, Howard locked in a half nelson and pinned Spence in 3:38.

"Howard got some mat time and some turns on top," Sanderson said. "He got some experience there."

At 133 pounds, Roman Bravo-Young did what he does best — score points. The junior secured six first-period takedowns to hold a 13-8 lead.

RBY added four more takedowns and amassed 2:55 in riding time to secured a 24-13 major decision over Jackson Cockrell. The Nittany Lions led 16-0.

Senior Nick Lee had no troubles with Danny Bertoni at 141 pounds. Lee snapped off four takedowns and nearly collected a pin in the first period. But 4:18 of riding time helped give him a 14-2 major decision.

Freshman Beau Bartlett again got the call at 149 , after taking on Ohio State's Sammy Sasso on Friday. Bartlett tallied three takedowns and controlled his match from beginning to end in a 9-3 win over Hunter Baxter.

"Bartlett is tough," Bravo-Young said. "He is wrestling at (1)49 and (1)41, not many people can do that. He's holding his own."

Sanderson echoed his junior's words: "I think Bartlett has shown that he's getting better each match. He's just comfortable out there and confident."

Senior Luke Gardner got the call at 157 on Senior Night and didn't disappoint. With the match against Michael Doetsch tied 2-2 with 1:24 left, Gardner snapped off a takedown and collected near-fall points for an 8-2 win. Penn State's lead was 26-0, and it continued to roll.

Four straight freshman closed things out for the Nittany Lions.

Joe Lee rebounded from being pinned Friday by Ohio State's Ethan Smith with a pin of his own over Maryland's Jonathan Spadafora in 5:56. Carter Starocci used six takedowns to earn a 14-6 major decision over Philip Spadafora.

Reigning Big Ten champion Aaron Brooks (who wrestled last season but still has freshman eligibility thanks to the NCAA's decision to grant athletes an extra year due to the pandemic) had seven takedowns against Kyle Cochran at 184 pounds in a 17-5 major decision. Michael Beard gave up a reversal in the first period to Jaron Smith, but scored seven unanswered points to collect a 13-4 win.

"I think the freshmen all wrestled well," Sanderson said. "They have a lot of experience and history of success. It is nothing unexpected."

Even though his squad wrestled well on Monday, Sanderson knows there is still some work to be done before the Big Ten Championships next weekend inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

"There are some scenarios they need to work on individually," Sanderson said. "I think we are happy with where we are at. We are just going to try to get a little better between now and the next competition."

No. 2 Penn State 44, Maryland 0

Monday at Rec Hall

285: Greg Kerkvliet, PSU, pinned Garrett Kappes, 1:12

125: Robert Howard, PSU, pinned Zach Spence, 3:38

133: No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, major dec. Jackson Cockrell, 24-13

141: No. 2 Nick Lee, PSU, major dec. Danny Bertoni, 14-2

149: Beau Bartlett, PSU, dec. Hunter Baxter, 9-3

157: Luke Gardner, PSU, dec. Michael Doetsch, 8-2

165: No. 14 Joe Lee, PSU, pinned Jonathan Spadafora, 5:56

174: No. 5 Carter Starocci, PSU, major dec. Philip Spadafora, 14-6

184: No. 2 Aaron Brooks, PSU, major dec. Kyle Cochran, 17-5

197: No. 16 Michael Beard, PSU, major dec. Jaron Smith, 13-4

Extra matches

149: Bartlett, PSU, major dec. Lucas Cordio, 15-7; 157: Bo Pipher, PSU, pinned Garrett Fisk, 2:35; 197: Donovon Ball, PSU, dec. Kevin Makosy, 7-5 (SV), 285: Kerkvliet, PSU, pinned Connor Bowes, 1:18

Takedowns: M 2, PSU 47

Records: Maryland (0-8, 0-8 Big Ten), Penn State (6-0, 6-0 Big Ten)

Next match: Big Ten Championships at Penn State, March 6-7