UPADHYAYA: Penn State wrestling's freshmen can learn from examples of Brooks, Bravo-Young

PARTH UPADHYAYA
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young trips up Iowa's Austin DeSanto in the 133-pound championship bout at the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa, on Sunday, March 7, 2021. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

It's safe to say Penn State didn't have quite the showing it would've liked to have had in the Big Ten Wrestling Championships this weekend.

For a team that's won six conference and eight NCAA championships in the past decade, anything short of first place is a disappointment, even when falling to a team as good as Iowa.

The Hawkeyes ran away with the team title, finishing with 159.5 points, while the Nittany Lions came in second with 124 points. Penn State had two champions — 133-pound junior Roman Bravo-Young and 184-pound sophomore Aaron Brooks — to Iowa's four, and four finalists to Iowa's six.

But with a lineup that's more full of potential than it is experience, those result aren't perhaps all that unexpected. With six freshmen in the lineup — including a few who only had two or three collegiate matches under their belts before this weekend — the Nittany Lions were still able to advance nine wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis in two weeks.

"We've got time to kinda regroup here and figure some things out and be better at nationals," said 12th-year head coach Cael Sanderson.

If the freshmen are in need of some inspiration before making the trip, they need to look no further than teammates Bravo-Young and Brooks. While both are now at the top of their classes, they, too, took some time to adjust, and examples of how much they've grown were no more apparent than in their finals matches on Sunday.

Both Bravo-Young and Brooks took on opponents who they had lost to the first time they'd wrestled. In Bravo-Young's case, it was twice. But on Sunday, there was no question who the better wrestlers were as Bravo-Young used two takedowns to dispatch Iowa's Austin DeSanto with a 5-2 decision, and Brooks rolled to a 10-5 win over Nebraska's Taylor Venz.

Those kind of results can happen for Penn State's group of freshmen, too, with a bit more experience.

Penn State's Aaron Brooks controls Iowa's Nelson Brands in a 184-pound quarterfinal bout of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in State College, Pa. Brooks went on to win the 184-pound title. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

"That's kinda what you're gonna get — it (was) gonna be a tough match," said Bravo-Young of the familiarity he and DeSanto have with one another. "We come up with a game plan, and we've just gotta execute it. ... I feel like I'm a little bit more athletic (now)."

Mixed results: The weekend featured mixed results for the Nittany Lions' freshmen. Out of the group of six, 174-pound No. 3 seed Carter Starocci was the only one who made it to the finals, where he fell 7-2 to Iowa's No. 1-seeded Michael Kemerer to take second. But the Erie Cathedral Prep grad was named the conference's Freshman of the Year for his efforts.

Greg Kerkvliet — the No. 7 seed at 285 pounds — finished fourth, 125-pound No. 11 seed Robert Howard and 197-pound No. 7 seed Michael Beard placed sixth, 165-pound No. 6 seed Joe Lee took eighth, and No. 11 seed 149-pounder Beau Bartlett was eliminated Saturday after going 1-2.

Even though Brooks is only in his second year with the Nittany Lions program, he's already reaping the rewards from the time he's put in to work on his craft. Sunday's victory marked his second consecutive Big Ten crown.

Brooks has seen himself grow in just one season, and that should give Penn State's freshmen a feeling of optimism as their careers progress.

"It's a great opportunity to glorify God and just come out here and compete to the best of my abilities," Brooks said. "It's a great feeling knowing your hard work's paying off and that you're in the right place with the right coaches and right people."

Sanderson credits the "attitude" of Bravo-Young and Brooks for the strides they've made throughout their time at Penn State.

And, if nothing else, that's what he and the Nittany Lions' more veteran wrestlers hope the younger members of their roster walk away with from the weekend.

"It's just persistence and wrestling in your tie-ups and wrestling your style," Sanderson said. "And I think we've seen that over the years with our program."