Dominant Penn State has 5 individual champs, wins 9th national wrestling title in 11 years

NATE COBLER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young celebrates his win over Oklahoma State's Daton Fix during their 133-pound match at the 2022 NCAA Division Wrestling Championships in Detroit, Saturday, March 19, 2022. (Andy Morrison/Detroit News via AP)

With the team title in hand, Penn State focused on their five individuals looking for NCAA wrestling crowns on Saturday night.

Five of the Nittany Lions wrestlers are headed back to Happy Valley with NCAA gold, making it a perfect ending to claiming their 10th NCAA title in program history. It is their ninth title in the last 11 years.

"We're a team, but we're made up of individuals. We just want to see our kids," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said, "same thing I say every time, we want them to be happy and reach their goals when they come to Penn State.

"Our job is to help give them, like I said yesterday, the resources, and whatever we can do to help them be the best they can be. When it works out for them, that's great. It doesn't most of the time. So, when it does, it's a special thing."

As for that team race that was already won earlier on Saturday, Penn State ended with 131.5 points. It was 36.5 points ahead of Michigan.

The Big Ten swept the top three team spots as Iowa was third with 74 points. Arizona State (66.5 points) and Nebraska (59.5) rounded out the top five.

"I mean, it's different winning the team title in your hotel room versus my freshman year," senior Nick Lee said. "I was sitting in the back after my last match with our strength coach and Bo (Nickal) pinned the Ohio State guy ( Myles Martin), and we went nuts. Our team really worked for it. We did a lot between last year and this year to make sure that, that was our title this year. It's not just the guys that are starting.

"It's every single guy on the team. I make sure that they know that, and I hope they're watching, so they know that every single person, whether you're injured all year or you're a starter you have a role to play in the national championship. That's every single person from manager, volunteer, a fan, anybody. I just want to thank all of them."

Here's a look at how the Nittany Lions finished off the NCAA Championships:

Roman Bravo-Young, 133 Pounds

Record for tournament: 5-0

Finish: Champion

Recap: RBY got a rematch of last year's finals with Oklahoma State's Daton Fix. Last year, the pair went to overtime to figure out the winner.

This year, the winner was decided in regular time.

The duo fought for position for most of the first period, but RBY got his opening with 1:48 left in the first period. He snuck in and picked the right ankle of Fix, and finished the takedown off for the score.

Fix escaped 14 seconds later to make it 2-1 after one period. Fix had an escape as the lone points of the second period to tie the bout.

RBY picked up an escape of his own 21 seconds into the third period to reclaim the lead. From there, he had a solid defensive stance, kept Fix from getting any scoring chances.

The Tucson, Ariz., native became a two-time NCAA champion.

"It means everything. It's hard. I never thought, looking back," the champ said, "where I was a kid growing up, I never thought I'd be in this position, wrestling in front of my family in a pretty much sold-out arena. Never thought I'd be a national champ, yet a two-time champ. I'm excited, and I'm going to celebrate this for a while. Daton Fix is tough. You guys know how good he is, world-class level."

Nick Lee, 141 Pounds

Record for tournament: 5-0

Finish: Champion

Recap: Lee got a little wake-up call in his finals match with North Carolina's Kizhan Clarke, who was the highest seed to reach this year's finals at No. 15.

The pair got into a upper-body clinch, and Clarke bear-hugged Lee to the mat for an opening score, 14 seconds into the period. Lee didn't stay down for long, escaping six seconds later.

"I wasn't asleep. He's a good wrestler, so he got that takedown, good technique and everything," Lee said. "I think I just stayed calm, did my thing, and the results kind of took care of themselves."

One minute later, Lee got a takedown of his own. He rode Clarke out for the rest of the period, and held a 3-2 lead.

Lee started in the bottom position to start the second period, and took just four seconds to escape. Lee tacked on a second takedown 20 seconds later. Again, Lee rode Clarke out for the rest of the period, and it was 6-2 to start the third period.

Clarke started on his feet to start the third knowing the troubles he had so far trying to escape from Lee. The champ picked up one more takedown, added a riding-time point thanks to 4:30 in riding time for a 10-3 win, and a successful defense of his crown.

"I'm just so grateful. Like, those wins, like I said before, it doesn't feel like me winning," Lee said. "I feel like the whole community, our staff, our fans, my family — I just feel like we we're all winning. I'm just glad everybody could come out and enjoy it. It's such a fun sport to watch. It's such a fun sport to be involved in. The community is like no community I've ever seen. So, it's right that everyone can be here and watch."

Carter Starocci, 174 Pounds

Record for tournament: 5-0

Finish: Champion

Recap: Wrestling fans were in for a great one with Starocci's final as he took on Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis. It was a battle of NCAA champions — Starocci a current champ and Lewis the 2019 165-pound champ.

It lived up to its billing too.

Lewis snatched up a leg of Starocci's early, but the defending champ did a great job to fight off the takedown attempt. Neither wrestler had another chance of scoring in the first period.

Starocci opened the second period with a takedown 10 seconds in. Lewis looked to score a takedown that wasn't called. The Hokies' coaches challenged the call, and Lewis was awarded the score.

"He was pretty strong on that one. He kind of grabbed me pretty good on the go," Starocci said of the takedown by Lewis. "I think my feet might have got caught, but that was a good move on his part. I have to respond a little better and get to my attacks."

Starocci escaped and it was 2-2 to start the third period. Lewis escaped to begin the third period, but with 1:25 left in the bout, Starocci converted a single leg to a double leg takedown for a 4-3 lead.

Lewis escaped with 54 seconds remaining, and that was it, forcing the match to sudden victory. Neither wrestler scored in the extra period, so they went to ride-out periods.

They each escaped in the ride-out periods, but Starocci had 15 seconds of riding time to secure his second straight title, 6-5. Sanderson revealed afterwards that Starocci has been wrestling with a broken left hand since January.

"I wrestled this match a million times in my head before. I mean, it's not my first rodeo," Starocci said. "I've been here before. (I just) Trust my faith in God. I have his presence, his gifts, his love, that's really all I really need, and (I) just go out there, perform and have fun."

Aaron Brooks, 184 Pounds

Record for tournament: 5-0

Finish: Champion

Recap: Brooks felt like he was at home in his second straight NCAA finals as he took on Michigan's Myles Amine.

"I'm so grateful. I come out. I see my family there. Reminds me of where I started," Brooks said, "when you're in junior league and that's your corner. You've got your mom, and dad's your coach. I looked to them, I look up. God's got me. They've got me. I see my coaches."

It seemed like that sense of peace led Brooks to a dominant title defense, and the chance to avenge his loss to Amine in the Big Ten finals two weeks ago. He came out and got a takedown attempt, but Amine fought it off. However, Brooks got another shot at it, and this time scored.

In the second period, Brooks rode Amine for the full period, to hold a 2-0 lead after two periods. He quickly signaled he was starting on the bottom for the final period.

Brooks snapped off a reversal 10 seconds into the period. Amine got an escape with just over one minute remaining. Amine tacked on a late takedown, but the damage was already done by Brooks as he added a riding-time point thanks to 3:26 in riding time for a 5-3 win.

"I think my style, I had to wrestle hard. Sometimes, I get overzealous," said Brooks on what he learned from the Big Ten loss. "I raise both my hands, that's when you see Amine was able to shoot under, and in 30 seconds get two takedowns. Just being patient with that in the open, making sure I'm standing ready, my head and hands are ready, so I can't get underneath him."

Max Dean, 197 Pounds

Record for tournament: 5-0

Finish: Champion

Recap: Dean, as he did throughout the entire tournament, did what he needed to do in his finals match with Iowa's Jacob Warner to come away victorious.

The pair looked for an opening throughout the first period, but nothing came to fruition. Warner had an escape in the second period to lead 1-0 going to the third.

Dean needed 16 seconds to get out from under Warner to tie it up. The pair again looked for an opening in the first period.

It came for Dean.

He countered a Warner shot and came around for the winning score with 36 seconds remaining.

"I felt confident that he wasn't going to score off anything, except maybe if I took a bad shot," Dean said. "First time I wrestled him, I don't get too much into the game plan; I'm not going to tip my hand too much, but he took a bad shot and I scored on him."

When the final horn buzzed, Dean came away with a 3-2 win, and his first NCAA title. He leaped into assistant coach Casey Cunningham's open arms as Starocci jumped on the stage to celebrate with him.

Dean said how the move to Penn State has played an integral role to his success this season.

"Honestly, I was kind of at a place where I was so tired of what was going on with our season (in reference to Cornell)," Dean explained, "whether or not our season was going to be canceled. I was kind of done. I needed something, and they gave it to me. They've been so good to me.

"Carter pushes me. He's fiery. He brings that intensity. I can't tell you how valuable that is as a teammate to have a brother going to war with you like that, because instead of me being worried about winning or losing, I'm thinking, wow, Carter Starocci did it. I'm going to spend seven minutes figuring out if this guy (his opponent) is a man or not."

Greg Kerkvliet, 285 Pounds

Record for tournament: 4-1

Finish: 4th

Recap: Kerkvliet got his day started in the consolation semifinals after suffering a loss to Minnesota's Gable Steveson in the semifinals on Friday night.

He took on Michigan's Mason Parris with a shot of putting even more of a strangle hold on the team race for the Nittany Lions.

Kerkvliet had no problems with Parris, much like in the teams' dual in January. The sophomore picked up a takedown midway through the first period, but Parris escaped to make it 2-1 after one period.

Kerkvliet started from the bottom position in the second period, and escaped six seconds in. He tacked on a takedown with 35 seconds remaining to lead 5-1. In the third period, Kerkvliet rode Parris out for the entire period to secure a 6-1 victory.

Kerkvliet, who finished seventh last year, took on Lehigh's Jordan Wood for third. However, Kerkvliet never made the call, and Wood won by forfeit.

"It was looking like he wasn't going to wrestle at all," Sanderson said of Kerkvliet taking the mat against Parris. "He knew and saw that he was a head-to-head with the team that we were competing with for the championship. So, he laced them up, went out, competed and wrestled great. He was a little banged up. He just got tough and went out and competed."

Drew Hildebrandt, 125 Pounds

Record for tournament: 1-2

Finish: Eliminated Friday

Recap: It's unknown if something was wrong with Hildebrandt, but he didn't look great in the Big Ten Championships. Two weeks later, he still didn't seem like himself in the NCAA Championships.

The Nittany Lions wrestler took on former PSU athlete Brody Teske, who is competing for Northern Iowa now, to stay alive in the consolation bracket. Teske came out on fire, scoring two takedowns in the first period for a 4-1 lead at the end.

Hildebrandt opened the second period with an escape, and tied the bout up, 4-4, with a nice double leg takedown. Teske escaped before the period ended to regain the lead.

Teske opened with an escape in the third period. Teske was keeping Hildebrandt away from scoring and was called for a stall with 18 seconds remaining. Hildebrandt came in for one last attempt, but Teske caught for a late takedown to seal the win, 8-4, and end Hildebrandt's season.

Beau Bartlett, 149 Pounds

Record for tournament: 1-2

Finish: Eliminated Friday

Recap: Bartlett had to feel great coming into Friday's bout with Northwestern's Yahya Thomas after just coming up short against Ohio State's Sammy Sasso the night before. However, Thomas had other plans for Bartlett.

After neither wrestler scored in the first period, Thomas got his offense going in the second period. An escape opened the period, and a minute later Thomas used a solid single leg takedown on Bartlett to lead 3-1 to start the third.

Bartlett opened the third period with an escape, but Thomas tacked on one more takedown to seal up a 5-3 win.

Brady Berge, 157 Pounds

Record for tournament: 2-2

Finish: Eliminated Friday

Recap: Berge got plenty of action in the session on Friday.

He opened against Central Michigan's Johnny Lovett. Berge scored the bout's first point with a takedown with only 45 seconds remaining in the opening period.

Lovett escaped before the period ended to make it 2-1. Berge's early escape amounted to lone points of the second period.

Lovett opened the third period with a reversal, which tied the bout at 3-3 with 1:33 remaining. Berge escaped 20 seconds later and hung on to stay alive with a 4-3 win.

Berge took on Nebraska's Peyton Robb in the third round of consolations, and looked to be out of fuel. Robb controlled from start to finish in an 8-3 win over Berge, which ended the Nittany Lions wrestler's season.

NCAA Championships

Saturday at Detroit

Team key: Air Force (AF), Appalachian State (AS), Arizona State (ASU), Army West Point (A), Binghamton (BH), Bloomsburg (BB), Bucknell (BN), Buffalo (B), Cal Poly (CP), Campbell (CB), Central Michigan (CM), Chattanooga (CT), Clarion (C), Cleveland State (CS), Columbia (CU), Cornell (CN), Cal State Bakersfield (CSB), Drexel (DX), Duke (D), Edinboro (E), Franklin & Marshall (FM), Gardner-Webb (GW), George Mason ( GM), Harvard (HV), Hofstra (H), Illinois (ILL), Indiana (IND), Iowa (I), Iowa State (ISU), Kent State (K), Lehigh (L), Lock Haven (LH), Maryland (MD), Michigan (MICH), Michigan State (MSU), Minnesota (MINN), Missouri (M), Navy (N), Nebraska (NEB), Northwestern (NW), North Carolina (NC), North Carolina State (NCSU), North Dakota State (NDSU), Northern Colorado (NCU), Northern Illinois (NI), Northern Iowa ( NIU), Ohio (O), Ohio State ( OSU), Oklahoma (OK), Oklahoma State (OKSU), Oregon State (OS), Penn State (PSU), Pennsylvania (PENN), Pittsburgh (PITT), Princeton (PT), Purdue (P), Rider (RD), Rutgers (R), Sacred Heart (SH), SIU Edwardsville (SIE), South Dakota State (SDSU), Stanford (S), The Citadel (TC), Utah Valley (UV), Virginia (V), Virginia Tech (VT), West Virgina (WV), Wisconsin (W), Wyoming (WY)

Team scores: 1. Penn State 131.5, 2. Michigan 95, 3. Iowa 74, 4. Arizona State 66.5, 5. Nebraska 59.5, 6. Northwestern 57.5, 7. Cornell 54.5, 8. Virginia Tech 52.5, 9. Missouri 49.5, 10. North Carolina State 49

Finals

125: Nick Suriano, MICH, dec. Patrick Glory, PT, 5-3; 133: Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, dec. Daton Fix, OKSU, 3-2; 141: Nick Lee, PSU, dec. Kizhan Clarke, NC, 10-3; 149: Yianni Diakomihalis, CN, dec. Ridge Lovett, NEB, 11-5; 157: Ryan Deakin, NW, dec. Quincy Monday, PT, 9-2; 165: Keegan O'Toole, M, dec. Shane Griffith, S, 6-5; 174: Carter Starocci, PSU, dec. Mekhi Lewis, VT, 6-5 (UTB2); 184: Aaron Brooks, PSU, dec. Myles Amine, MICH, 5-3; 197: Max Dean, PSU, dec. Jacob Warner, I, 3-2; 285: Gable Steveson, MINN, dec. Cohlton Schultz, AS, 6-2