Penn State captured its 10th NCAA Wrestling Championship team title on Friday, sending five wrestlers to the finals and taking a major lead over Michigan.
The Nittany Lions could win the NCAA individual title for a second time under Cal Sanderson and also claim their ninth team championship for head coach. A year after leading 4-0 in a Saturday-night entertaining run at the 2021 NCAA Tournament, all four of Penn State’s winners advanced to the finals.
Roman Bravo-Young (133 pounds), Nick Lee (141), Carter Staroki (174), Aaron Brooks (184) will wrestle for their second straight title. Max Dean (197) will compete for his first bout at Penn State since making the 2019 finals at Cornell. Meanwhile, Greg Kerkvaliet (285) reached the consolation round after defending NCAA and Minnesota Olympic champion Gable Stevenson.
Penn State enters the third day with 108 team points, second only to Michigan (84.5). The state of Arizona is in third place with 63.5. Michigan has two finalists, one of whom will wrestle against Penn State.
The Medal Round will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and will air on ESPN2. The final of the championship is scheduled for 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Penn State will wrestle some exciting finals, including a 2021 Finals rematch, a 2022 Big Ten Finals rematch, and a championship match between aspiring two-time champions.
Here’s a brief rundown of the semifinals and look forward to Saturday’s final.
133: “I have to find a way,” Bravo-Young said during his ESPN interview after beating Iowa’s Austin DeSanto for the sixth time in a row. That’s exactly what he did, converting a leg shot into a decisive takedown, with 6 seconds left for a 3-1 win. Bravo-Young went 1–0 down in the third round, when he survived before the winner landed. It took him about 10 seconds, and DeSanto almost countered the effort, but Bravo-Young is one of the best nationally in the finishing shots.
Now, Bravo-Young gets a rematch with Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix in the finals. He upset top-seeded Fix in the 2021 final, winning a surprise 4-2 win. Here are the two best wrestlers in the class: Bravo-Young has won 35 straight matches, and Fix has won 25. For Bravo-Young, the final could be his last college match.
“I don’t know, maybe I can be confident,” he said of a potential return next season. “…If I decide to come back, I’ll make that decision later. If not, it’s a good way to go all out with another NCAA Finals.”
141: Lee, Penn State’s first five-time All-American, looked so confident during this tournament. They weren’t really challenged, scoring a 15-3 major and a pin in the opening round before beating Stanford’s Real Woods 3-2 in the semi-finals. Despite the score, Lee controlled the bout by scoring the first takedown and preventing Woods from making any major scoring moves.
His opponent is 15th seed Keezan Clark, a phenomenal story from North Carolina. Clarke, who lost in the consolation semifinals of the ACC tournament, received a major bid for the Nationals. This week he beat three wrestlers above him, two in overtime. Clarke defeated second seed Jaydin Eirman of Iowa in a surprise victory in the quarterfinals and 3–2 against Pitt’s No. 6 Cole Mathews in the tiebreaker.
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174: Starocci reached their second consecutive final, and improved their NCAA Tournament record to 9–0, with an emphatic 10–3 victory over North Carolina State’s Hayden Hiddley. Starocci scored four takedowns to set up an unprecedented title match against Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech.
Lewis, the 2019 NCAA champ and Most Outstanding Wrestler, returned to the Finals after a year of adversity. He sustained a torn pectoral muscle in 2021 that forced him to withdraw from the NCAA and miss the US Olympic Trials. But Lewis made a spectacular comeback to overtake Michigan’s Logan Massa in the semi-finals. Starocci vs Lewis to be the two-time champions will be one of Saturday’s most compelling finals.
184: Brooks won another heart-wrenching match against Trent Hiddley of North Carolina State, whom he has made a mark in the NCAA. Brooks countered a Hiddley shot in a sudden victory, turning it into a winning takedown and 6-4 decision. This victory was Brooks’ second straight victory over Hiddle at the national level; They won their 2021 championship match 3-2. This time, Brooks skipped a third period takedown, but also fought off a late Hiddle shot to force a sudden victory.
Brooks will face a familiar opponent in the final. Michigan’s Miles Amin also took a surprise victory in his semi-final match. Brooks now has a chance to avenge his 6-4 loss to Amin in the Big Ten final. Amin won the freestyle bronze medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
194: Dean easily won an 8–3 decision over Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman, ranked number 21, the lowest-seeded wrestler of the tournament to reach the semifinals. The win sent Dean to his second NCAA Finals and his first since 2019, when he wrestled for Cornell.
That year, Dean lost 6–4 to Drew Foster of Northern Iowa. Dean will take on sixth seed Jacob Warner of Iowa this time. Dean defeated Warner 8-3 in a double match in Iowa City in January. Warner defeated the second and third seeded wrestlers to reach the final. He is the only finalist from Iowa.
285: Kerkvliet attempted to attack Stevenson with a quick, one-game approach against a fast-moving heavyweight. But Stevenson also had counters, moves and a riding-time advantage, winning 8-3.
Kerkvaliot, who finished seventh last season, fought for his second NCAA medal on Saturday.
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