The Nittany Lions have reclaimed the NCAA Championship title for the tenth time in program history. This is the ninth championship won under coach Cael Sanderson. The Lions clinched the team title before the final rounds in the last session, but of course, there are a few individual titles to go along with the team title.
Before we get to those, here’s a quick look at Penn State’s rise to the top this past weekend.
Day 1 - Not Perfect, But Still Solid
Early in the first session, No. 16 seed Drew Hildebrandt came up short at 125. He lost early in the Big Ten championships a few weeks ago and it didn’t seem like he bounced back. He lost a tough sudden victory match with Lock Haven’s No. 17 seed and dropped to the consolation matches. He won his first consolations round and survived to see day two.
Penn State’s other No. 16 seed Brady Berge lost a 2-1 decision to Oregon State’s No. 17 seed and fell to the consolation bracket as well. He won back to back, including an upset win over No. 15 Johnny Lovett of Central Michigan.
No. 13 seed Beau Bartlett won his first match, but lost to familiar foe, Sammy Sasso in the second round and also dropped to the consolation bracket heading into day two. Other highlights of day one included RBY’s pin in the second round, Starocci’s pin in the opening match, Aaron Brooks’ two major decisions, Max Dean’s tech fall and Greg Kerkvliet’s pin and major.
The abundance of bonus point wins put Penn State ahead in the team score, up six points from second place Arizona State and 6.5 points ahead of Michigan in third. As well as six wrestlers still in the mix fighting for a spot in the finals.
Day 2 - Setting the Stage for Success
Penn State went six for six in the winners' bracket on day 2. Nick Lee notched his first pin of the tournament to push him to the semifinals. Aaron Brooks tacked on another major decision and Max Dean barely slid through with a 4-3 late victory over the No. 8 seed. Hildebrandt, Bartlett and Berge all dropped their matches to take Penn State out of the wrestlebacks.
Friday night’s semifinal matchups were competitive to say the least. Many of the of them came down to a single point. RBY met Austin DeSanto once again for another evenly fought match. All tied up 1-1 with 45 seconds left in the third, RBY shot for a late takedown towards the edge of the mat. He forced a scramble and came away with the two for the win.
Nick Lee took on No. 4 Real Woods from Stanford. Lee had the only takedown of the match and the two exchanged escapes in the alter periods. He held on for the 3-2 victory and punched his ticket to the finals. Next up, Carter Starocci took care of North Carolina State’s No. 4 Hayden Hidlay in a dominant 10-3 win.
Aaron Brooks won his bout in sudden victory over NC State’s No. 3 seed Trent Hidlay to give him his rematch with No. 1 seed Myles Amine in the finals. Max Dean met Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman for the second time this season and also posted a dominating win with a score of 9-3. After a somewhat sleepy semifinals, this was a big confidence booster for Dean and all Penn State fans. Lastly, Kerkvliet had to face Gable Steveson and attempted to shock the wrestling world, but to no avail. He held his ground as long as he could, but Steveson operates on another level. Kerkvliet dropped to the consolation matches with an important pending matchup with Michigan’s No. 8 Mason Parris.
Penn State extended its lead after day two to 23.5 points ahead of Michigan. That tenth title was well within reach.
Day 3 - Picture Perfect
In the early session, Kerkvliet beat Parris 6-1 and clinched the Penn State team title. This moved him into the third place match, but he had to medical forfeit due to injury and ended with a fourth place medal.
With the team title taken care of, five Nittany Lions took to their finals matches with the slightest bit of pressure taken off their shoulders. RBY, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks all became two-time NCAA champions. They were crowned National Champions in packed arena full of friends, family and fans - a high-energy, emotional atmosphere this sport hasn’t seen since the 2019 NCAAs.
2022 Penn State Individual Champions
133: No. 1 Roman Bravo Young vs No. 2 Daton Fix, Oklahoma State, 3-2 decision win
141: No. 1 Nick Lee vs No. 15 Kizhan Clarke, North Carolina, 10-3 decision win
174: No. 1 Carter Starocci vs No. 2 Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech, 5-5, Tiebreaker win by riding time
184: No. 2 Aaron Brooks vs No. 1 Myles Amine, Michigan, 5-3 decision win
197: No. 1 Max Dean vs No. 6 Jacob Warner, Iowa, 3-2 decision
This year’s tournament saw some wild upsets - Derek Carr and Jaydin Eierman both going down in the second round. It also marked the end of an era for collegiate wrestling as several of the sport’s greatest leave the collegiate scene: Nick Lee, Austin DeSanto, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli, Logan Massa, Myles Amine, Sebastian Rivera, Nick Suriano and the legendary Gable Steveson - just to name a few. Steveson also left his shoes on the mat Saturday night, the symbol of a wrestler’s retirement.
This opens the door for many wrestlers in the upcoming season to leave their mark and be remembered with the names mentioned above. Until then, we celebrate our Nittany Lions. In Cael we trust.
See you next season, wrestling fans!