Nittany Lions roll, Brooks strong in dual meet debut
BETHLEHEM — Friday was a night of firsts for the No. 3 Penn State wrestling team as it dispatched No. 13 Lehigh, 23-10, in front of a Stabler Arena record crowd of 6,047.
Brandon Meredith made his varsity debut at 125 pounds, Brady Berge wrestled for the first time this season, and the first time at 157, and, the biggest surprise of all came at 184, where true freshman Aaron Brooks came off redshirt in his college dual meet debut.
The Nittany Lions (2-1) won seven of 10 bouts and won the takedown battle, 24-12, to notch another win over the Mountain Hawks (1-3).
While the dual meet lacked the electricity of many Penn State-Lehigh duals through the years, the college wrestling world will be buzzing with the news of Brooks’ debut.
He did not disappoint.
Just 16 seconds into the match he converted a low single on Chris Weiler for the first of three takedowns he would score in the first period. He pressed his advantage to 10-2 after two periods, but ceded an escape and takedown in the third and had to settle for a 10-5 win.
“It was fun, it felt great. I’m kind of upset about that last takedown. It happens sometimes. I didn’t finish clean. I had a lot of fun out there wrestling, just getting to my offense. It felt good my first time out there,” he said.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m optimistic. The plan is to get better every week, every match. I’m excited to see the version I’ll be in March.”
Brooks said he’s known for about a week that he would wrestle Friday night. His teammates seemed as excited for him as he was for the opportunity.
“He was awesome. I was hyping him up all day. I knew it was coming at the beginning of the week. I was just excited for him,” Mark Hall said. “He’s got a high ceiling. He’s already great. He’s going to be even better. We’re excited for him.”
Coach Cael Sanderson said “we felt it was the right thing to do” when asked about pulling Brooks’ redshirt.
“If we were going to wrestling him, it made sense to get him out there now and let him go through these big dual meets, away and home, then give him a month to get ready for the Big Ten season,” he said.
Shakur Rasheed had been the presumed starter at 184, but he has been rehabbing his knee since undergoing ACL surgery shortly after NCAAs in March.
Sanderson said Rasheed isn’t done for the season, but when asked if he would move up to 197, he said “Shak’s looking good, feeling good, he’s working hard.”
Hall won the marquee bout of the night in a matchup of the top two 174-pounders in the country. He used two takedowns, two escapes and a riding time point for 2:17 in advantage time to decision No. 2 Jordan Kutler, 7-2.
“I thought Hall wrestled really well. You’re wrestling the No. 2 guy in the country. He slipped a takedown but that’s good wrestling. Kutler’s been really good for a long time,” Sanderson said.
Sixth-ranked Berge made his season debut at 157 and scored a 5-3 decision over No. 13 Josh Humphreys. With the bout tied 2-2 through two periods, Berge escaped and scored a takedown for the win.
Berge hadn’t wrestled yet this season as he recovered after a scary incident in October at the U23 World Championships bronze medal match in which he was injured and knocked unconscious.
Penn State also got wins from No. 1 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph (7-4) and No. 1 285-pounder Anthony Cassar, 9-4, over No. 10 Jordan Wood.
Lehigh grabbed its only lead of the night at 125, where No. 11 Brandon Paetzell used six takedowns to engineer a 15-5 major decision over Brandon Meredith, who was making his varsity debut.
No. 4 Roman Bravo-Young cut the lead to 4-3 at 133 pounds. With his bout with Jaret Lane tied at 0-0 after two periods, Bravo-Young racked up three takedowns and tacked on a point for 2:47 in riding time for a 7-2 decision.
At 141, No. 3 Nick Lee piled up nine takedowns, including five in the third period, and cruised to a 22-7 technical fall in 7:00 over Joe Lobeck.
Lehigh cut into Penn State’s lead at 149 when Jimmy Hoffman countered Jarod Verkleeren’s double overhooks throw attempt in overtime and dumped Verkleeren to his butt for the clinching takedown with just seconds remaining in the sudden victory period.
The Nittany Lions steadily pulled away after that, winning five of the last six bouts to win convincingly after suffering its first dual meet loss since 2015, on Nov. 22 at Arizona State.
Still, the talk of the night was about Brooks.
“Aaron wrestled really well. This was his first folkstyle dual meet in two years? He’s a sparkplug,” Sanderson said. “He’s a guy we feel can contend for a national title at that weight class. With three months of college wrestling, I think he’ll jump a couple levels.”
Next match: Penn at Penn State, 2 p.m. Sunday.