PSU puts four into NCAA title bouts

Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young celebrates after defeating Virginia Tech's Korbin Myers during their 133-pound match in the semifinal round of the NCAA wrestling championships Friday, March 19, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Everyone knew that Iowa would be hard to beat for the team title at the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. But few people thought anyone could make them work for it as it hard as teams have.

Despite some unexpected losses and a heartbreaking injury, Penn State has still given itself a mathematical chance of catching Iowa, even though the probability is low.

Iowa is in first with 109 team points and three finalists. Penn State is in second with 94.5 points and four finalists. Oklahoma State is in third with 86.5 points and two finalists. Arizona State, with one finalist, is in fourth with 67 points. Michigan has one finalist and 58.5 points in fifth.

The Nittany Lions will return home with six All-Americans. The finalists include Roman Bravo-Young (133 pounds), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184). Penn State went 4-0 in the semifinals.

The other two All-Americans are Michael Beard (197) and Greg Kerkvliet (285). Each of them will wrestle for seventh place this morning.

Penn State's Aaron Brooks, top, takes on Northern Iowa's Parker Keckeisen during their 184-pound match in the semifinal round of the NCAA wrestling championships Friday, March 19, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Brady Berge (157) suffered a left knee injury in the semifinals and had to injury default that match and medically forfeit his Round of 12 consolation bout. Robbie Howard won his first match of the day but was then pinned and eliminated in a third-round consolation about.

Now a three-time All-American, Bravo-Young earned his first finals berth with an athletic tactical 5-3 win over Virginia Tech’s Korbin Myers in the semifinals. A double-leg takedown with 40 seconds left in the first period, and a quick Myers escape, made it 2-1 after one. A Myers second-period escape sent it into the third tied at 2-2. Bravo-Young hit another slick takedown and added a two-point nearfall, along with a riding time point to settle the final.

“It feels good. The national finals is pretty cool,” Bravo-Young said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of but now it’s time to out there and make it happen.”

The second-seeded Nittany Lion will meet top-seeded Daton Fix of Oklahoma State in tonight’s finals.

“It’s just wrestling. I just have to go out there and wrestle,” Bravo-Young said of his showdown with Fix. “I wrestle with Thomas Gilman every day. That’s how I get better. I’m just going to go out there and let it fly. I’m in the finals, why not? I want to put on a show. It’s going to be a fun match. I’m excited.”

Penn State's Carter Starocci, rear, takes on Kent State's Andrew McNally during their 174-pound match in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA wrestling championships Friday, March 19, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Bravo-Young earned his semifinal berth with a careful, calculated 4-1 quarterfinal win over Virginia’s Louie Hayes.

Lee fell into a 2-0 hole when Sebastian Rivera of Rutgers scored a takedown with 18 seconds left in the first and rode the rest of the period. Lee, though, escaped and coaxed a second stall call against Rivera to tie the match at 2-2. Then he hit a slick ankle pick for a takedown and rode the rest of the period for a 4-2 lead into the third. Rivera escaped early in the third, but Lee once again went on the offensive. The Nittany Lion senior converted a double and caught Rivera on his back for another two. He rode him out for a riding time point and a convincing 9-3 win.

“Having wrestled a lot of those guys before, you kind of have a game plan,” Lee said. “That match I just wrestled was a little different from last time. I was happy that things came together for me at the end.

Lee, the No. 2 seed, faces a rematch of the Big Ten tournament final tonight with top-seeded Jaydin Eierman of Iowa.

“The guy I have tomorrow I’ve wrestled before. I’ve wrestled him three times now. It’s more fun each time because you have to strategize. It’s like a chess match. To a lot of fans it looks like a brawl, and it is sometimes. It’s good when you get really good opponents and you have to think a little bit. I’m excited. It’s going to be a fun match.”

Lee was dominant once again in advancing to the semifinals. For the third straight match, he earned bonus points for the Nittany Lions in an 11-3 quarterfinal major decision over Zach Sherman of North Carolina.

After a scoreless first period, Starocci escaped in just 11 seconds in the second and led Utah Valley No. 2 seed Demetrius Romero, 1-0, heading into the third. Romero took bottom and Starocci never let get away, riding him the whole way for a riding time point and the 2-0 win.

“It feels good. Obviously I wanted to score more points and get more team points for the team, but you’ve just got to get the win sometimes,” Starocci said.

“I said it from the beginning, I’m the best. I’m going to out there and prove it. I have the best coaches, I have the best teammates.”

Starocci faces a rematch of the Big Ten tournament final against Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, which the Hawkeye won, 7-2.

Starocci had advanced to the semifinals with a controlling 6-3 decision of Kent State’s Andrew McNally in the quarterfinals.

Brooks dictated much of the action for most of the match in his controlled 6-4 win over Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa. Brooks converted on singles for takedowns in the first and second periods and added an escape to lead, 5-1 heading into the third. Brooks rode most of the third and built riding time above a minute and gave up a takedown at the end when the outcome had already been decided.

“For me, I see my teammates winning it shows that the effort and the time we put in in the room pays off. It gives me a boost in motivation, like ‘hey, we’re doing the right things. Our guys are winning. It’s my turn now,” Brooks said.

The top-seeded Nittany Lion faces No. 2 seed Trent Hidlay in tonight’s finals.

“With the free year we’ve been blessed with this year, it gives me a chance to go out there and shoot for one of my goals tomorrow, which is to be a four-time NCAA champ. Tomorrow’s the first step to that goal. My dream is still alive,” Brooks said.

Brooks once again was in complete control in his quarterfinal win, decisioning Nebraska’s Taylor Venz, 9-4.

Beard looked like he had a golden opportunity to reach the semifinals. First, he met the No. 31 seed Thursday night instead of the No. 2 seed and capitalized. Then, in the quarterfinals, he met No. 26 seed Jake Woodley of Oklahoma. Beard, though, had no answer for Woodley’s attacking style and fell, 8-3.

Kerkvliet had the unenviable task of taking on No. 1 seed Gable Steveson of Minnesota. And even though the freshman lost, 9-4, he did what very few have been able to, score a takedown on the Gopher.

Berge was locked in a scoreless tie with Rider’s Jesse Dellavecchia late in the first period, when Dellavecchia got in on a single, He hiked Berge’s leg in the air and tripped him awkwardly to the mat. Berge punch the mat when he landed and the referee stopped the action out of bounds and immediately signalled the Penn State corner. After an on-mat examination, Berge injury defaulted and Cael and Cody Sanderson carried him off the arena floor.

Penn State’s contingent shrunk to seven in the third round of consolations when Howard was pinned by Minnesota’s Patrick McKee in 2:04. He had started the day promisingly, scoring a late reversal to pull out an 8-7 win over Fabian Guitierezz of Chattanooga.


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