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Shorthanded Penn State grinds out win at Penn

PHILADELPHIA — With a lineup missing two defending NCAA champions, and some of the rest weakened by illness, the No. 2 Penn State wrestling team had to scratch and claw Friday night to escape the Palestra with a 20-16 win over Penn.

Roman Bravo-Young (133) and Aaron Brooks (184) didn’t even make the trip to Philadelphia, as each stayed home to aid in their recovery from the flu. Greg Kerkvliet (285) was held out of the lineup, too.

“I think a couple guys dug deep. It’s all preparation. We didn’t wrestle great tonight, obviously. I know our guys didn’t feel very good. We’ve had a sickness going through the last two weeks, which has been kind of rough. Guys like Nick Lee, he was sick last weekend, if he doesn’t wrestle, we lose that dual meet,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.

The Nittany Lions won just six of 10 bouts, and had to pull out overtime wins in two of them. Carter Starocci (174) and Max Dean (197) notched the only two bonus-point wins Penn State could muster, each securing a major decision. Lee and Donovan Ball, subbing for Brooks at 184, won decisions in regulation. Beau Bartlett (149) and Creighton Edsell (165) needed overtime to secure decisions.

“Our guys were excited. We’ve been training and preparing for this for a long time,” Penn coach Roger Reina said. “We have 9 of our 10 guys ranked in the national rankings. We’re on the climb. We’ve left base camp and we’re out on the mountain now climbing. I think our guys are excited about that. But, the upper weights for Penn State are just phenomenal.”

Those upper weights won the match for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions turned a 10-6 deficit after 157 into an insurmountable 20-10 lead after 197. With the match in hand, Sanderson decided to hold a still-recovering Kerkvliet out of the lineup and forfeit to Penn at 285.

Starocci, who has dominated every match in the young season, said no matter what was going on with the lineup or the team, he and the Nittany Lions had a job to do.

“There’s a lot of illness going around our team, so that’s kind of there. But we know freaking well that you have to come in and show out when it’s game day. You’ve got to put your head down and go through it,” he said. “That’s life. There’s ups and downs in life, too. So I feel like it’s good when there are ups and downs in matches, too. It kinds of puts things in perspective and it’s kind of eye opening for our whole team that we have to keep improving.”

Penn State found itself in some unfamiliar positions in the first half of Friday night’s dual meet. Not only did the Nittany Lions drop the first two bouts, they didn’t record their first takedown of the meet until the 15th minute of wrestling.

The Quakers bolted to a 7-0 lead as No. 24 Ryan Miller dominated Baylor Shunk, 8-2, at 125 and No. 12 Michael Colaiocco earned a 10-2 major decision over backup Brandon Meredith with a takedown at the final buzzer. Meredith was subbing in for No. 1 Bravo-Young, who stayed home in Happy Valley, along with No. 1 184-pounder Brooks. Each of them was recovering from a bout of the flu.

Top-ranked 141-pounder Nick Lee, himself still recovering from illness, finally got Penn State on the board with a hard-earned 6-3 win over No. 28 Carmen Ferrante. Lee built a 6-3 lead through two periods with three takedowns, but he was clearly laboring as Ferrante rode him the entire third period.

Conditioning was a factor at 149, as No. 20 Beau Bartlett outlasted No 23 Anthony Artalona, 4-3, in the tiebreaker period. Barlett rode Artalona in the first tiebreaker period. Artalona chose to start neutral in the second tiebreaker period but didn’t come close to scoring a takedown.

Penn pressed its advantage to 10-6 at 157 as Doug Zapf used a second-period escape and takedown and a riding time point to edge Terrell Barraclough, 4-2.

Then came the four-match sweep from 165 through 197 to help the Nittany Lions pull out the win. Even with the victory, Sanderson was more interested in talking about his team’s shortcomings than its resilience in overcoming illness, adversity and a Penn team that often carried the fight to the Nittany Lions.

“Edsell didn’t need to be in overtime. He got taken down with no time left. That’s a problem. We gave up a major at another weight getting taken down with no time left,” he said. “That falls on the coaching staff. We have to make sure our short-time defense and offense is a little stronger. We’ll work on that stuff. We’re fine. We knew this was going to be a tough dual.”

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