Wrestling Preview: Penn State Kicks Off Season in Tri-Dual Against Indiana and Northwestern

By Rob Dougherty on January 29, 2021 at 1:12 pm
Nick Lee will be the senior leader for Penn State's team this season.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Penn State (0-0) will finally get their 2021 wrestling season underway in a tri-dual meet on Saturday with Indiana and Northwestern. The Nittany Lions will face Indiana at 12:00 PM EST, and Northwestern at 4:00 PM EST. The duals will be broadcast live on BTN+.

Here are the wrestlers Penn State will be sending to this tri-dual at Northwestern: 

125 Robert Howard (Fr.)
125 Baylor Shunk (Rs Fr.)
133 No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young (Jr.)
141 No. 2 Nick Lee (Sr.)
141/149 Beau Bartlett (Fr.)
149 No. 10 Jarod Verkleeren (Rs Jr.)
149 Terrell Barraclough (Rs Fr.)
149 Luke Gardner (Sr.)
149/157 Bo Pipher (Sr.)
157 No. 11 Brady Berge (Rs Jr.)
165 No. 6 Joe Lee (Rs Fr.)
165 Mason Manville (So.)
174 No. 5 Carter Starocci (Fr.)
174 Creighton Edsell (So.)
184 No. 3 Aaron Brooks (So.)
197 No. 13 Michael Beard (Rs Fr.)
285 No. 5 Greg Kerkvliet (Rs Fr.)
285 Seth Nevills (So.)

As one of the changes to this shortened wrestling season, Big Ten duals will have extra matches being wrestled to provide more opportunities for wrestlers to have matches. These extra matches will not count to the overall team score in the dual but could be very useful for a team like Penn State to figure out what their best lineup is going into March.

Will We See Robert Howard in either of the Northwestern or Indiana Duals? 

No. 8 Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern) and No. 16 Brock Hudkins (Indiana) are two of the nine Big Ten wrestlers ranked at 125 pounds per Intermat's rankings. DeAugustino was the third-place finisher at Big Tens in March and had a very strong freshman season. He has not wrestled yet this season, though he did suffer a loss to Brandon Meredith last season in Rec Hall.

Hudkins was a grad transfer from Northern Illinois to Indiana, and he has had a good college career. He made it to the Round of 12 as a freshman and was an NCAA qualifier as a sophomore. He was heading to another NCAA qualifying campaign in 2020 before an injury cut his season short. He is currently 0-2 this season with losses to No. 9 Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) and No. 15 Justin Cardani (Illinois). 

Cael Sanderson has been searching for a solution to 125 pounds for Penn State since Nick Suriano's transfer to Rutgers, and Robert Howard has the potential to not only qualify for NCAAs but also place. Howard is coming off a shoulder surgery following the 2019-20 New Jersey high school wrestling season, but he has healed and is ready to go. Sanderson said in his preseason press conference that they were going to wrestle their best lineup, and Howard at 125 is easily Penn State's best option. It remains to be seen which matches he participates in though.

What Will Penn State Look Like at 141 and 149? 

Penn State's most interesting lineup question is at 141 and 149 pounds. At 141 pounds, No. 2 Nick Lee is a high-level option and will be in this lineup barring injury. The battle at these weights will come down to No. 10 Jarod Verkleeren and potential star Beau Bartlett.

Verkleeren is coming off of an up and down year at 149 pounds, where he lost a number of agonizingly close matches. That said, Verkleeren did qualify for NCAAs and picked up a win over No. 11 Kizhan Clarke (American). It was a solid season from Verkleeren, all things considered.

That said, Beau Bartlett has real star potential in the college wrestling scene. He's a dynamic wrestler on the mat, and a real personality off of it. The true freshman laced up his shoes and went toe-to-toe with two-time NCAA finalist Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) at a Nittany Lion Wrestling Club event and lost 8-6. Bartlett flashed his overall potential, and despite coming up short, clearly is someone that can be part of the next elite Penn State wrestling team. 

The only real test at 149 pounds this weekend is No. 20 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern). Verkleeren went 1-1 against him last season. Thomas is an unpleasant man to wrestle; he's capable of hitting big moves, he's very strong, and has pushed the likes of No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) to the limits. This would be a tough match to throw Bartlett into, but do not be surprised if Sanderson wants to see what he has in the freshman.

No. 13 Michael Beard Gets Test Against No. 11 Lucas Davison

Redshirt freshman Michael Beard is one that Penn State is very high on, and he had a legitimately good redshirt season in 2019-20. Beard picked up some quality wins, though did suffer some tough losses. For the Nittany Lions to win another national title in March, they will need Beard to close the gap and potentially outperform No. 4 Jacob Warner (Iowa). That's easier said than done, but Beard has real potential and is a high volume scorer.

No. 11 Lucas Davison had a breakout season in 2019-20 for the Wildcats and was an NCAA Qualifier at 197 pounds. He is not the most prolific wrestler in the country, but he is very tough and usually finds a way to be in close matches. Most notably for Davison, he did beat Shakur Rasheed in the dual between Penn State and Northwestern last season.

Both Duals Should Be Straight Forward for Penn State

Indiana is in a period of transition and has a really young lineup, even younger than Penn State's. However, many of their guys just aren't ready to compete at the Big Ten level yet. Expect this dual to be quite painful for the Hoosiers, if Hudkins doesn't win at 125, they probably will not win a match. Prediction: Penn State 46, Indiana 0

Northwestern offers more of a test, with DeAugustino, No. 16 Chris Cannon at 133, Thomas, No. 2 Ryan Deakin at 157, and Davison, they have some legitimate talent at the top of their lineup. The main problems for them come at the other weights, where Penn State holds significant advantages with Nick Lee, Joe Lee, Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks and Greg Kerkvliet. Prediction: Penn State 36, Northwestern 7