Session 1 Recap: Penn State's Youth Struggles to Find It's Footing

By Rob Dougherty on March 6, 2021 at 2:56 pm
Aaron Brooks came back to win despite an ankle injury against Nelson Brands.

Penn State did not have the best start to the Big Ten Tournament, as they suffered losses at 125, 149, 157, 165, 197 and 285 pounds. There's also a chance that 184 pound No. 1 seed Aaron Brooks may not wrestle this evening after suffering an ankle injury against No. 9 seed Nelson Brands (Iowa). It's not all doom and gloom, but it's important to be patient with this exciting crop of talent.

All of Penn State's elite and proven high end talent has made the semifinals. No. 1 seed Roman Bravo-Young nearly won by major, but secured a 9-3 win over No. 8 Jacob Rundell (Purdue). No. 2 Nick Lee dominated Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State), and won with a 19-4 tech fall in the second period. No. 1 Aaron Brooks gave up the first takedown and had to stop twice due to an ankle injury, but came back to win 14-8 over Brands. 

The only freshmen left for Penn State in the semifinal round is No. 3 Carter Starocci at 174 pounds. He scored a second period fall over No. 14 Philip Spadafora (Maryland) in the first round, and won a 2-0 decision over No. 6 Rocky Jordan (Ohio State). Starocci got an escape point and scored a third period rideout to clinch the riding time point and the win. 

Another major positive for Penn State was the performance of No. 7 Michael Beard at 197 pounds. He picked up a 7-3 decision in the first round over No. 10 Billy Janzer (Rutgers). He then took on No. 2 Myles Amine (Michigan) and wrestled even better against him this time around. However, Beard will be wondering what could have been, as he lost the match in overtime. Amine was trying to escape a takedown that made the match 6-4 for Beard, but Beard slipped and fell to the mat. Amine seized the opportunity by scoring a two point reversal to take the match to sudden victory, where he scored the match winning takedown to win 8-6. 

No. 5 Brady Berge and No. 7 Greg Kerkvliet both picked up first round wins, but fell in the quarterfinals. Berge lost 3-2 to No. 4 Kendall Coleman (Purdue), and Kerkvliet lost a showdown with No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan) by a score of 11-3. 

All of Penn State's wrestlers are alive to qualify for the NCAA Tournament after No. 11 seeds Robert Howard and Beau Bartlett, and No. 6 Joe Lee picked up wins in the first consolation round to advance to the evening session tonight. 

Why People Shouldn't Overreact 

First of all, Penn State essentially wrestled to seed in this tournament aside from a first round upset to No. 6 seed Joe Lee at 165 pounds. This kind of performance was anticlimactic, but not totally out of proportion with where the Nittany Lions' standing was prior to the start of the tournament. Penn State has a lineup with three proven commodities at an NCAA-title-contending level, Nick Lee, Bravo-Young and Brooks, but the rest are still trying to prove themselves. 

The COVID season has made it difficult for the Nittany Lions to reach their full potential, and it's important to remember that a number of their wrestlers had not even wrestled 10 collegiate matches coming into today. Robert Howard is 3-2, with both of his losses coming to NCAA qualifiers in tight matches that he lost in the margins. Beau Bartlett is 8-2 and wrestling up at 149 pounds, a weight he may not have fully grown into yet. Joe Lee has struggled the last few weeks of this season, but he's got talent and can be a podium contender in his career. 

Beard has two losses, both to Olympic qualifier Amine, and he could have beaten Amine in Session 1 if not for the unfortunate slip. Kerkvliet lost against a junior world champion in Parris, and struggled on bottom and took too many chances. Kerkvliet over time may get to Parris' level, but it does not happen overnight, especially when he has spent most of this shortened season injured. 

These are correctable problems that Penn State may not get in time for NCAAs in a couple of weeks, but this season is giving invaluable experience to a number of young wrestlers who can make up the core of the next great Penn State team. There's plenty of young talent coming into the program with Shayne Van Ness, Alex Facundo and Gary Steen set to make up the next strong class of Nittany Lions when they enroll next season. Penn State will be back at the top of college wrestling, it just will not happen this season.