Penn State wrestled a very strong NCAA Tournament this weekend and came away with a second-place finish to the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions had six All-Americans and led the tournament with four national champions. Cael Sanderson probably will not be pleased with the second place finish, but this tournament announced to the nation that Penn State will be back and sooner than you think. The final team standings were:
Four national champions
133 Pounds - Roman Bravo-Young
Roman Bravo-Young won his first Big Ten and NCAA title in the same season. Bravo-Young knocked off Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) with a takedown in sudden victory to win 4-2. He was able to get a crucial second-period rideout but was called for stalling at one point with Fix at the edge of the mat when in the top position.
Bravo-Young was then hit with two stalling calls in quick succession while up 2-1 in the third period to send the match to over time. Bravo-Young could not be denied though as he countered a Fix shot into a takedown of his own to win the match.
141 Pounds - Nick Lee
Lee has been agonizingly close to winning titles in the postseason, and it was a pleasure to watch him get over the hump against Jaydin Eierman (Iowa). Eierman beat Lee at the Big Ten Tournament, but Lee was able to turn the tables in sudden victory to win this match 4-2.
Eierman's top game is one of the best in the country at any weight, so Lee chose neutral at the start of the third down 1-0. Lee's confidence and aggression paid off and earned him a takedown. An Eierman escape took the match to sudden victory, but Lee's persistence won him the match. Eierman clearly could not handle the pace of Lee, and Lee was able to get the match-winning takedown.
174 Pounds - Carter Starocci
Starocci is going to replace Vincenzo Joseph as the wrestler most likely to cause you a cardiac arrest during a match. He came into this final as a considerable underdog against Michael Kemerer (Iowa). Kemerer won 7-2 at the Big Ten Tournament, and while Starocci wrestled well in the match and got good attacks off, he could not finish them.
Starocci's main adjustment from the Big Ten final was he tightened up the opportunities for when he shot for takedowns. Kemerer's efficiency and countering blew open their first match, but Starocci's shots were much cleaner this time around. Starocci was never that threatened by a Kemerer shot in the final, and he finally got the match-winning takedown in sudden victory to win his first national title.
184 Pounds - Aaron Brooks
Brooks capped off an undefeated season and Big Ten title with his first career NCAA championship. It was not the most vintage Brooks performance as Trent Hidlay (North Carolina State) really made the match difficult. Hidlay was warned for stalling in the first and really was able to keep the match tight.
Brooks kept trying to attack but Hidlay defended well for most of the match. A stall warning against Hidlay midway through the third period made the score 3-2 for Brooks. Hidlay did not get many opportunities for takedowns in the match, but he came extremely close to a match-winning takedown on the edge of the mat. However, Brooks was able to survive and win.
197 Pounds - Michael Beard, 7th place
Beard wrestled well at his first tournament and will be able to build on this performance. The bracket opened up for him on the championship side when No. 2 seed Eric Schultz (Nebraska) lost in the first round, and Beard took that opportunity to get himself into the quarterfinals where he lost to the underseeded No. 26 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma). Beard was able to win his seventh place match in a thriller by a 10-8 decision.
285 Pounds - Greg Kerkvliet, 7th place
Kerkvliet finished his first NCAA Tournament after a strong seventh place finish. For someone who came into the lineup late after a surgery earlier this season, Kerkvliet acclimated himself well. He did lose some matches and did not look ready to contend with the elite talent in this class, but he showed a lot to build on. In the seventh place match against Tate Orndorff (Ohio State), Kerkvliet dominated the match on the feet and on the mat. He racked up 6:10 in riding time en route to his major decision win.
This NCAA Tournament performance was extremely impressive from Penn State. They were not expected to challenge the Iowa Hawkeyes this weekend, and while they fell short of winning a team title, there is plenty to be excited about for what's to come next season. 113.5 points overperformed my prediction of 89.5 points significantly, and many Nittany Lions wrestled above their seed. They racked up plenty of bonus points, and Penn State will be in position next season to regain their NCAA team title.