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PSU wrestling: Predicting Lions’ individual Big Ten champions

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Nick Lee

Anything can happen in the postseason. It’s what makes the month of March so fun for college sports fans, no matter if we’re talking about wrestling or basketball.

It’s so hard to predict what will happen in the Big Ten Tournament and at NCAAs, but I’m also a fan of this game, so I’m going to play it.

This is just a rough estimate, so far, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Penn State will have four Big Ten champions in Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174), and Aaron Brooks (184).

RBY is having a tremendous season. He puts up scores that look more like a football game was played instead of a wrestling match. Bravo-Young has scored a combined 50 points in his last two matches of the season against Ohio State and Maryland.

LISTEN: Our weekly Penn State wrestling podcast, with Andy Stine on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on WRTA in Altoona

 

RBY would have had a tougher road if Michigan’s Stevan Micic were available, but the Wolverines announced this week that Micic will not be available for the postseason due to injuries. Micic, who hasn’t wrestled at all this season, was ranked No. 2 by InterMat all season despite not having wrestled.

Bravo-Young will still have plenty of hurdles to get through in Iowa’s Austin DeSanto (No. 5) and Rutgers’ Sammy Alvarez (No. 6), and that weight could play a huge factor in the two-team race at the top of the standings between Penn State and Iowa.

Once again, at 141, the stakes could be very high in the team race. Lee is ranked second, and the only other wrestler ahead of him is Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman. Just like Bravo-Young, Lee has the ability to put up a pile of points, and he’s had no signs of a slowdown at all this season.

The potential finals match between Lee and Eierman is probably one of the main reasons I was disappointed to see the Iowa dual meet postponed this year. Lee was close to a Big Ten title last year in a 6-5 loss to Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher in the finals. I don’t think Lee is going to be denied this time.

Starocci has been one of the most intriguing wrestlers all season for the Nittany Lions. It started with an upset loss to Indiana’s D.J. Washington, and it has only gone uphill from there. He has upset wins over Michigan’s Logan Massa and Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero just in the last couple weeks alone.

Starocci is ranked fourth at 174 behind Iowa’s Michael Kemerer at the top, and Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola at No. 2, but I’m done doubting Starocci. The kid’s will to win is extraordinary for a redshirt freshman.

Brooks is back to repeat as the champion at 184 pounds. This one was the easiest for me to predict on who would be a Big Ten champion. Not only has the second-ranked Brooks been there before, but the next closest in the InterMat rankings in the Big Ten is Wisconsin’s Chris Weiler at No. 7. Brooks major decisioned Weiler, 13-3, in the dual meet. Brooks had five takedowns and racked up 1:56 in riding time.

To go out on an even bigger limb, if my picks come to fruition and Penn State has four Big Ten champions, I am going to pick Penn State to just edge out Iowa for the team title.

Is that bold enough for you?

Kerkvliet’s availability could be a game changer

It was only a few weeks ago when Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson said he was not expecting heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet to be available for the whole season. After all, he hadn’t been cleared to wrestle, and Seth Nevills had been doing just fine as his replacement.

So it makes sense that fans and media members alike were stunned to see Kerkvliet’s name appear in the lineup for the first time on Monday evening in the first, and only, home dual meet of the season.

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Fans didn’t have to wait either to see the Ohio State transfer. He started off Monday’s dual meet with a pin in 1:12, which jump-started the Nittany Lions to a 44-0 shutout win over a struggling Maryland program.

Kerkvliet was also probably equally as impressive in the dual meet as he was in his extra match that he wrestled. He earned another fall in the extra match with a time of 1:18, just seven seconds more than the dual meet.

Not only did the stats look impressive, but Kerkvliet also passed the eye test. His speed is uncanny for a heavyweight, and he doesn’t even look like a heavyweight. Most heavyweights look like they could play defensive line. I don’t know if Kerkvliet has any kind of football background, but he looks more like a tight end or a linebacker.

It’s hard to believe that a late-season lineup change can make such an impact, but the addition of Kerkvliet may be enough for Penn State to seriously challenge Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament next weekend, and inevitably, the NCAA Championships.

In high school, Kerkvliet challenged current No. 1-ranked Gable Steveson of Minnesota, but ultimately lost, 3-2. That was three years ago, and who knows what those three years of development mean for both Steveson and Kerkvliet?

Even though Nevills was doing great as the replacement, there was a reason that Kerkvliet was inserted in the starting lineup right away. He has the potential to make a difference in less than a month of wrestling.

Dual meet season wrapped up

Monday’s meet was also a finish to the dual meet season, and Penn State did about as much as they could have done considering the unfortunate circumstances. After all, why should anyone complain about an undefeated season?

The season began with a not-so-impressive win against Indiana in a tri-meet, but the year kept getting better and better for the Lions. The highlight of the season is definitely the win in the Michigan dual, with Carter Starocci pulling off an upset to aid in the win.

The only real disappointment for me, and probably for the team, as well, was the postponement of the Iowa dual. The Hawkeyes had COVID issues a few weeks ago, just like Penn State did at the beginning of the season.

It’s likely that both teams would have liked to wrestle that dual, only to see how they stacked up against each other.

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