Here we are, less than 24 hours away from the three most important days in college wrestling. For Penn State wrestling fans, the questions are simple: Will the Nittany Lions have any individual champions this year, or will they only have guys on the podium in St. Louis?
I am going to make the call that Penn State will have one champion, and four more wrestlers on the podium. Give me Aaron Brooks to win his first national title at 184, while Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174), and Greg Kerkvliet (285) will all find a place on the podium and become All-Americans.
There is nothing I’ve seen this year that tells me that Brooks isn’t the best wrestler in the country at 184. He has already won the Big Ten twice, and there is already plenty of talk that the sophomore could become a five-time Big Ten champion.
There is a small chance that Brooks will only see Big Ten opponents until the finals. Brooks has a bye in the first round, and he will see the winner of 16-seed Max Lyon of Purdue and 17-seed Owen Webster of Minnesota in the second round. If the highest seeds win, Brooks will have a Big Ten championship rematch against Nebraska’s Taylor Venz in the quarterfinals. After that, it wouldn’t be totally out of the question for Iowa’s Nelson Brands to make a run to the semifinals as the 12-seed.
The No. 2 seed at 184 is North Carolina State’s Trent Hidlay, who is a Mifflin County graduate. Sign me up for interest in that match.
I’ve had trouble in determining how far Bravo-Young and Lee will go, because it wouldn’t be totally surprising to me to see them win it all.
As for Lee, he got the No. 2 seed, while Big Ten champion Jaydin Eierman of Iowa is the top seed, and another formidable Big Ten opponent in Rutgers’ Sebastian Rivera is the third seed. That would mean that Lee will likely see Rivera in the semifinals and Eierman in the finals should he get that far.
Lee kept it close with Eierman in the Big Ten final. Eierman won, 6-5, and I still believe Lee would have had a good shot at winning the match if he would have had about 30 more seconds. He didn’t see Rivera this year due to the Nittany Lion program being shut down due to COVID-19 issues early in the season.
A lot of Nittany Lion fans will want to believe it, but the fact that Lee would have to go through two high-quality opponents in the late rounds make me believe that he will drop one of them.
Bravo-Young is a lot like Brooks for me because once again I haven’t seen a reason to think that he isn’t the best at 133. There is just one obstacle in his way in top-seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State. Fix is 9-0 on the season with four pins, two technical falls, and two major decisions. Fix was a runner-up in 2019, falling to former PSU wrestler Nick Suriano, who is now wrestling at Rutgers, in the NCAA Finals.
RBY will get more cracks in the future, but it just seems like right now, Fix is going to win this one.
I said a couple weeks ago that I was done doubting Starocci and his ability, but that was before he wrestled Iowa’s Michael Kemerer in the Big Ten finals. Kemerer won the match, 7-2, and Starocci was never really in contention for winning the match.
That doesn’t mean that Starocci won’t make a run in the NCAA Tournament. He’s the No. 3 seed at 174, and I think there’s a decent chance he could see Kemerer again in the finals. He would have to pull off an upset of a No. 2 seed in Utah Valley’s Demetrius Romero, who is 16-0 this season. But even should he get that far, Kemerer would probably still have his number.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say Kerkvliet makes a run and comes out on the low end of the top-8. Should the No. 9 seed at heavyweight make it to the quarterfinals, he would have to take on No. 1 Gable Steveson of Minnesota, and Kerkvliet simply isn’t going to win that match.
I don’t think anyone believes that Kerkvliet is on the same level as Steveson or Michigan’s Mason Parris or Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi. Parris and Cassioppi proved that at the Big Ten Tournament. Parris is the No. 2 seed, while Cassioppi is the No. 5 seed this weekend.
However, I think there is some reason to believe that Kerkvliet is right below that dynamic trio at heavyweight in the Big Ten, and possibly the nation.
I also believe Robert Howard (125), Brady Berge (157), Joe Lee (165), and Michael Beard (197) will all win at least one match, but none of them will be quite ready to compete for a spot at the podium.
As for the team scoring, I would probably bet a whole paycheck that Iowa is going to win. The Hawkeyes won comfortably at the Big Tens, and even though I believe Penn State will still finish second, there are still a few quality schools such as Oklahoma State or N.C. State that could make the team scores a little interesting at times.
As for Iowa, give me Spencer Lee (125), Eierman (141), Alex Marinelli (165), and Kemerer (174) to win titles. There’s just no way that doesn’t win a team championship.