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PSU wrestlers off to great start on first day of NCAA Championships

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Nick Lee

Penn State qualified nine wrestlers for the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, and eight of them won their first bout at the event Thursday afternoon. The Nittany Lions went 8-1 during the opening session, earning bonus points in seven of those eight wins. Joe Lee (165) was the lone PSU wrestler to lose early.

Penn State had four tech falls and three majors in the first session to pick up nine bonus points. In  the team race, Penn State is in second place with 17.0 points, while favorite Iowa is in the lead with 19.0.

Session two of the event will take place this evening. Here’s what fans need to know:

Here’s a breakdown of the opening session, with bout recaps from GoPSUSports.

125: True freshman Robert Howard (Cranford, N.J.) is the No. 23 seed at 125.  Howard took on No. 10 Malik Heinselman of Ohio State in his first NCAA tournament bout. The duo battled through a scoreless opening period and the bout moved to the second period tied 0-0. Howard chose down to start the second period and after a minute’s work, reversed the Buckeye to take a 2-0 lead.  He then turned Heinselman for four back points, nearly pinning him, and leg 6-1 after two.  Heinselman escaped to start the third and added a late takedown, but Howard’s strong second period gave the Nittany Lion a 6-4 victory in his first NCAA tournament bout.

133: Junior Roman Bravo-Young (Tucson, Ariz.) is the No. 2 seed at 133.  Bravo-Young met No. 31 Sean Carter of Appalachian State in the opening round. Bravo-Young took an early 2-0 lead with a quick takedown and tacked on two more to lead 6-2 with over 2:00 in time after one period. The second-seeded Lion added an early escape and a takedown and finished off the period with a four-point turn to lead 13-2 after two (with a clinched riding time point).  Bravo-Young finished off the technical fall with a flurry of takedowns in the third, posting the 20-5 technical fall with 3:45 in riding time.

141: Senior Nick Lee (Evansville, Ind.) is the No. 2 seed at 141.  Lee battled No. 31 Julian Flores of Drexel in the opening round.  Lee came out fast, taking Flores down and quickly turning him to his back for four nearfall points and a 6-0 lead.  He added a second four-point turn, then a third, and led 14-0 with 1:00 still on the clock. Lee finished off the tech fall with a final turn to roll to an 18-0 win at the 2:33 mark in the opening period.

149: Penn State did not qualify a wrestler at this weight.

157: Junior Brady Berge (Mantorville, Minn.) is the No. 12 seed at 157.  Berge met No. 21 Andrew Cerniglia of Navy in the opening round.  Berge fought off a fast shot from Cerniglia and had two solid opportunities of his own defended by Cerniglia and the first period was scoreless. Berge escaped to a 1-0 lead to start the second period and then took a 3-0 lead with the bout’s first takedown at the :45 mark.  The Nittany Lion added a second takedown late to lead 5-1 after two periods. Berge tacked on three more takedowns and 1:45 in riding time to roll to a 12-4 major decision.

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165: Freshman Joe Lee (Evansville, Ind.) is the No. 23 seed at 165.  Lee faced No. 10 Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State in his first NCAA tournament match-up.  Lee battled Wittlake through a scoreless first period but have a up a stall warning in the process and the first period ended tied 0-0.  Wittlake escaped to a 1-0 lead to start the second stanza.  Lee tried to throw Wittlake on the edge of the mat but the Cowboy countered the effort and turned Lee to his back for a 7-0 lead off the takedown and near fall points. Lee picked up a late escape in the second period but dropped an 8-1 decision to fall into the consolation bracket.

174: Freshman Carter Starocci (Erie, Pa.) is the No. 3 seed at 174.  Starocci took on No. 30 Victor Marcelli of Virginia in his first NCAA bout.  Starocci took a 2-0 lead with :51 left in the opening period, turning a high single into a takedown to lead by two after the first period after finishing the period on top.  He quickly escaped to start the second stanza and added a takedown in the final seconds to carry a 5-0 lead into the third period.  The Lion built his riding time point up over 1:00, then tallied two more takedowns to roll to a 10-2 major decision in his first NCAA tournament bout.

184: Sophomore Aaron Brooks (Hagerstown, Md.) is the No. 1 seed at 184.  Brooks battled No. 32 Jhaquan Anderson of Gardner-Webb in the first round. Brooks scored just seconds into the bout, quickly added a second and then turned Anderson to his back to open up an 8-1 lead after the opening stanza.  Brooks picked up another takedown and a stall point in the second to lead 11-1 with nearly 4:00 in riding time after two.  His domination continued into the third period and the top-seeded Lion sophomore posted a lopsided 17-1 technical fall at the 5:25 mark, advancing to the second round.

197: Freshman Michael Beard (Pottstown, Pa.) is the No. 15 seed at 197.  He met No. 18 Jacob Koser of Navy in the opening round in this, his first NCAA tourney.  Beard turned a quick high single into a takedown and an early lead right out of the gates. The Lion controlled Koser for the period, turning him for four back points and finishing on top to lead 6-0 after one. He reversed Koser in the second and added a late takedown to lead 10-1 after two periods.  The Lion freshman iced his first NCAA tournament win another takedown and 3:17 in riding time, rolling into the second round with a 14-4 major decision.

285: Freshman Greg Kerkvliet (Grove Heights, Minn.) is the No. 9 seed at 285.  He faced No. 24 Jonathan Birchmeier of Navy his first NCAA tournament match-up. Kerkvliet dominated the bout from the opening whistle.  The Lion freshman took Birchmeier down and then went to work on offense.  He turned the Navy wrestler for four back points and reset himself three more times in less than three minutes.  With a takedown and four four-point nearfalls, Kerkvliet rolled to an 18-0 technical fall at the 2:17 mark, picking up a win in his NCAA debut and rolling on to the second round.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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