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Stine: PSU wrestling season should be celebrated after fantastic finish

Photo by NCAA: Carter Starocci
When you start six freshmen out of 10 in wrestling, most programs would look at it as a total rebuild, and maybe that program will be ready to make some noise in a couple years.

Not in State College, where you are in the heart of wrestling country in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. Not in a state where there were 50 NCAA qualifiers, which was nearly double the amount of qualifiers for the state with the second-most.

Penn State finished the regular season at 6-0, which is kind of a ho-hum kind of deal when it comes to this program. It started with a 24-15 victory over Indiana in a dual meet that came down to the last bout, but ended with a 44-0 shutout of Maryland. The Iowa dual meet didn’t happen, but there was a reason to celebrate a share of the Big Ten regular season championship.

Then came early March where it was time for Penn State to host the Big Ten Championships. Once again, it was a scratch-and-claw type of season just to get to the Big Ten Tournament. The university wasn’t sure it was going to be able to host the tournament until a couple weeks prior. It was an unfortunate time for Big Tens to be held in State College with only limited fans allowed inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

The Lions had two champions in Roman Bravo-Young and Aaron Brooks, two more runner-ups in Nick Lee and Carter Starocci. Iowa beat Penn State by 35.5 points for the Big Ten team title.

Two weeks later, the season culminated with those same four wrestlers that made the Big Ten finals in the national finals. Iowa had already clinched the team championship by the time the finals came Saturday night, but most knew that was probably going to be the case. The Hawkeyes were just that good this season.

All four wrestlers cashed in on the opportunity to earn their first NCAA titles. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem to matter that Penn State was going to finish in second place.

Not only were there four champions, but there were two more that found themselves on the podium in Michael Beard and Greg Kerkvliet. The 197-pounder and heavyweight both got seventh place, giving the Nittany Lions six All-Americans on the year.

Kerkvliet wasn’t even supposed to wrestle at all this year. He was unavailable all season up until he was cleared the day before the last dual meet against Maryland. He barely got in enough matches to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, and he was still an All-American in the end.

There were also successful seasons from Robert Howard, Brady Berge, and Joe Lee, who all did not place in the NCAA Tournament. Beau Bartlett also showed promise this season, even without qualifying for the national tournament.

The whole team should take a bow this season, from the four national champions to the guys that didn’t get to compete at all this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Oh, that’s right. How could we forget? College wrestling just completed a season in the middle of a global pandemic.

Penn State started this season with a bout of COVID-19 going around the team, a problem that all too many programs in all sports know about these days. This was in January, a couple months after the season normally starts. Most fans were probably thinking it wasn’t going to be much of a season, and the NCAA Tournament was just a hope that maybe it could happen this season, but it didn’t seem like a good idea at the time.

Fast forward a couple months later, aside from the usual bumps and bruises that a wrestler always has to endure, everyone stayed healthy the rest of the way. Every wrestler competing this weekend had to pass two COVID tests just to enter the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, and there wasn’t a single positive test.

That should be celebrated by everyone as the most important aspect of the weekend.

Is there anything I’m forgetting? Or is it just time for everyone involved with Penn State wrestling to start celebrating all they’ve accomplished this season?

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