Pre-seeds were released by the Big Ten on Monday for this weekend’s Big Ten Wrestling Championships, and it should come to no surprise that Penn State led the way with four wrestlers with the top seed.
Last year’s four national champions in Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174), and Aaron Brooks (184) all got the top seed at their respective weights. Drew Hildebrandt (125) and Max Dean (197) got the second seeds, while Greg Kerkvliet (285) is the third seed. Beau Bartlett is seventh at 149, and Brady Berge and Creighton Edsell are both seeded 10th at 157 and 165, respectively.
Also earning top seeds were Michigan’s Nick Suriano (125), Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso (149) and Carson Kharchla (165), Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin (157), Nebraska’s Eric Schultz (197), and Minnesota’s Gable Steveson (285).
How important is this weekend?
In Monday’s Penn State pre-Big Ten Tournament media Zoom, much was discussed about the importance of the Big Ten Tournament. After all, chances are you’re probably going to easily qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and a national title will always be the ultimate goal.
Nittany Lion 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young was brutally honest about the topic.
“It’s cool to win, but it really doesn’t mean too much,” he said. “My eyes are set on nationals. Big Tens is just a stepping stone you have to go through.”
Although it might not be the end-all, be-all goal, it’s still clear that there’s a desire to win the tournament for some of the Nittany Lions, and for head coach Cael Sanderson.
“It’s not the final destination, so I agree with Roman in that way,” said 184-pounder Aaron Brooks.
“Sometimes the Big Tens is harder than the NCAAs based on the matchups you get. It’s a great conference tournament two weeks before NCAAs.”
One of the interesting things about the postseason for Penn State is they have won more national championships (8) under Sanderson than they have Big Ten titles (6). Some of it can probably be attributed to how rugged the Big Ten is on an annual basis.
“You don’t necessarily dream of being a Big Ten champion. You dream of being a NCAA champion,” said Sanderson. “The focus is the NCAA tournament. The ultimate goal is the national tournament, and that’s the way we design our training. But you still have to be able to wrestle well at the conference meet.”
Brooks’ path to a title
NCAA has allocated 12 spots for the Big Ten at 184 pounds for the national tournament in two weeks.
With Brooks being the top seed in the Big Ten Championships, it’s a reminder on how impressive he has been throughout this season and the past two years. He’s already a two-time Big Ten champion and last year’s NCAA champion. He didn’t have an opportunity to wrestle for a national title in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“I had a tough match usually every weekend,” said Brooks of the dual meet season. “I was aware that the Big Ten was really stacked at 184. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s 12 spots.”
Roman’s last ride?
There has been plenty of speculation if this season will be the final one for Bravo-Young. After all, RBY was honored on Senior Day, and he said before the season that this year probably would be his last one. He’s also expressed a desire to compete in the Olympics.
So was Bravo-Young ready to say if this is it for him?
“I’m not really too worried about that,” said Bravo-Young. “I might not decide until August or September.
“It’s going to be up to me. I don’t owe anyone anything. I did my four years here, so I’ll play it by ear.”
Penn State last won the Big Ten Championships in 2019 when Bravo-Young was a freshman. So what does Sanderson remember about that team three years ago?
“The last time we won was in Minneapolis was with (Anthony) Cassar, Bo (Nickal), (Jason) Nolf, Mark Hall, and Vincenzo (Joseph). We had a pretty stinking good team, but we have a pretty good team right now too. Winning a Big Ten championship is a big deal, and it’s something worth fighting for.”