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Stine: Wrestling Dynasty Continues to Grow at Penn State

Photo by NCAA: Carter Starocci

When sports fans think of college dynasties, they think of the traditional sports like Alabama football under Nick Saban and UConn women’s basketball under Geno Auriemma.

If you haven’t already, you can now put Penn State wrestling under Cael Sanderson in that class.

Winning five individual championships in the NCAA finals like the Nittany Lions did Saturday night is incredible, and it’s not even the first time that’s happened. They also did it back in 2017. Iowa is the only other school that has won five in a season, which happened twice in 1986 and 1997.

And, oh yeah, they had the team title locked up Saturday afternoon, taking the pressure off all the Nittany Lion finalists. It’s their 10th title overall and their ninth in 13 seasons under Sanderson.

Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks all repeated their titles. Max Dean, a PSU newcomer who took second place at 197 in 2019 while at Cornell, claimed his first title.

Bravo-Young, who’s gained a reputation of being one of the hardest people to take down in college wrestling, is already playing a cat-and-mouse game with Nittany Lion fans on returning for an attempt at a third title. He has expressed interest in an Olympic career in the past, and he was honored on Senior Day this season. But he still has another year of eligibility, and after winning on Saturday night, his message to Nittany Lion fans was, “Three sounds pretty good, but you never know.”

Lee won’t have the option to come back, but he’ll take this as the perfect way to finish a stellar college career.

Starocci has now won two titles in as many years, and he could still win three more if he so chooses due to last year’s eligibility not counting. That would be something to see to have a five-time national champion, but there’s still plenty of work to think about that. The finals bout with Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis was about as close as it can get.

Brooks now only has two losses in his career with the most recent one coming in the Big Ten finals two weeks ago to Michigan’s Myles Amine. Brooks avenged that loss to Amine in the national finals for his repeat, and he will still have two years of eligibility remaining.

It had to be tough for Dean to make the move to Penn State after excelling at Cornell. It had been three years since being the runner-up at 184. He redshirted in the 2019-20 season and the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season. But he’s said although it was a tough move, it was also the best transition that he ever made.

And don’t forget about the rest of the lineup. Drew Hildebrandt also came to State College from Central Michigan. Even though his postseason didn’t go as well as his regular season went, he was still an important piece in the team’s dual meet success.

Beau Bartlett seems to be getting better as he gets more matches under his belt. He went 1-2 in the tournament and he’ll probably be a staple in the Nittany Lion lineup for at least the next couple of years.

It was also important that Brady Berge decided to put his coaching career at North Dakota State on hold to finish out his career as a competitor. Who knows what the Lions’ lineup looks like if he doesn’t decide to come back?

And don’t forget about heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet, who gave national champion Gable Steveson one of his tougher battles of the season. Kerkvliet became a two-time All-American with a fourth place finish. Now with Steveson out of the picture and on his way to WWE, Kerkvliet will probably be on the short list for favorites to win next year’s title at heavyweight.

Of course there’s no sort of professional wrestling league that college wrestlers can advance to, but there are Olympics. It would probably be a solid bet that someday you will see at least one current PSU wrestler competing in the Olympics.

Just like Alabama has the Najee Harris’ the Derrick Henrys and the Tua Tagovailoas, UConn womens basketball has the Diana Taurasis, the Sue Birds and the Breanna Stewarts.

Just like those dynasties, don’t be surprised if someday you might see the Bravo-Youngs, the Lees, the Staroccis, the Brooks’ and the Deans on top of an even bigger podium.

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