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‘Beast of a Day’: Penn State Wrestling HC Cael Sanderson Discusses Saturday’s Big Ten Tournament Matches

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Cael Sanderson

“It was a beast of a day, right?”

That’s how Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson described the first of two days at the Big Ten Tournament. 

“It’s a lot of great wrestling every round,” Sanderson told reporters afterward. “Every round’s tough. Every match is tough. But our guys are feeling fine, and I think our best wrestling is ahead of us.”

 Six Penn State wrestlers are competing in Sunday’s title matches. They are; Roman Bravo-Young (133), Levi Haines (157), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184), Max Dean (197) and Greg Kerkvliet (197). 

That’s quite an accomplishment in any league, especially the Big 10.

“This is a tough conference, and (from) the first match out is a competitive bout,” he said. “So I don’t think anyone necessarily wrested… I’m not disappointed in anybody. I mean, even sometimes losing is the most powerful opportunity to learn something, right? So it can help us prepare as we move into the national tournament.”

Here’s some more of what Sanderson had to say after Saturday’s matches


Of the six wrestlers competing for a conference championship Sunday, Haines is the only true freshman. 

The No. 2 seed at 157 pounds and the No. 7 wrestler in that weight class per Intermat is taking on Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, who is No. 1 in both the conference in the country. 

Both Robb and Haines had grinders in their second matches. Robb survived Michigan State’s Chase Saldate, seeded fourth and ranked No. 12, in a 4-3 decision. Haines got past third-seeded Kendall Coleman from Purdue, ranked No. 16, 3-2.

Haines’s performance against Coleman, the No. 6 wrestler in the country, should have impressed everybody who saw it, and it impressed Sanderson.

“He has great poise,” Sanderson said. “Tough match, tough competitor. He’s done a great job.”

Whatever happens in Haines’s match against mighty Robb, he has a bright future ahead of him. For Sanderson, it’s important for Haines and all wrestlers competing this weekend to take their work seriously but also enjoy themselves.

“This is a sport, right?” he said. “It’s important. But it’s not so important you can’t just go have fun and be ourselves. He’s a good example of that. We want to win. Everyone wants to win. Our fans want to win. Our alumni want to win. But, still, it’s just a game and we’re just here to play hard.”


Van Ness isn’t competing for a conference championship Sunday. Van Ness lost to Iowa’s Max Murin in the quarterfinal but responded by beating Purdue’s Jaden Reynolds in the consolation bracket.

Now, Van Ness is competing against ninth-seeded Chance Lam from Michigan. 

Despite the loss to Murin, Headlee was pleased with how SVN performed.

“Shayne wrestled great,” he said. “He scored a lot of points today, and he’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, and he’s just a guy too (that’s) getting better every match. He’s just gaining more confidence as he goes. 


Penn State’s “Dean Machine” is looking for his second Big Ten title in two seasons with Penn State. 

Dean is taking on Silas Allred of Nebraska, who he has never faced, and won a 2022 national championship rematch against Iowa’s Jacob Warner. 

“He can score points when he wants to,” Sanderson said. “He can attack both sides, and his counter offense is great, his tie-ups. But (the Warner match was) a rematch of the national finals, right? So it’s a big-time match against a big-time opponent. He did a great job.”


Today’s biggest match– literally and arguably figuratively– will be between the top two heavyweights in the country.

Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet, ranked No. 2, takes on top-ranked Mason Parris, who handed Kerkvliet his only loss. 

Sanders is pleased with Kerkvliet’s work ethic.

“He’s really committed to being bigger, as you can see,” he said. “He’s a size bigger and stronger, and he’s just had great composure in those matches.

“Greg’s wrestling great. He’s still just kind of figuring out what he is and what he’s capable of, and it’s exciting.”

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