Saturday morning saw Penn State secure its 11th NCAA wrestling title, and the 10th under Cael Sanderson.
The Nittany Lions have now won 10 of the last 12 NCAA Championships.
Saturday night saw them crown just two NCAA champions — Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci — out of five finalists.
“The team had a great weekend, a lot of gutsy performances. It’s an individual sport as well as a team sport,” Sanderson said, “so as a coach your heart and mind is with the guys that don’t reach their goals. We’ve got a lot to be happy about and proud of ourselves.”
Penn State finished with 137.5 points, which is the third most scored by the program. It scored that in 2019. The most points the Nittany Lions scored was 146.5 in 2017.
Penn State’s winning margin was 55 points ahead of Iowa. Cornell, Ohio State and Missouri rounded out the top five in that order.
Here’s a look at how the Nittany Lions’ wrestlers fared on the final day of the NCAA Championships:
Roman Bravo-Young, 133 pounds
Record for tournament: 4-1
Recap: RBY looked to join Brooks and Starocci as a three-time NCAA champion, but he had to get through Cornell’s Vito Arujau.
It turned out to be a tough test for the defending champion. Arujau looked a lot like RBY in the quickness of attacks.
The Big Red wrestler came out on top of a scramble that was initiated by the Nittany Lion with 1:18 left in the first period. RBY escaped with a minute to go and looked to score, but Arujau just countered the shot for a score of his own.
It was 4-1 to start the second period. Arujau extended that lead to seven when he reversed RBY, and put him on his back for nearfall points.
Bravo-Young trailed 8-2 to start the third period. He tried to mount a comeback with a reversal at the 1:27 mark on the clock. Arujau escaped and had enough riding time built up for a point to secure a 10-4 win.
“Vito is tough. He’s always been really good,” Sanderson said. “He went out there and scored points, and won the match.”
Beau Bartlett, 141 pounds
Record for tournament: 5-1
Recap: Bartlett opened his day by taking on South Dakota State’s Clay Carlson, who he beat in the second round on Thursday evening, 3-2.
The junior improved leaps and bounds from that Thursday evening match to the the tune of a 12-3 major decision over Carlson. Bartlett had four takedowns — two alone in the first period, and nearly pinned Carlson in the third period. The win also clinched the team title for the Nittany Lions.
In the consolation finals, Bartlett took on North Carolina’s Lachlan McNeil, who was his high school teammate at Wyoming Seminary for two years.
Bartlett trailed his former teammate 1-0 after two periods of wrestling. He flipped the switch in the third period to pull out a 4-1 win.
The junior opened with an escape 12 seconds into the period. About one minute later, he took McNeil down and had a riding time point added for the final score.
Shayne Van Ness, 149 pounds
Record for tournament: 5-1
Recap: Van Ness had a tough one in his consolation semifinals against Virginia Tech’s Caleb Henson. Henson was the No. 4 seed, but Van Ness proved he can hang with the best.
The redshirt freshman appeared to be more awake Saturday morning as opposed to the first two days of the tournament as he wasn’t immediately down in his opening day match. Instead, he and Henson battled to a scoreless first period.
Henson opened the second with an escape, but Van Ness collected a takedown about 30 seconds later. Henson did escape to tie it again, heading to the third period.
Van Ness recorded an escape to start the third period, and added a last second takedown to secure a 5-3 win.
He took on Arizona State’s Kyle Parco for third. Van Ness dominated in the consolation finals bout too.
He recorded the first points with an impressive shin whizzer that acted like a headlock on Parco late in the first period. Parco’s escape in the second period was the lone point scored.
Then, Van Ness poured it on in the third period with two takedowns and an escape for a 7-2 victory.
Levi Haines, 157 pounds
Record for tournament: 4-1
Recap: Haines had the opportunity to become the 17th true freshman to win a NCAA title, and Penn State’s second ever. However, he ran into a man in North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor in the first finals matchup of the night.
The pair fought to a scoreless first period that Haines had a couple of takedown attempts stuffed by O’Connor. In the second period, O’Connor put a ride on Haines that hasn’t been seen all year.
Haines was unable to escape, and O’Connor at one point appeared to catch the true freshman in a roll for nearfall points that were awarded. The Nittany Lions coaches challenged and they were removed to a rain of boos from the crowd.
O’Connor finished the period out with a full ride, making it still a scoreless bout. In the third period, O’Connor strung together two takedowns in a span of 24 seconds to collect a 6-2 victory.
“It is a great learning experience, but a heck of an accomplishment. He just took second in the country,” Sanderson said. “He won some big matches. He’s gutsy and tough kid. He’s just going to keep getting better and better. We are super proud of him and happy for his success this weekend.”
Carter Starocci, 174 pounds
Record for tournament: 5-0
Recap: Starocci became the Nittany Lions first champion of the night as he took on Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola.
The pair just squared off two weeks ago in the Big Ten finals, which Starocci came away with a 6-1 win. On Saturday night, the result was the same, but with bonus points involved.
The pair circled around in the first period looking for an opening to score. Starocci found his with 1:13 remaining in the first period.
Roughly one minute later, Labriola looked to roll through for an escape, but the Nittany Lion caught him. Starocci stuck the Cornhusker in 2:46.
“It feels good getting a pin, but I wanted to drag him in deep waters and feel his soul leave his body and just keep coming after him,” Starocci said. “I like that feeling. It’s cool getting a pin, but I love wrestling, this is what I do every day. I enjoy being out there and under the lights, that’s where I thrive.”
The win made Starocci a three-time NCAA champion. He became the fifth Penn State wrestler to accomplish that feat with the likes of Zain Retherford, Ed Ruth, Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal.
The win also kept him in the running of becoming the first and possible only five-time NCAA champion, should he decide to use all of his remaining eligibility.
“Everyone is talking about it. Everyone asks me about that, but it’s not something that excites me. I kinda want to be a four-timer, and how the Olympics fall, that will be next year, my senior year,” Starocci said. “If I come back and wrestle next year, we’ll see. I plan on winning the Olympics, that’s where my head is. After I complete something like that, it’s kind of like you’re not going to want to come back to this. We’ll just take it a day at a time.”
Aaron Brooks, 184 pounds
Record for tournament: 5-0
Recap: Brooks faced Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen in the finals for the second time in their careers.
Brooks beat Keckeisen in the 2021 NCAA Championships, 6-4. On Saturday night, the Nittany Lion wrestler picked apart the Panther much like their NWCA All-Star Classic match in November.
The senior collected a takedown with 28 seconds remaining in the first period for the first points of the bout. Keckeisen opened the second period with an escape in just eight seconds. However, Brooks again snapped off a late takedown, but Keckeisen was able to escape before the period ended.
In the third period, Brooks got a little help as Keckeisen was called for a third caution, giving him a point. The senior escaped and added a riding time point for a 7-2 victory.
Brooks became the sixth Penn State wrestler to become a three-time NCAA champion.
“Just blessed and grateful. Everything I have is from God. He gives me the ability to wrestle,” Brooks said of the win. “When I go out there, if it’s anything, it’s to preach about him. I’m blessed and grateful he’s using me. We all give him the glory, but he chose me for this, so I’m blessed.”
Max Dean, 197 pounds
Record for tournament: 5-2
Recap: Dean had quite the storybook ending to his collegiate career as he faced off with Jacob Cardenas, who wrestled for Dean’s previous school in Cornell, for seventh place.
Cardenas put Dean behind early with a quick takedown to open the bout. The Nittany Lion escaped about 25 seconds later, and collected a takedown of his own to hold a 3-2 lead after one period of wrestling.
Dean’s escape in the second period was the lone point. Cardenas didn’t want to go under Dean, so he choose neutral to start the third period. Neither wrestler could find an opening to score, and Dean came away with a 4-2 victory.
Greg Kerkvliet, 285 pounds
Record for tournament: 4-1
Recap: Kerkvliet got Michigan’s Mason Parris in the finals. The pair had faced off six times in their careers.
They each have beaten each other three times. However, Parris has won the last two — the dual, 3-1, and the Big Ten finals, 5-3, in sudden victory.
The last win for Kerkvliet against Parris was last year’s consolation semifinals of the NCAA Championships in Detroit.
Saturday night Parris took the advantage in the overall record when he topped Kerkvliet.
The Nittany Lion came out and got to his snatch single right away, but Parris fought it off and took Kerkvliet down with an arm roll. Parris’ escape in the second period was the lone point scored to make it 3-0.
The third period saw Kerkvliet take injury time just over 30 seconds into the period. Parris had choice from the injury time, went to the bottom and escaped. He did give up a stalling point, but added a riding time point to secure a 5-1 victory.
Saturday at Tulsa, Okla.
Team key: Air Force (AF), American (A), Appalachian State (AS), Arizona State (ASU), Army West Point (AWP), Binghamton (BT), Bloomsburg (BB), Bucknell (B), Buffalo (BF), Cal Poly (CP), Campbell (C), Central Michigan (CM), Chattanooga (CT), Clarion (CL), Cleveland State (CS), Columbia (CB), Cornell (CN), CSU Bakersfield (CSB), Drexel (DX), Duke (D), Edinboro (E), Gardner-Webb (GW), George Mason (GM), Harvard (HV), Hofstra (H), Illinois (Ill.), Indiana (Ind.), Iowa (I), Iowa State (ISU), Kent State (K), Lehigh (L), Lock Haven (LH), Maryland (M), Michigan (Mich.), Michigan State (MSU), Minnesota (Minn.), Missouri (Miss.), Navy (N), NC State (NCSU), Nebraska (Neb.), North Carolina (UNC), North Dakota State (NDSU), Northern Colorado (NC), Northern Illinois (NIU), Northern Iowa (NI), Northwestern (NW), Ohio (O), Ohio State (OSU), Oklahoma (OU), Oklahoma State (OKSU), Oregon State (ORSU), Penn State (PSU), Pennsylvania (Penn.), Pittsburgh (Pitt.), Princeton (PT), Purdue (P), Rider (R), Rutgers (RU), SIU Edwardsville (SIUE), South Dakota State (SDSU), Stanford (S), Utah Valley (U), Virginia (V), Virginia Tech (VT), West Virginia (WV), Wisconsin (W), Wyoming (WY)
Team scores: 1. Penn State 137.5, 2. Iowa 82.5, 3. Cornell 76.5, 4. Ohio State 70.5, 5. Missouri 64.5, 6. Michigan 58.5, 7. Arizona State 55, 8. Nebraska 54, 9. Virginia Tech 49, 10. North Carolina State 48
125: Pat Glory, PT, dec. Matt Ramos, P, 3-1; 133: Vito Arujau, CN, dec. Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, 10-4; 141: Andrew Alirez, NC, dec. Real Woods, I, 6-4; 149: Yianni Diakomihalis, CN, dec. Sammy Sasso, OSU, 4-2; 157: Austin O’Connor, UNC, dec. Levi Haines, PSU, 6-2; 165: Keegan O’Toole, Miss., dec. David Carr, ISU, 8-2; 174: Carter Starocci, PSU, pinned Mikey Labriola, Neb., 2:46; 184: Aaron Brooks, PSU, dec. Parker Keckeisen, NI, 7-2; 197: Nino Bonaccorsi, Pitt., dec. Tanner Sloan, SDSU, 5-3; 285: Mason Parris, Mich., dec. Greg Kerkvliet, PSU, 5-1
141: Beau Bartlett, PSU, dec. Lachlan McNeil, UNC, 4-1; 149: Shayne Van Ness, PSU, dec. Kyle Parco, ASU, 7-2
7th Place Match
197: Max Dean, PSU, dec. Jacob Cardenas, CN, 4-2
141: Bartlett, PSU, major dec. Clay Carlson, SDSU, 12-3; 149: Van Ness, PSU, dec. Caleb Henson, VT, 5-3