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Wrestling Postview: Penn State Wins Tight Illness-Affected Duals Over PA Rivals Penn & Lehigh

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Penn State prevailed over hard fights from opponents and absences & forfeits from illness to beat UPenn 20-16 and Lehigh 23-16 in front of passionate crowds in the Palestra & Rec Hall.

Penn State’s Rec Hall was filled with wrestling fans for the first time since February of 2020.
Heather Weikel | Black Shoe Diaries

There’s been an interesting running conversation in the college wrestling community the past several years regarding whether and how different competitions matter. Like some other Olympic sports, wrestling is blessed with a few different competition structures it uses to ‘teamify’ an otherwise mano a mano individual sport.

Back in 2014, I tried to unpack them each with a deep dive and some amateur fanboy takery:

Perhaps here in the bleak-weather weeks of mid-February, it’s a good time to check in on that grind. And because the twitter debates of last week might still be somewhat fresh, let’s take a look at Penn State wrestling in the context of the sport’s three competitive structures. To borrow ck’s label from last week, college wrestling in this country has constructed three different ways to ‘teamify’ this very individual sport:

1. Dual Meets

2. Duals Tourneys

3. Individual Tourneys

Throughout the sport’s exponential growth over the past decade, we’ve watched the community continue to try to come to grips with what it means to be an individual wrestler chasing one’s individual goals, all while being a contributing member of and to a wrestling team.

One complicating factor affecting the matter of college wrestling is its wonky two-semester season. The first semester (or between-semester break) typically holds any Individual Tourneys (which do still convey both individual and team champions), while the second semester’s postseason holds the coveted Conference Championships and National Championships.

Because individuals can achieve honors and championships that the wrestler’s team might not be able to, and vice versa, and given that a wrestler’s team is not allowed on the mat with him or her at same time, the majority of the community has accepted that when it comes to team and individual championships, priority must be given to the postseason Individual Tourney structure.

But what does that leave for in-season Dual Meets and in-season Individual Tourneys?

In my book: a ton!

I’ll cover the CKLV Tourney more on Thursday, but here’s a quick list of some of my favorite things about Dual Meets:

Compact Events. Most duals last a maximum of two hours, which frees everybody up for maximum enjoyment. Fans can pack the home arena, maintain a sustainable level of enthusiasm for the duration, then head back to their lives.

Like the wrestlers, the National Championships tourney is the pinnacle event for the fan in me, but that 3-day, 6-session, 30-hour event is also a fitness test for fans.

It’s refreshing to attend a Dual Meet without taxing your back, feet, voice and possibly liver.

Marketing. This has become one of the hot-button items in this new age of college NIL partnerships, and it ties in to the past decade’s preeminent question: how do we grow wrestling? Justin Basch has carved out a cool niche in the community, teaching us the value of promotion and branding (via his Rokfin$ page, see: Promoting Yourself as a Wrestler; What Should I Post?; Why & How Wrestlers Should Sell Their Own Apparel), and Dual Meets are easy to market!

Combined with my first favorite thing above, organizers can market duals for both butts in seats AND eyes on the telly.

Scoring. The NCAA team scoring rules haven’t changed since 2001. When I first really studied and learned them at the beginning of the last decade, I fell in love with them, and every time I revisit them anew, I ... reconfirm the solidity of their matter, if you will. I just really dig how they maintain the individual aspect of the sport and deeply appreciate how one wrestler ‘sends points to the team,’ depending on the margin of dominance in their own bout.

Team Wrestling. We’ve seen cool footage of PSU wrestlers cheering teammates on in the National Finals, but doing so at large tourneys is generally fairly difficult, as brackets and bout times spread a 10-weight-class team out pretty thinly.

At Dual Meets, it’s easy. Everybody’s already right there, and with each wrestler having only one match, they only miss teammates’ action during their own warmups & cool-downs.

Another aspect of this particular Favorite Thing is how it allows space for non-superstars and reminds fans of the quality and skill possessed by D1 wrestlers who may not make the postseason lineups for their college squad.

We saw it in play a good bit this weekend, as illness affected three of Penn State’s four National Champions, and as gritty starters—and backups—demonstrated big fight and exciting moments for fans of the Quakers and Mountainhawks.

Let’s take a look.

Penn State 20, Pennsylvania 16

The first thing to note about this dual was that the Palestra was rockin!

That’s from Kevin McGuigan, a wrestling coach I met online last year during a Bloodround fitness challenge, and another person who has learned a lot from Justin Basch this past year. He’s personally branded all wrestling that takes place in or near Philadelphia under the extremely marketable “Philly Wrestling” umbrella, and does a lot of work behind the scenes to help grow events hosted by UPenn, Drexel, Beat the Streets, and the Pennsylvania RTC, to name a few.

Announced attendance at the dual was: 3,272, a fantastic crowd for a big draw to a hallowed arena on a Philly Friday night.

Here’s a cool look at the new mat UPenn rolled out to welcome our Lions:

Additionally, BSD Wrestle’s kavija, Succss With Honor Always and jbolt attended and shared a few pics from their experience.

Beau Bartlett tries to help Nick Lee shake off the rust of illness.
kavija
Beau Bartlett secured a tough win over Anthony Artalona
kavija
Carter Starocci earns a takedown on the edge against Nick Incontrera
kavija

It sounds from the open threads that a good time was had by all:

Cheers!
kavija

Thanks for sharing, kavija!

Against UPenn, the Nittany Lions won 6 of 9 contested bouts, and submitted one forfeit. Of those wins, 4 were Decisions and 2 were Major Decisions. The Lions won the takedown battle 16-11 and scored 56 bout points, to UPenn’s 39.

2022 Season Recap Chart

PSU-Penn Recap Links

Links to recaps from others on the PSU Wrestling beat:

Cael

Via CDT, Nate Cobler:

“I think a couple of guys dug deep. It’s all preparation. We didn’t wrestle great tonight,” Sanderson said. “I know our guys didn’t feel very good. Guys like Nick Lee, if he didn’t wrestle — he was sick last weekend — we lose that dual meet. It’s a good team. They came to win, you could tell during introductions. We responded enough, I guess, but we’ve got a ways to go here.”

Full audio:

Penn State 23, Lehigh 16

Back home against Lehigh, Roman Bravo-Young returned, but Aaron Brooks remained out, and Nick Lee chopped and carried himself to his 100th career win, despite appearing ravished by illness. Donovan Ball filled in for Brooks with a second convincing decision, and Jake Campbell (125) and Tony Negron (157) made their career debuts.

Unlike Friday night, when Penn held the dual lead from 125 through 165, before Starocci took it and never gave it back, the Mountainhawks & Lions exchanged six lead changes before 174. The Lions similarly won six of nine contested bouts and submitted a sad forfeit to the great All-American heavyweight, Jordan Wood. Three of the six wins earned Bonus Points, via two Majors and a Pin.

Starocci & RBY lead the team to a 25-5 takedown advantage, with 10 and 5 takedowns respectively, and Penn State outscored Lehigh 75-47 in match points.

Tony Negron walked out of obscurity onto the Rec Hall mat and very nearly ankle-picked his way to a massive upset of #10 Josh Humphries, while Max Dan logged a second consecutive bonus win to clinch the dual and allow Cael to avoid the fan-fun, but athlete-risky, scenario of sending 197-pounder Michael Beard out to face the 270+ Wood.

It was an exciting dual with lots of team wrestling, as every one of the 9 competitors helped pick up their teammates with their effort, and Creighton Edsell and Donovan Ball continue to keep their L slate clean.

2021 Recap Charts

PSU-Lehigh Recap Links

Links to recaps from others on the PSU Wrestling beat:

Cael

The Takery

In Physics, matter is something that takes up space, regardless of its composition. There’s an old lyric from Ice-T’s second album that helps spell that out:

Liquid, solid, gas - we’ll be kickin ass

In any form, or matter, or mass

Matter is really versatile.

I think we should adopt that same attribute in a semantic sense and apply it to non-Championship Dual Meets. They matter in all sorts of ways, and this weekend’s two duals showcased quite a few of them.