They say the best way to get into wrestling shape is to wrestle, and Penn State has done a lot of that in the last few days after a delayed start to the season thanks to COVID sweeping through the program.
After struggling a bit in wins over Indiana and Northwestern, the Nittany Lions travelled to Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday to take on the Badgers in a match that was originally set to take play on Sunday in Ann Arbor before the University of Michigan announced a two-week shutdown of all athletics.
Penn State once again began the dual down 6-0 after a forfeit at 125 because neither Baylor Shunk nor Robert Howard were medically cleared to compete, though from that point on the Nittany Lions ran the table.
Roman Bravo-Young once again looked just a slight bit off the pace in an 11-6 victory over Wisconsin’s Kyle Burwick. Bravo-Young built a 6-3 lead after 1 and 9-4 after two, but could not extend his lead in the third and appeared to struggle to find the legs of Burwick.
Up at 141, Nick Lee looked as good as ever as he rolled to a 16-1 technical fall victory over Trey Escobar in just three minutes.
The ever-changing situation at 149 for the Nittany Lions saw a new face enter the fray. After Jarod Verkleeren and Terrell Barraclough dropped close matches on Saturday, senior Luke Gardner got the start against the Badgers against Drew Scharenbrock. Despite trailing after the first period, 3-2, Gardner came from behind to tie the match at 5-5 and then scored on a low level attack just seconds into sudden victory to take a 7-5 win.
The momentum kept rolling at 157, as Brady Berge looked strong in a 12-4 major decision victory over Garrett Model, who had looked solid in a 3-1 start to the season. The pair went scoreless through the first period, but from then on it was all Berge. He used a pair of takedowns and an escape to go up 5-1 after two and then went right back to work in the third, scoring three more takedowns and earned a riding time point for the major.
Up at 12-2, Joe Lee got out to a quick 12-2 lead over Patrick Spray with over a minute of riding time in the first period, but faded a bit late. Lee took a 12-3 major decision but was ridden for the entirety of the third period.
Once again Carter Starocci looked less than his usual self at 174. While we won’t speculate as to why, Starocci looks both smaller and less active than he had through his redshirt season and on the freestyle circuit over the summer. Despite that, he did take a hard-fought 5-3 win over Jared Krattiger including a rideout of the third period to earn the extra point.
Aaron Brooks, meanwhile, looked every bit the juggernaut he was a year ago. Brooks used a dominant first-period to take an 8-3 lead over sixth-ranked Chris Weiler and just continued to roll from there, racking up 13-3 major decision victory.
In perhaps the performance of the night, all due respect to Brooks, Michael Beard finally made his dual debut for the Nittany Lions. Beard scored three takedowns and two sets of back points to lead 12-2 after the first period. He kept that momentum going in the second, adding a takedown and a full set of back points for an 18-2 technical fall victory over Andrew Salemme at 4:43.
To close out the dual, it was once again Nick Nevills getting the start at 285 as we await a health update on Greg Kerkvliet, who did not travel for Penn State. Nevills took a 2-0 lead with a dominating 1:54 of riding time over Peter Christensen in the first period, but was ridden out for the entire second period. In the third, Christensen took neutral but it was Nevills who secured the match-clinching takedown, going up 4-0 and then holding on for a 4-3 victory after a late takedown by the Badgers’ heavyweight.
In the extra matches, Beau Bartlett (141), Terrell Barraclough (149), Bo Pipher (149) and Creigton Edsell (174) picked up victories.
The Nittany Lions will return to action on Feb. 12 at home against the top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and while Penn State has the firepower to upset the Hawks, it will take a serious step up in performance to do so.