The 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament is scheduled for this weekend. The ongoing global pandemic requires italics for ‘scheduled’, but signs of probability of the event completing competitively are out there.
For the past month, Penn State has successfully navigated COVID testing protocols without any massive shutdowns and, last Monday, the Nittany Lions fielded their expected 10-man postseason roster in a breezy beatdown of Maryland.
During today’s press availability, Coach Cael had this to say about the odd season and the new postseason:
Sanderson on preparing for this postseason: "This season is certainly unique but once these championships get underway, it certainly will have more of a normal feel."— Collegian Wrestling (@TDC_Wrestling) March 2, 2021
In an important first step toward reaching that normal feel, the Big Ten pre-seeds were announced today. Sometime Thursday or Friday, after the B1G wrestling coaches have had their opportunity to discuss these pre-seeds and make cases on behalf of their wrestlers, the conference is expected to release the final seeds and brackets.
Let’s take a look at each weight to gauge Penn State’s likelihood of navigating this stepping stone to reach the best tournament in all the land.
First, how to watch and current schedule.
How to Watch
- Big Ten Network: roving mat coverage, perhaps some split screens. All Producer-dictated; you get what they serve.
- BTN Plus: individual mat cams for all for mats, selectable by us!
Session I, Saturday, March 6
- 10 a.m.
- 4 Mats
- Championship R16
- Championship Quarterfinals
- Consolation R16
Session II, Saturday, March 6
- 7:30 p.m.
- 4 Mats
- Championship Semifinals
- Consolation Quarterfinals
Session III, Sunday, March 7
- 12 noon
- 3 Mats
- Consolation Semifinals
- 7th Place
Session IV, Sunday, March 7
- 4 p.m.
- 3 Mats
- Championship Finals
- 3rd & 5th Place
Next, weight-by-weights. The number one priority for this tournament is to qualify all 10 grapplers for Nationals. It’s imminently doable, and a key hurdle for Penn State’s pursuit of their 5th team National Championship in a row.
Note, all 10 of this year’s weight classes have 8 or fewer automatic qualifiers. This means there will be no extra bouts beyond the normal consolation brackets that help make college wrestling the best version of this great sport.
It also means that if you lose in the Bloodround (designated as R12 on the following charts), just like at Nationals, your tourney is over, along with your hopes for a continued postseason.
Let’s get after it!
125 Robbie Howard
Howard wasn’t ready for competition yet, when PSU wrestled Wisconsin on February 2, and forfeited to Barnett then. Barnett’s two losses were to Cardani, 1-3 and to Heinselman by major, 13-5. He was losing to Purdue’s Schroder in a tight one, until he reversed & decked him late in the second period. Seems winnable.
Win one, and he’ll have a rematch with Heinselman in the Quarters. Win that and he’s in. Lose in the Quarters, and he’ll face a win-or-stay-home-from-Nationals in the Bloodround.
133 Roman Bravo-Young
RBY has looked goood this season, in all three positions. This should be a bonus-point walk to the Finals for, hopefully, a career rubber match with Iowa’s Desanto. Bravo-Young was 2-0 against Desanto last year, and 0-2 vs him in the 2019 season.
141 Nick Lee
Nick Lee has also looked really good this season; only Michigan’s Drew Mattin has held him to a Decision. But there’s a massive new wildcard in his path to his first Big Ten title: the bumped-up 133-pound 2020 Big Ten Champ, Sebastien Rivera, who transferred from Northwestern to Rutgers this offseason.
Overcome that, and he’ll earn a chance to avenge a 2018 loss to Jaydin Eierman in the National Consolation Quarterfinals.
Win that and he’s a lock for the 1-seed in St. Louis. Go getem, Nick!
149 Beau Bartlett
Bartlett’s first-round matchup, Blockhus, is 5-4 with losses to Murin, Van Brill and two guys who are not entered in this tourney: Illinois’ Mike Carr and Nebraska’s Brock Hardy. As 11-seed draws go, it’s pretty favorable.
If he advances there, the Purdue matchup is much tougher. Parriott’s a 5th-year Senior who wrestled 157 his first three years, so size could be a factor.
If he wins that quarters matchup, he’s in for Nationals. If not, he’ll need at least one win in the consis.
157 Chef Bardy Berge
Bardy gets a 1-6 first-round opponent, which should help him open things up to start the day off. Purdue’s Kendall Coleman is a horse, who has some interesting score results.
Win both, and he earns a bout against the real horse of the weight, NW’s Ryan Deakin. Whatevs, he’s in for Nationals by then. Let it fly, Bardy!
165 Joe Lee
This is not a bad draw for the 6-seed. Bonus opportunity in Round One, and a rematch with the slick Buckeye, Smith in the Qtrs. You may recall that Joe Lee lost a scramble against Smith and got himself decked. If he can’t solve that puzzle with a second look, he’ll have to win his Bloodround match to advance to Nationals.
174 Carter Starocci
Probably the deepest, toughest weight class in this tourney. Luckily for Penn State fans, we’ve got one of the toughest, grittiest dudes on our team at this weight.
That Iowa’s Kemerer was awarded the 1-seed, when he sat out in the Hawks’ dual with Nebraska is somewhat questionable, especially when Nebby’s Labriola competed in all eight of their duals. That could be a candidate for overturn during the coaches seeding meeting later this week, so we’ll keep an eye on that.
What it means for Starocci is a possible change of Semifinals opponent, from Labriola to Kemerer. A possible development that is probably more interesting to fans than to Starocci himself, who has serious eyes for a National Championship this year. For us, regardless, we’re going to see a very gritty and entertaining Saturday night.
To get there, however, Starocci will have to once again top Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero, whom he bested 3-1 in sudden victory earlier this season.
184 Aaron Brooks
This is one of the Big Ten’s weaker weights this year. Brooks’ challenges here are: stay healthy, earn Bonus Points and win his second Big Ten Championship.
197 Michael Beard
This might be Penn State’s toughest draw, with only 6 AQs and Myles Amine as a potential Quarterfinals opponent. In their first matchup in the dual, Beard displayed a good attack rate, but was just out-savvied a few times by Amine’s counter-scores.
If Beard is unable to solve the veteran Amine, he will have to win not one, but two bouts in the consis, to finish top-6 and earn his trip to St. Louis. The caliber opponent there should be more than navigable for the upstart Beard.
285 Greg Kerkvliet
Hoo, boy, here we go!
Man, watching Greg Kerkvliet in the Fall NLWC Freestyle events, I’d have said there was nobody in D1 that Kerkvliet couldn’t beat this year, including Michigan stud Mason Parris. Watching him easily, but delicately (not quite gingerly?), toss around Maryland’s overmatched heavies in the dual last week, I have questions about that recovering-from-surgery left knee.
With a recovering injury, only 7 AQs and National Championship being the main goal, Kerkvliet and Coach Sanderson have some options here. They could (could; it doesn’t feel like a Cael m.o., really), but they could emulate Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan’s move from a few years ago, when his son Jake was trying to qualify for Nationals while injured. In a Championship bracket bout against a tough opponent, Ryan had Jake step onto the mat so that a few seconds ticked off, and then they injury defaulted out. Such a result (as opposed to a Medical Forfeit, which would end the tourney for the wrestler), allowed Ryan to compete again in the consolations. He managed a big pin in the R16, but fell 3-1 in the Bloodround and failed to qualify for Nationals.
Or, they could send Kerkvliet out against Parris and say go at it!
Let’s hope for the latter.
Man, just let this tournament happen. Please, pretty, pretty please.
Keep everybody healthy, get everybody qualified, stay out of COVID’s way.
And get ready to break Herky’s heart in St. Louis!
(Special thanks to our photographer friends, Sam Janicki and Tony Rotundo for allowing BSD to use their gorgeous photos. Please consider browsing their catalogs and purchasing their photos directly from their websites or supporting them with a cash donation. You can do so for Sam here, and for Tony here.)