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Penn State Wrestling Crowns 4 First-Time National Champions & 2 Other All-Americans

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Iowa clinched the team title earlier in the day, but Penn State dominated on Saturday night, going 4 for 4 in the Finals, including two head-to-head matchups over Hawkeyes, to finish second at the National Championships. (updated with corrected Finals winning percentages for Sanderson & Brands)

The 2021 D1 National Champions. From front left: Spencer Lee (Iowa), Roman Bravo-Young (PSU), Nick Lee (PSU), Austin O’Connor (UNC), David Carr (Iowa State), Shane Griffith (Independent, protesting Stanford’s cancellation of multiple Olympic sports), Carter Starocci (PSU), Aaron Brooks (PSU), AJ Ferrarri (OkSt), Gable Steveson (MINN).
Sam Janicki

Penn State crowned 4 first-time National Champions Saturday night, as Junior Roman Bravo-Young, Senior Nick Lee, Freshman Carter Starocci and Sophomore Aaron Brooks each accomplished one of their season goals and stood atop the podium.

In doing so, they join and increase this prestigious list of past Penn State National Champions to 34 individuals, with 51 championship placements among them.

Penn State’s 34 wrestlers who have won 51 wrestling National Championships.

One of Coach Cael Sanderson’s more famous quotes around BSD is: “we’re not recruiting D1 starters; we’re recruiting National Champions.” The data agrees with him.

Since Cael took over ahead of the 2010 tournament, he has led his grapplers to a whopping 39 individual placements in the national finals.

And 28 times, the Penn State wrestler has won those championship matches, for an absolutely insane and very, very nice 69.09% even more impressive 71.8% winning percentage there!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1C_uhpJsO14XJ0JdV5i1V6Orgvtjl3bWEdbBml5Csmxg/edit?usp=sharing
Old 3/22/21 screenshot with inaccurate Finals Winning% (error: averaging of averages). Thanks, @texaslionsfan.

That time frame encompasses 12 seasons and 11 national tournaments.

By way of comparison, Iowa’s Tom Brands, who just led the Hawkeyes to their first team National Championship since 2010 and earned the 2021 Coach of the Year honors, has led the Hawkeyes three years longer—for 15 seasons and 14 national tournaments. His numbers:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1C_uhpJsO14XJ0JdV5i1V6Orgvtjl3bWEdbBml5Csmxg/edit?usp=sharing
Old 3/22/21 screenshot with inaccurate Finals Winning% (error: averaging of averages). Thanks, @texaslionsfan.

Wrestling Internet saw plenty of cool takes this weekend about how extremely difficult winning this brutal tournament actually is, but my favorite was this from Illinois past champion, Adam Tirapelle:

Tirapelle placed 3rd in 1999 and 2nd in 2000, before finally winning in 2001. He coached Penn State heavweights Nick & Seth Nevills in HS at Clovis, CA and is talking here about Stanford cutting its wrestling program, but the emphasis on winning a title during COVID is a good reminder of the extra difficulty this year’s champions faced.

That RBY, Nick Lee, Starocci and Brooks were able to train (sometimes this past year in their front yards!) and wear masks and rest and reach peak in time to win this brutal tournament during this brutal year says so much about the character of these young men.

Also, both Michael Beard and Greg Kerkvliet earned All-American honors for the first time, each finished in 7th place on Saturday morning.

They persevered in the toughest tournament of the toughest sport during one of our planet’s most difficult years in a century.

Additionally, the relative youth of this year’s champions, along with the free year of eligibility granted to this past year’s competitors by the NCAA, allows for these elite elevations to still be in possible play:

  • Nick Lee can join Penn State’s ten 2x Champs
  • Roman Bravo-Young can join Penn State’s four 3x Champs
  • Aaron Brooks can still become Penn State’s first ever 4x Champ and;
  • Carter Starocci can still become the first 5x Champ in NCAA history

Those fun facts are offered for fans and are in no way intended to put any pressure on these stud student athletes (who undoubtedly have their own lofty goals, which may or may not coincide with these).

Instead, we offer them for the athletes to know that we fans will look forward to watching whatever comes next in the lives of each young man.

Congratulations, new National Champions, and to the whole team for a fantastic second-place finish!

We Are!

Tony Rotundo