What. A. Tournament.
Penn State came to Detroit the favorites but not by much; with a nine-man contingent and what some called a biased bracket, the Nittany Lions weren’t going to come to Detroit and expect things handed to them. And host Michigan, riding the momentum of their first Big Ten tournament title in quite a while, were determined to make a run and make it a race.
Ultimately, as some predicted, that really wasn’t meant to be.
Penn State had the day one most expected, going 15-3, but the early Friday session upended the run for top to bottom All-Americans, with Drew Hildebrandt, Beau Bartlett, and Brady Berge combining to go 4-3 and not making session four.
But the overall team lead that PSU had earned after the first day was never to be relinquished, and a tournament that felt rife with upsets and unexpected turns ultimately had the results that many expected.
A Penn State team title, locked up before the finals even started. And then, the fireworks.
First up was Roman Bravo-Young, the first of Nittany Lion’s four returning title winners, and facing Fix, a three-time finalist whom RBY beat in sudden victory in 2021 to claim last year’s title. While similarly low-scoring, this bout didn’t go to extra time, with the PSU senior not allowing an offensive point against him and winning in regulation (before alluding to the possibility he’ll be back next year in his post match interview).
Then came Nick Lee, PSU’s first (and likely not last) five-time All-American, facing surprise finalist Kizhan Clarke of UNC. And unlike their basketball team earlier today, the underdog was not to win it; Clarke had a solid plan, go for big points and a throw early, because one can’t simply out-gas tank Lee. But one can’t simply take Lee to his back either, and the first 141 national champ in PSU history got his second title, and Penn State’s second of the night.
After a three-bout break, Carter Starocci took the mat trying to make it three-for-three—and trying to keep the hopes of a five-time NCAA champ alive. Virginia Tech’s 2019 165-pound champ Mekhi Lewis put up as much of a fight as anyone has against the PSU sophomore, going past sudden victory to the tie break periods, but Starocci’s unwavering confidence pulled him through. And Penn State had its third title winner.
Immediately after Starocci’s close bout came Aaron Brooks, looking to avenge his loss in the Big Ten finals and add to his own trophy case by beating Olympic bronze medalist Myles Amine of Michigan. And in perhaps the most surprising result of the night—this bout wasn’t close. AB had what this humble blogger refers to as a “big boy rideout” of Amine in the second period, and even a very late takedown by Amine wasn’t anywhere near enough to stop the Penn State train from rolling through nonstop.
Last for the Nittany Lions was Cornell transfer Max Dean, a junior in eligibility who won the starting job from last year’s All-American Michael Beard. And though a BSD alum threatened to forever brand Dean as a Big Red wrestler, not a PSUer, if he lost, ultimately that distinction didn’t matter; Dean was stingy, picking his shots and feeling Iowa’s Jacob Warner out. It wasn’t until very late in the bout when Warner took an unwise, half-hearted shot himself that Dean was able to counter—and then go behind for the match-winning (and five-for-five clinching) two points.
What a ride this 2021-2022 season has been. What a team, and what a tournament. We’ll have more in the coming days, especially from JP who’s been on the floor in Little Caesar’s Arena, but thanks to all in the BSD community for making this season a memorable one!
Oh, and with Gable Steveson’s announced retirement from NCAA wrestling…what say we make it another five for five year next year, Greg Kerkvliet?