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“Pay attention tonight, and you’ll be better prepared to go 15-0 next year” - Cael Sanderson to James Franklin, maybe.
Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

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Wrestling Postview: Penn State Unravels the Mitten State

Michigan, Michigan State & this author traveled to Happy Valley for some excellent wrestling in two different arenas.

In an effort to shake off a crippling writer’s block, I traveled to State College this weekend for an immersive wrestling experience.

Friends, I was rewarded.

Penn State hosted Michigan on Friday night in the Bryce Jordan Center, took 8 of 10 bouts from them and reminded the wrestling world of the ocean-wide gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2. They pounded the Wolverines, 30-8.

On Sunday in the cozier confines of Rec Hall, the Nittany Lions gave a few starters a rest, and won 34-6.

#1 Penn State 30, #3 Michigan 8, in the Bryce Jordan Center

Can I just first state out the gate how much I love the wrestling community?

I do love it so. There are so many good folks out there who love the sport and take care of each other and celebrate tough wrestling and great technique while doing so.

Penn State’s wrestling fanbase has taken care of me often through the years, and this weekend was no different. My friend Scott, whose pictures you see here, put me up in his condo at Toftrees, and we hung out all weekend, gathered with a bunch of folks from the old BWI message boards, and watched & talked wrestling. It was great.

I don’t get back up to State College often and don’t have season tickets, but I have a lot of friends there who do. For a seat at the BJC, I first hit up the social network, and then the Penn State Wrestling Club’s Ticket Exchange, where club members with actual first and last names can trade tickets, behind a credentialed login. Every listing I saw there was either for face value or gifted away for free, which is a nice reprieve from the usual middleman grift of modern corporate ticket markets.

I just missed on a few free tickets, before deciding to splurge for a good seat, purchased from the university (where I was re-welcomed to one of capitalism’s more famous middlemen: Ticketmaster, and all of its charges & fees). I was right behind the Michigan bench and, my friends, the vibes were immaculate.

Man, I love being within earshot of these elite D1 coaches!

I don’t know how your wrestling fandom works, but following and reading and listening to coaches is one of my favorite parts of the sport. And Michigan has some excellent coaches.

When last I published a postview, back on November 15 after PSU dismantled Lock Haven, I mused that this year’s Lions might be even better than the 2022 version that placed 6 All-Americans and 5 National Champions.

Now with 10 duals under its cummerbund, there’s enough evidence to revisit that guess, and we’ll do so in The Takery.

But first, the action & results, with a few brief stops for storytime.

125 #23 Jack Medley TF Gary Steen, 19-3 (5:36); MICH 5-0

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Steen had stayed within 4 points in losses to Lehigh, Oregon State, Central Michigan, UNC & Iowa State, but has gotten horsed & bonus’d by the Top-10 guys he’s seen: Lock Haven’s Noto & Wiscy’s Barnett. It remains to be seen if Medley can find his way into that Top-10, but he was 15-5 and is a pretty big boy.

He took Steen down 5 times, and turned him for 4 Nearfall points twice.

133 #1 Roman Bravo-Young DEC #12 Dylan Ragusin; MICH 5-3

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

This was one of those close-the-gap bouts for Ragusin, in neutral. He earned the first takedown, a tight call on the edge. By my count, I think that was only the second TD given up by RBY this season (vs Oregon State was the other I have).

On the mat, he rode RBY on top for 25 seconds before succumbing to the escape, but on bottom he showed he still has a ways to go. Bravo-Young returned the TD favor and finished on top in the second with 1:04 of Riding Time (RT). Down only 2-3, Ragusin was forced to choose bottom in the third, but RBY smothered him on top.

Ragusin’s a tough, tough kid, and he will be a handful in the National Consolation brackets, but the gap between him & the Lions 2x National Champ remains.

141 #4 Beau Bartlett DEC #23 Cole Mattin, 7-2; PSU 6-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Bartlett walked out to Bad to the Bone and I loved it. He scored the first takedown in the first, and had a cradle locked up at one point, but lost it during the turn attempt.

In the second, Bartlett chose down and it wasn’t long before Michigan Head Coach Sean Bormet yelled: “let’s get green wrestling” at the ref. Shortly after, Bartlett wrestled his way into a reversal. Both then, and again in the third, Mattin fought hard off bottom for escapes, which have not been easy to come by underneath Bartlett this season. Then Beau sealed the deal with a p3 takedown.

149 #14 Shayne Van Ness MD Fidel Mayor, 14-4; PSU 10-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Young Michigan stud Chance Lamer (Intermat #21) was out and Van Ness understood the assignment against this backup: earn Bonus Points. He started out with a first-period takedown and worked hard for Nearfall points to no avail.

When the second period ended with another TD and lots of riding time with no Nearfall, he pivoted to neutral attacks in the third, where he earned four more TDs to secure the Major.

157 #17 Levi Haines DEC #10 Will Lewan, 3-1 (SV, 8:18); PSU 13-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Quick storytime... Some of you know my own illustrious wrestling career took place in Waynesboro, PA (7174Lyfe!). In the late 70s & then 80s, I took a number of wrestling trips through Franklin & Adams counties and drove to Biglerville (Haines’ hometown) a bunch of times. To get there, we drove up the Blue Mountains and on windy country roads through farmlands.

My signature memory from every one of those trips was the plethora of absolutely massive firewood stacks at almost every farm. Like, 20yards long and stacked higher than my head. Those stacks did a great job at foreshadowing the strength of the country boys who would eventually show us their chiseled bodies when they stripped down to their (also intimidating) Iowa-like black & gold singlets.

This is where Haines grew up, and he looks every bit like one of the ole boys who used to scare & matwipe a young me back in the day. Now, to be fair, Haines has been traveling up to SC for years now, to train with one David Taylor at the M2 Wrestling Club, so he has ameliorated his Biglerville genes with crisp and refined technique. And there was plenty of evidence of that in this bout with a very controlled wrestler in Lewan.

But he won with this bout with his Biglerville woodpile strenth.

Sporting right knee tape, Haines had a few first-period knee taps and a decent single he couldn’t quite pull in. Which is a credit to Lewan’s own horsepower, because we’ve seen Haines demonstrate some serious feats of strength in winning similar battles in earlier matches.

Lewan is extremely difficult to score against and he takes few offensive attacks of his own, but when he finally fires off a shot, it’s very often crisp, efficient and of the scoring variety. He’s a classic one-takedown-win kind of wrestler, and it’s really worked for him so far in his young D1 career.

So when each wrestler promptly escaped in under ten seconds when they were on bottom, we were treated to many, many minutes of neutral chess. I think I counted 5 stalemates in Bubba’s pbp commentary in Cari’s BSD Preview + Open Thread.

At one point in the third, Lewan had fired off an excellent and tight double leg shot, got both elbows behind both of Haines’ knees, and lunged in for the finish.

But Haines fought him off.

There was genuine surprise showing on the faces of the Michigan coaches, and near desperation when Haines himself got in on a good single that Lewan managed to fight to out of bounds and no score.

In overtime, it was more of the same. Until a tired Lewan came too-slowly up from a slow knee-tap, Haines recognized the prime opportunity for reattack, went in on a head-outside lefty single, and ended the match.

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

The BJC went wild, and it was awesome.

165 #16 Alex Facundo DEC #5 Cameron Amine, 5-5 (TB1); PSU 16-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

In another bout in which a young PSU stud tested himself against an established All-American Wolverine, Facundo also came out on top.

After an Amine warning about hands-to-the face at 1:41 of the first period, Facundo surprised him (and the Michigan coaches) with a super-slick ankle pick. The third Lion wrestler in a row sporting some form of leg tape, Facundo’s length is something the rest of the country is still getting used to. I mean, that ankle pick was Cael-esque; so pretty!

Facundo also put on a nice ride in that period, prompting Michigan Assistant Coach Kevin Jackson to shout to Amine: “hey, you gotta come up the right way!” To which Amine responded with an escape.

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

In the second, after choosing down, Amine again escaped before Facundo could get over a minute of RT.

Drama ensued in the third.

Facundo escaped to a 3-2 score. Then a big attack & flurry led to the ref initially awarding a TD to Facundo, but after a coach’s challenge and review, it was determined (correctly, imo; and also according to Cael & Casey who each looked accepting of that outcome), that Facundo had touched his hand to the mat when Amine was in control behind him. So the TD was overturned & awarded to Amine, for a 3-4 Michigan lead, with 20 seconds to go.

It’s frequently noted that young wrestlers, even the elite recruits, often struggle on bottom when they first land in D1. Penn State has in its wrestling room & corner a famously stubborn top-rider in Assistant Coach Casey Cunningham (ask Ed Ruth about his first intro to Casey), who makes it a mission to ride & coach PSU’s young elites through this initial deficiency.

Amine could have secured the W, by riding for 20 seconds. Instead, Facundo escaped to send it to overtime, 4-4.

Neither could penetrate the opposing defense in the two-minute Sudden Victory period in neutral, so they went to the mats to test themselves in the new tiebreaker rules. Facundo looked confident, escaped from bottom within 10 seconds, then successfully rode Amine on top for 14 seconds.

The four-second difference resulted in the Facundo victory, and the Michigan bench was again smarting.

174 #1 Carter Starocci WBF #30 Max Maylor (4:15); PSU 22-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Sometimes at this level, an overmatched kid walks onto the mat exhibiting devil-may-care body language, like anything is possible. Maylor was not this kid, and I immediately felt nervous for him as a result of his own visible nervousness.

He’s long and gave us some gymnastic defenses in neutral, which forced Starocci to reach for the sky, with Maylor’s leg in his grip, to secure the first few takedowns.

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

But after three such successful shots, Carter ground the poor kid over for a merciful pin in the middle of the second.

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

184 #1 Aaron Brooks MD #9 Matt Finesilver, 14-4; PSU 26-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Finesilver, a transfer from Duke, is ranked #9, but Brooks was on the hunt for a Major, and got it.

He took him down 6 times and controlled the action in all three facets of the bout, earning himself a day off on Sunday against Michigan State.

197 #4 Max Dean MD Brendan Yatooma, 10-1; PSU 30-5

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Finishing off the part of the lineups at which Michigan just doesn’t have the horses to compete with 3 of Penn State’s 4 National Champions, Max Dean also earned Bonus Points. Yatooma’s only score was an escape that Dean conceded to him.

285 #2 Mason Parris DEC #1 Greg Kerkvliet, 3-1; PSU 30-8

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

This was the first time I saw the Michigan coaches perk up, understandably so. Parris is an excellent, massive and athletic wrestler who, coming into this bout, was 1-3 against Kerk. Although his last win was over an injury-depleted Kerk, back in the 2021 B1G Tourney, he was 17-0 coming in this season and has been wrestling very well.

Parris’ heavy collar tie strategy served him well in this bout, and kept Kerk from his normal comfort zone a few steps apart, where he’s been free to attack from space. Early, it looked to be another one-takedown battle, and that proved to be the case, when Kerk took a very tired p3 shot that Parris easily skirted around behind for the winner.

Intermission

On Saturday, between the two duals, I finally fulfilled a lifelong bucket list item and 2023 Self Goal, by hiking the beautiful and ancient Mount Nittany. It was a delicious 32 degrees out, there was a nice dusting of snow on the ground, and I shared hellos with a number of friendly hikers.

Although under an overcast sky, I gleefully took in the vista of the happiest of valleys.

Jp Pearson, Black Shoe Diaries

If you look closely, you can see a slight flickering off in the distance. A beacon of sorts, faint to the non-Nittany eye, but it’s there.

It’s signaling...

15-0.

I wrapped up my lovely Saturday at another buddy's house, dining on mustard pork and a homemade salad, and talking European travel over a few bottles of Pinot.

It was a good day.

#1 Penn State 34, Michigan State 6, Rec Hall

For Sunday's Rec Hall ticket, I again started with my social network, caught up with an old friend from the mess boards and was set to sit with him. His screen name is Hlstone, he makes a delicious cheesecake, and he'd gifted me my ticket the last time I'd been in Rec Hall: December, 2018, when Mark Hall blanked Zahid 4-0.

I was really looking forward to seeing him, so was terribly bummed when he texted right before the start saying he had to help a buddy & couldn't come. I was at Primanti Brothers, introducing Scott to my BSD & Chambersburg buddy Bart (screen name bman) when I got the text.

Bart & his friend Ryan were chatting with yet another fan from the mess boards, and I learned he did not have a ticket. And so it was that I found myself sitting next to a soil and mineral science degree holder whose screen name is PSUdirtguy. Gifting him Stone's ticket put the finishing touches on a pay-it-forward kind of weekend.

125 Gary Steen DEC #24 Tristan Lujan, 3-1 (SV, 8:19); PSU 3-0

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Welcome back to the Winning column, Gary Steen!

Gary's trademark fight was on exhibit here, and it was great to hear the Rec Hall crowd roar for him when he finalized the winning takedown in overtime.

133 #1 Roman Bravo-Young WBF #16 Rayvon Foley (6:25); PSU 9-0

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Foley is a 3x National Qualifier, who finished in the R16 last year and in 7th place on the podium in 2019 (at 125lbs). He also majored Ragusin a week ago.

He's a good Division I wrestler.

And Bravo-Young toyed with him, to the tune of 6 takedowns and 13 match points, before the pin.

141 #4 Beau Bartlett DEC Jordan Hamdan, 7-1; PSU 12-0

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Bartlett held center mat securely in the first & scored a takedown, then escaped quickly in the second. In the third, he rode Hamdan to over a minute in RT, before conceding an escape.

At 3-1, he scored his second and last takedown. A stalling point and the RT point finished the scoring.

149 #14 Shayne Van Ness WBF Braden Stauffenberg (5:44); PSU 18-0

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

SVN again applied his signature pressure, racked up 5 takedowns and 13 bout points before opening Archery Season to finish the bout and extend his debut season’s record to 11-2.

157 #15 Chase Saldate DEC Terrell Barraclough, 6-2; PSU 18-3

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

After Haines’ big win over Lewan on Friday night, Cael gave Barraclough another home dual opportunity to show what he can do. He initially seemed up to the challenge, firing off a first period shot and scoring the first takedown. But Saldate earned an escape before period ended.

The second period went miserably for him, as Saldate rode him the entire time.

In the third, Bear Claw rode successfully for over a minute and got Saldate’s RT to under the one-minute scoring threshold before granting an escape, which tied the score 2-2. Saldate proved clutch from there, scoring a takedown and a 2-point Nearfall for the final score.

165 #16 Alex Facundo DEC #25 Caleb Fish, 3-1; PSU 21-3

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Caleb Fish is no fish. He’s a big strong dude, who took AA Cam Amine to a tight 3-2 loss last week. On Sunday, he battled Facundo to 0-0 in neutral and nearly rode him to over a minute in RT in the second period.

In the third, he escaped and again fought to neutrality in neutral, sending it to overtime, where after over a minute, Facundo executed a lightning quick duck under for the win.

174 #1 Carter Starocci TF Caesar Garza, 19-4 (6:39); PSU 26-3

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Starocci dominated another overmatched opponent, but to the Spartan’s credit, he would not succumb to a pin. 7 takedowns led to 19 match points and extended Starocci’s bonus percentage to 90%, on a 10-0 record.

184 #15 Layne Malczewski DEC Donovan Ball, 6-0; PSU 26-6

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

This was another big, strong Spartan that was not easily moved around by Brooks’ 184-pound backup, a certified stud.

Ball couldn’t take him down, and couldn’t get out when Malczewski took him down.

197 #4 Max Dean DEC #14 Cam Caffey, 4-0; PSU 29-6

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

The scouting report on Caffey is that he’s savvy, but has a questionable gas tank. This performance resembled that scouting, a lot. But Dean wrestled smart, didn’t get sucked into ill-advised scrambles, stayed patient and scored all the bout’s points.

285 #1 Greg Kerkvliet TF Ryan Vasbinder, 19-4 (4:14); PSU 34-6

Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Kerk looked much fresher on Sunday, when he wasn’t facing the giant Parris. With 5 takedowns and two sets of 4-point Nearfalls, he made short work of this Spartan.

Executive Summaries

Against Michigan, Penn State won 4 of their 8 wins with Bonus Points and earned 23 takedowns to Michigan’s 8. Five of those 8 were earned by Medley over Steen; Ragusin, Amine & Parris each earned one, while the rest of the Wolverine lineup was stuffed in neutral and shut out.

The stat lines were fairly similar vs Sparty on Sunday. The Lions earned Bonus Points in 4 of 8 wins, but dominated the takedowns more, with a 29-4 advantage. Only Saldate vs Barraclough (2) and Malczewski (2) vs Ball won their neutral battles, while all other weights were shut out.

The Takery

I’ll echo my initial sentiments after watching this season’s first dual, back in November against Lock Haven: this Penn State lineup is sick.

The 5 All-Americans (4 of them Champs) have all looked great, and like solid title contenders. Dean has taken two losses, but still looks savvy enough to reach the finals for a third time. Brooks & Kerk have each dropped a bout to excellent opponents, but each appear more than capable of reversing those results in potential rematches. And Bravo-Young and Starocci remain unscathed.

Steen looks perhaps a bit undersized and faces an uphill battle to qualify for Nationals.

Bartlett is 14-0, has held his own at center mat in neutral and has been dominant on top. He’s got a massive opportunity on Friday against #2 Real Woods.

Van Ness has dropped super tight bouts against two elite 149-pounders, in Austin Gomez and Paniro Johnson. But we can see his improvement every match almost. He has two great opportunities to show he’ll land high on the podium coming up. Friday against Max Murin, then a week later against Sammy Sasso.

Levi Haines has likely already demonstrated superiority over Barraclough behind closed doors in the practice room. He’s talked openly about his walking around weight of 165 and his desire to continue to move up in weight next year. We’re probably going to see him come out against Iowa on Friday, solidifying him as the postseason choice this year at 157, and he’s going to be a blast to watch at Big Tens and Nationals.

Lastly, there’s Facundo. His banged up knee kept us from witnessing a wonderful style matchup against Wisconsin’s Hamiti, but he was mobile enough to upset Amine and show the college landscape his readiness to also attack the podium in Tulsa.

This lineup is going to score big there.

We know the Nittany Lion coaches like to use the Big Ten Tourney as a scouting and training event, and their postseason strategies and results are proven.

We also know anything can happen and that nothing is given—only earned. But for now, Penn State looks like a team who could very realistically put 9 wrestlers on the podium.

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