With the dual season winding down, the Nittany Lions headed to Piscataway to take on Rutger. While the Scarlet Knights have several ranked wrestlers, they are lacking in the high end fire power.
The context for this match was that Penn State is gearing up for tournament time. This dual featured the opportunity for many of the wrestlers to test themselves against a talent level they'll see in both the B1G and the NCAA tournament. At this point of the season, it's not just about winning, it's about bonus.
On to the action!
125: Gary Steen vs. Dean Peterson
Peterson came out the gate firing in an effort to set the tone for this dual. He got off to a strong start taking down Steen twice as well as drawing a stall warning to end the 1st period with Steen at a 1-4 deficit.
Peterson had choice to start the 2nd and chose bottom, earning the escape and then continuing the takedown barrage with 3 more, followed by 4 NF before the period ended, 3-15.
Steen chose bottom to start the 3rd. After getting an escape it was yet more takedowns by Peterson until the match ended by tech fall, 21-6 putting Rutgers up 5-0 in the team race.
The takery: Steen is a gamer and is giving it his all in Howard's absence. He's going out there looking to wrestle but unfortunately he's just at a very big disadvantage between his youth and his physical development, especially when facing ranked competition. The good news, other than the fact that Robbie Howard is on the roster, is that Jordan Conaway who knows a thing or 2 about wrestling undersized, is only a phone call away to give a lot of pointers.
133: Baylor Shunk vs. Joe Heilman
Shunk took the mat in place of RBY to take on the ranked Heilman. Shunk is also game to actually wrestle when he takes the mat, not looking to just keep the score to a regular decision. And in this match there was plenty of action. Heilman was able to win a couple scrambles to put Shunk at a 1-4 deficit to end the 1st.
Heilman chose neutral to start the 2nd, eventually earning a takedown to end the period 2-6 after a Shunk escape. Shunk chose bottom to start the 3rd but was unable to get out, resulting in a regular decision victory for the Knight 2-7 after the riding time point and putting Rutgers further ahead 8-0.
The takery: Good try by Shunk. Clearly the most important thing is a healthy RBY come March.
141: Beau Bartlett vs. Joe Olivieri
Next up was Beau, looking to put Penn State on the board. The 1st period featured a lot of tie ups and hand fighting until Beau was able to get through and get the takedown to finish the period up 2-0.
Olivieri chose bottom to start the 2nd, getting the escape followed shortly thereafter by another Beau takedown to extend his lead 4-1.
Beau chose bottom to start the 3rd and got the escape, but found himself with work to do if he wanted bonus. Olivieri put up his best efforts to stop Beau from scoring until Beau just muscled through for another takedown and took Olivieri straight to his back for 4 NF (and flatten Olivieri for the final 10 seconds of the period without a fall called). Beau's 12-1 major decision put Penn State on the board, though still trailing 8-4.
The takery: It's clear Beau is focused on scoring bonus in March. He has the technical ability to beat almost everyone in this weight and with his motor he'll have lots of opportunity for bonus, especially the deeper he goes in the bracket. He did a great job creating offense against an opponent who was mostly focused on not giving him the opportunities to do so.
149: Shane Van Ness vs. Tony White
Van Ness took the mat looking to get some bonus of his own. He took it to White right out the gate getting a pair of takedowns. But White was game and caught Van Ness for a takedown of his own. SVN was able to get the reversal and ended the 1st on top with a 6-4 lead.
In the 2nd White chose bottom, getting the escape. Van Ness earned a pair of takedowns to take a 10-6 lead to the 3rd with over a minute of riding time as well. In the 3rd SVN chose bottom before continuing the takedown clinic. After getting his lead up to 16-9 with the riding time point secured, Van Ness decided to leave no doubt by turning White for 4 NF before the period ran out, earning the 21-9 major decision and tying the bout 8-8.
The takery: SVN is solid and what he lacks in experience he makes up in motor. He seemed to take this match for granted a bit which is what gave White the opportunity for a takedown of his own, but that'll be a learning lesson to never let your guard completely down.
157: Levi Haines vs. Andrew Clark
The 1st period was uncharacteristically without many offensive opportunities for Haines however he was able to eventually get a takedown and end the 1st up 2-0.
Haines chose bottom to start the 2nd before getting the escape and getting another takedown, finishing the period 5-0 with riding time decidedly in his favor.
In the 3rd Clark chose bottom, getting an escape before another takedown by Haines. Looking for bonus Haines gave up an escape but couldn't muster another takedown. He came close at the end of the period, warranting a review by the officials, but unfortunately the takedown wasn't awarded and Haines ended with the 8-2 decision, putting Penn State up 11-8.
The takery: Another solid match by Haines. It's a reminder of just how spoiled we are as a fan base that you can be disappointed with a 6 point decision by a true freshman over a pretty good opponent. He's solid in every position and always capable of scoring, it's just going to be a matter of making sure he can create the opportunities to do so. What I was most impressed with is how once he's in on someone's hips, he's able to absolutely control them. He's really good at keeping his opponent's hips pinned to the mat, which allows him to win most scrambles.
165: Alex Facundo vs. Luke Gayer
Facundo took the mat with a clear intent on putting up bonus in this match. He scored the opening takedown and after giving up the escape was able to get another to take a 4-1 lead at the end of the 1st.
In the 2nd Alex chose bottom and got the escape before scoring another pair of takedowns. Gayer was able to score a takedown of his own, catching Facundo unprepared for the offense to tighten the score 9-5. Facundo's was undeterred however and not only answered with an escape but also got another takedown to close out the 2nd.
The 3rd was a takedown clinic by Facundo, scoring 6 of them, but falling 1 short of the tech fall. Facundo won by major decision 25-12 and put Penn State up 15-8.
The takery: It was nice to see Facundo go out there looking to score bonus. He normally makes it look so effortless. While his takedowns in this match were just as smooth as normal, there was definitely an effort to keep the action going.
174: Carter Starocci vs. Jackson Turley
Starocci took the mat looking to keep the bonus train chugging along. In a very strong 1st period he scored 2 takedowns followed by a turn for 4 near fall to end the period 8-1.
Starocci chose bottom to start the 2nd and worked for the escape, followed by another pair of takedowns to finish the period 13-2. However in the 3rd period Turley chose bottom and was able to limit the damage to only 1 takedown, hold Carter to a 16-3 major decision. Penn State was now up 19-8.
The takery: It was nice seeing Starocci get off to a strong start. After the 1st period it seemed like the tech fall was a lock but Turley was able to do enough to keep it to only a major. I'm not going to complain about that, an active Starocci is just fun to watch.
184: Aaron Brooks vs. Brian Soldano
On a night where bonus was clearly the focus, of course that's what we were going to get from Aaron Brooks. He has the most unassumingly dominant style I can remember seeing. By the end of the 1st period he had racked up 4 takedowns and a full set of swipes to take a 12-3 lead to the 2nd.
In the 2nd Brooks chose neutral, leading to another takedown and another full near fall count to end the match early by tech fall 18-3. Penn State was now in the lead 24-8 and the dual was clinched.
The takery: Aaron Brooks is good at wrestling. Not many wrestlers can dominate their way to a 12-3 lead against a ranked opponent. And Brooks just seems to be a student of the sport, always looking to get better. If he can find a bit of a mean streak, a la Dave Schultz, it's not just NCAA hardware he'll be earning.
197: Max Dean vs. Billy Janzer
When the commentators opened up talking about Janzer having back surgery, I was a bit scared for how this match would turn out. Janzer is every bit of 197 pounds and was able to use his size and strength to keep Dean from scoring throughout the 1st period, although he did give up a stall warning.
In the 2nd Dean chose bottom, getting an escape and then finally scoring a takedown towards the end of the period to take a 3-0 lead. Janzer chose neutral to start the 3rd and Dean was able to score a takedown early in the period, however his efforts to lock up the bow & arrow were unsuccessful before Janzer got the escape. Dean scored a pair of takedowns and along with the riding time point won 13-2 and making the team score 28-8.
The takery: Max Dean is solid in neutral. He's great on top, and he's very good on bottom. He's so hard to score on and he's so good at taking advantage of any opening you give him, especially counter opportunities. There are very few wrestlers I can think of that just grind opponents as much as Dean does. That combined with a very large gas tank means he's either going to pummel you out the gate or drag you into deep water and drown you. Either way it's a pretty painful experience.
HWT: Greg Kerkvliet vs. Kyle Epperly
Kerk decided to make this a quick one. After getting the 1st takedown he earned 3 full sets of swipes to go up 14-0 before working the same tilt for another 2 swipes and getting the 16-0 tech fall before the 1st period ended. Penn State won 33-8.
The takery: Kerk looks to be fully grown but he's still just as fast. He's just so damn strong and so damn fast and it puts him in a class all his own. He's the best heavyweight this year and it's not particularly close, despite his earlier loss to Parris.
Bonus, bonus, bonus. There's no doubt this squad continues to push themselves to get better technically in the wrestling room, but in these duals it's all about scoring. It's especially nice to see guys working on getting turns and scoring from top as it's a much easier way to build a lead than through a series of takedowns. I can't wait to see what Beau, Van Ness, Haines and Facundo can do deeper in tournaments when guys are getting worn down and they're still fresh. It's going to be a fun tournament season.