For the final conference dual of the season, Maryland came into Rec Hall to take on the Nittany Lions. On paper this was a very lopsided match (as are most against Penn State) but we're getting close to tournament time so you know the squad is going to put this to good use.
A little bit of context coming into this match: There are matches that present an opportunity to improve. There are matches that present an opportunity to test yourself and see how you measure up. There are matches that present an opportunity to experiment. There's no one better at making the best use out of the different opportunities than Cael. Unfortunately, no offense to Maryland, this wasn't an opportunity for any of those. For the most part throughout this dual, Penn State outclassed Maryland by a wide margin, leaving only the question of just how dominant Penn State would be. And unfortunately for Maryland, when you wrestle Penn State in February, they have only one thing on their mind as they prepare for March: BONUS.
125: Gary Steen vs. Braxton Brown
For the only match of the night, Maryland not only had an advantage but a decisive one. Steen is always willing to take the mat and give it his all, but being as undersized and inexperienced as he is usually doesn't work out in his favor, especially against a ranked opponent. But like all other matches this year, Steen took the mat with every intention of winning.
In the 1st period there wasn't much action, with the only notable event being a stall warning on Steen. To start the 2nd, Steen chose neutral but the period ended scoreless. In the 3rd, Brown started underneath, earned the escape, and then kept Steen away, drawing a stall warning for his defensive efforts but holding on for the 1-0 victory. Maryland took the early lead 3-0.
The takery: Hats off to Steen for his efforts. It's clear there's a mentality in the room that it's not about winning or losing, it's about being your best self. And Steen takes the mat time and again to push himself to get better. Unfortunately I don't think he's gotten himself to the level he needs to be to contend for a trip to NCAAs, but bigger surprises have happened in the past.
133: Roman Bravo-Young vs. King Sandoval
After having Friday night off, RBY took the mat in front of the home crowd. In the 1st period he racked up 7 takedowns and drew a stall warning on Sandoval to take a 14-6 lead into the 2nd. RBY chose neutral to start the 2nd, wasting no time in continuing the onslaught of takedowns to score another 4 takedowns, increasing his lead to 22-10. Sandoval chose bottom to start the 3rd where we just saw more of the same, finishing in a tech fall after 3 more RBY takedowns with a final score of 28-13 and putting Penn State in the lead 5-3.
The takery: This seemed like nothing more than an exhibition for RBY. He tried things he'll never even consider doing in the NCAA tournament and was clearly focused on putting on a show for the crowd. The Rec Hall crowd got to see the full acrobatic show of spins and jumps and it will be missed after he's gone.
141: Beau Bartlett vs. Kal Miller
Beau took the mat to take on an unranked Kal Miller. The expectation was more bonus. But after an entire 1st period the wrestlers were still scoreless. Bartlett chose bottom to start the 2nd, drew a stall warning on Miller for failure to return him to the mat, then hit a switch to go up 2-0. Miller chose bottom to start the 3rd, getting the escape to close the match 2-1. Beau scored a takedown and then rode out the period to earn a 5-1 major decision with the riding time point. Penn State was now up 8-3.
The takery: It was clear throughout this match that Beau was focused on bonus. Not just scoring, but scoring big. And it cost him. He had several opportunities for a takedown in the 1st but instead went for a turn that Miller was able to fend off and get out of danger. Maybe this was just Beau trying to match the show of RBY, maybe it was him trying to find the line between risk and reward. Either way I don't expect to see this too often in March as I expect he'll play it a little safer and take the points more frequently than he did on Sunday.
149: Shane Van Ness vs. Ethan Miller
In the match of the meet, #13 SVN took on #18 Ethan Miller. Shane got off to a strong start with the opening takedown but a Miller escape and takedown found the bout tied 3-3 following Van Ness' escape. SVN got the tie breaking takedown and was able to ride out the rest of the period taking a 5-3 lead to the 2nd.
In the 2nd SVN turned it up, turning Miller for 4 near fall points and drawing a stall warning on Miller, extending his lead to 9-3. In the 3rd Van Ness chose bottom before getting an escape and scoring another takedown to reach major decision territory 12-3. A Miller escape was followed by yet another SVN takedown and 4 more near fall to get the tech fall 19-4 courtesy of the riding time point. Penn State's lead increased to 13-3.
The takery: Another dominating win from SVN. He's technically sound and he's got an endless motor. Don't be surprised to see more of this over the coming weeks where he just wears guys down and racks up bonus along the way. 149 is a stacked weight this year and SVN is likely the #5 seed in the B1G tournament. While I don't think he makes it to the finals at the B1G tournament, don't be surprised to see an upset come NCAAs where the wear and tear of long wrestling careers and weight cuts cause gas tanks to run short.
157: Levi Haines vs. Kevin Schork
Coming off a regular decision on Friday night that reminded me of just how spoiled we are that a 6-point victory by a true freshman was a bit of a letdown, Levi took the mat looking to join the bonus point parade. An opening takedown followed by 4 near fall quickly put him up 6-0. After Schork's escape Levi scored another takedown and got the fall in 1:42 to put Penn State up 19-3.
The takery: Way to prove me right Levi! It's so impressive to see a true freshman able to dominate opponents at this level, regardless of whether they're a backup or not. Haines is so talented and still has a lot of upside to develop. Honestly I have no clue what to expect come tournament time as he's capable of holding his own against anyone but he's also still a true freshman and in this sport experience can matter.
165: Alex Facundo vs. Lucas Cordio
Facundo continues to impress, but lately he's been dominating as well and Cordio was yet another opportunity to do so. After 4 takedowns in the 1st, Facundo took an 8-3 lead to the 2nd. An escape and 3 more takedowns extended his lead to 15-5. Cordio chose bottom to start the 3rd, but instead of an escape Facundo got the fall, extending Penn State's lead to 25-3.
The takery: Facundo is really turning it on at the end of the season. While he's suffered losses to Carr and Kennedy earlier in the season, he's not the same wrestler he was in those matches. He's not only finding bonus but he's increasing his control of the match in order to do so. A more intentional and forceful style of wrestling could be enough to turn him into a contender while piling up bonus along the way.
174: Carter Starocci vs. Dominic Solis
A very active 1st period produced 3 takedowns for Carter, a questionable stall warning, and an unsuccessful coach's challenge resulting in a 6-3 lead after 1. In the 2nd Solis opened the scoring with an escape, after which Starocci would get 2 more takedowns to finish the period up 10-5. An escape by Starocci to start the 3rd followed by 2 more takedowns would earn Carter the 14-6 major decision with the riding time point and put Penn State up 29-3.
The takery: Similar to Beau, this just seemed to be Carter looking for big moves instead of taking the easy points. Some questionable officiating thrown in certainly didn't help either. But Carter is #1 for a reason and if a match leaves you a bit confused and it still resulted in a major decision, that's a damn good place to be.
184: Certified Stud Donovan Ball vs. Kevin Makosy
If you're Donovan Ball, you're surrounded by great wrestlers. Starocci a weight below, Brooks at your weight, Dean up at 197. It must be nice to face someone who's not a national champion for a change.
Ball took the mat and scored 2 takedowns in the 1st to take a 4-1 lead into the second thanks to some technically sound offense. In the 2nd Ball chose bottom, getting the escape and another pair of takedowns to end the period up 9-2. Makosy chose bottom to start the 3rd and earned the escape. Ball was unable to score any more takedowns, finding himself the winner of a 7-point major decision and putting Penn State up 32-3.
The takery: Aaron Brooks isn't in danger of losing his spot, but it's awesome to get to see Ball get mat time and show what he's got. Talk about depth, our backups are able to nearly major the better wrestler that our opponents can throw out.
197: Max Dean vs. Forfeit
Max Dean took the mat to get his hand raised and increase the team score to 38-3. Maryland didn't have a true 197 pounder and in a blowout like this, I can't really blame Maryland for forfeiting what would've likely been another archery exhibition.
The takery: Max Dean is rounded into form. He knows what he needs to do and he seems quite prepared to do it.
HWT: Seth Nevills vs. Jordan Gabriel
A battle of backups as Nevills took the mat to get some mat time in Rec Hall. After scoring the opening takedown and getting Gabriel on his back Nevills was able to hold him there despite the best efforts of his opponent and earn the fall for a 44-3 final dual score.
The takery: Happy to see Seth getting some mat time. Kerk is impressive to watch but there's something comforting about seeing a big old shaved bear go out on the mat and maul his opponent, and that's exactly what we got.
This was complete domination with only 2 of Penn State's victories being by regular decision. 3 pins, a forfeit, 2 tech falls and a major despite backups wrestling at 2 weights. If iron sharpens iron, I don't even know what to consider what's happening in the Lions wrestling room right now, with so many guys coming into peak form. Unlike previous years where Penn State didn't have the strongest showing in the B1G tournament, I think we're going to be surprised by how well this squad does in the conference tournament this year. And it's only going to get better in the NCAA tournament. Not only are many of the young guns contending for All American status, they're going to put up bonus all along the way. We've been so spoiled as a fan base seeing the likes of Taylor, Ruth, Retherford, Nolf and Nickal. And yet I can't think of another roster that had this much collective potential. But don't get used to it, because once Taylor and Ruth graduate we'll be brought back to earth.