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Penn State Wins 2023 Big Ten Wrestling Tourney

Jp and SWHA team up to break down Penn State’s 7th Big Ten Championship under Cael Sanderson

Cael Sanderson briefly lifts the 2023 Big Ten Championship trophy.
Jp screencap via Big Ten Network broadcast

Penn State traveled to Ann Arbor over the weekend for the B1G Championship. In the world of Cael Sanderson, things can sometimes be pretty simple. The only goal for each wrestler is to win the national championship, and so for this tournament their top priority is to finish in an auto-qualifying spot to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

What may be surprising to some is that the B1G tournament has proven to be more difficult for Cael & Co than the NCAA tournament. The Nittany Lions had only won the B1G tournament 6 times under Cael while they have won the NCAA tournament 9.

Penn State Wrestling’s postseason tourney finishes in the Cael Sanderson era.

There are many factors for that, but primarily the B1G tournament favors teams that have consistent talent across their roster as opposed to teams that have very high end talent at a few weights.

Fortunately for us, this year Penn State has both.

125 Gary Steen

Gary Steen, 2023 B1G Tourney


Steen entered this tournament as the only Nittany Lion who had not earned an auto-qualifying spot for the conference. His only hope of making the NCAAs was to finish in the Top-8.

First up for Steen was the 7-seed Braxton Brown from Maryland. In their prior meeting this season Steen lost a close 1-0 decision, giving hope that he might be able to pull off the upset. Unfortunately Brown quickly dashed those hopes, not only scoring a takedown, but also nearfall to take the lead. Brown continued to build on his lead throughout the rest of the match winning a 14-0 major decision and bouncing Steen to the consolations.

In the consis Steen took on 9-seed Jack Medley from Michigan who had previously tech’d Gary in the BJC. Steen put up a better fight against Medley but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Steen was eliminated from the tournament without earning an auto-qualifying spot.

While typically that would be the end to his season, because of the criteria for earning an at-large bid the B1G tournament featured a mini tournament to wrestle for a true 9th. In it Gary drew Michigan State’s #11 seed Tristan Lujan, who Steen had defeated in the January dual in Rec Hall. As in the other matches, Gary found himself trailing early, however he was able to put together a 3rd period takedown to rally. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be enough as Gary fell 6-5 for his 3rd loss of the tournament and officially ended his season.

This may not have been the best effort we’ve seen from Steen, but that was not the reason he failed to make it to NCAAs. 125 is a very difficult weight class in the B1G and it’s even more difficult when you’re undersized and inexperienced.


The BSDWrestle commentariat has been pretty steady in offering Steen kudos for his fight, and also in acknowledging he might be undersized and/or overpowered at 125 in the B1G. The young man still has 3 years of eligibility left in which to grow and improve, and to find new ways he might be able to contribute to future lineups.

133 Roman Bravo-Young

RBY, 2023 B1G Tourney


As the 1-seed, RBY drew a 1st round bye before facing a familiar foe and former Nittany Lion in 8-seed Brody Teske. After a close 1st period which saw RBY up 2-0, he opened it up in the 2nd to end with an 8-1 lead and riding time. A couple more takedowns in the 3rd earned him a 13-2 major decision.

Next up was 5-seed Dylan Ragusin from Michigan. In another dominant showing, RBY ended the 1st up 4-1. Ragusin was able to slow down RBY in the 2nd and 3rd but wasn’t able to pose a threat of his own, ending in an 8-2 decision.

In the finals, RBY faced an unfamiliar opponent in #6-seed Aaron Nagao from Minnesota. RBY drew a stall warning on Nagao before securing a late period takedown to finish the 1st up 2-0. Not wanting to be underneath Nagao, RBY chose neutral to start the 2nd and earned another TD. While RBY was able to ride out the period, he was hit for a locked hands call to take a 4-1 lead to the 3rd. Nagao chose top in the 3rd, hoping to turn RBY for the win. While RBY was unable to get the escape, he was able to draw another stall call to earn a penalty point and win 5-2.

Overall this was a very strong tournament for RBY. While the scores weren’t dominating, the matches were never in question. He made sure to get the lead in the 1st and was able to capitalize on the opportunities that presented themselves throughout the rest of the match. This was a very workmanlike tournament for a phenomenal athlete. He’s clearly only concerned about winning a 3rd NCAA tournament and this was just a necessary step to get there.


Mystery (to us) NIL $ and a chance at a 3rd National Championship brought Bravo-Young back for a fifth season in the Nittany Lion lineup, and he’s navigated it masterfully. He and the coaches crafted a balanced schedule that saw him sit out one December dual, and two February duals, and take a 52-match win streak into the postseason, and he looks to be in peak physical and mental condition.

141 Beau Bartlett

Beau Bartlett, 2023 Big Ten Tourney


After wrestling at 149 last year, Beau dropped down to 141 to replace the departing Nick Lee, to a weight at which he looks clearly more comfortable. Coming in as the 2-seed, the question was really whether he’s closed the gap on Real Woods, the 1-seed from Iowa.

Beau’s first match was against the 10-seed Cole Mattin from Michigan, where a 2nd period technical violation on Mattin put Beau in the lead, and a 3rd period takedown sealed the match for an underwhelming 4-2 victory.

In Beau’s second match he took on the 3-seed Brock Hardy from Nebraska, an opponent Beau had not yet faced this year. Beau scored the opening takedown in the 1st to lead 2-1 at the end of the period. Hardy put together a dominant 2nd period where he got the escape followed by a takedown and a rideout to take a 4-2 lead and 33 seconds of riding time to the 3rd. Beau struggled to get out, allowing Hardy to accrue over 1 minute in riding time before finally getting the escape. Trailing 5-3 (counting the riding time point) Beau needed a takedown to even the match, but Hardy was able to get one for himself, resulting in a 7-3 loss for Beau.

In the consi semifinals Beau faced 8-seed Parker Filius from Purdue. After a scoreless 1st period, Beau was able to ride for over a minute in the 2nd before Filius got the escape, which was quickly answered by a takedown from Beau. An escape from Beau in the 3rd extended his lead, but Filius answered with a takedown of his own to tie the match at 3 (with Beau having the riding time advantage). Filius conceded the escape in an effort to get another takedown but he would be unsuccessful and Beau would win a 5-3 decision to advance to the consi finals.

In the finals Beau faced Dylan D’Emilio from Ohio State. In yet another tight match, Beau and D’Emilio were tied at 1 in the 3rd before Beau was finally able to secure a takedown and take the lead. After giving up the escape Beau was able to capitalize on D’Emilio’s desperation to secure a final takedown and ride out the period for a 5-2 victory.

Coming into this tournament the question was how much Beau might be able to close the gap with Real Woods. Unfortunately due to some poor decisions on his part, namely not taking the escape in an effort to try and work a reversal and turn against Hardy, we didn’t get to tell. Throughout the end of the season, we saw Beau go forego the easy scoring opportunities in an effort for a bigger move, this just happened to be the first time his decision making likely cost him the match.

For what it’s worth, Hardy gave Woods a very tough match in the finals. While it doesn’t seem like Beau has improved enough to truly contend for a title at this year’s NCAAs, stranger things have happened. Overall though it feels a little disappointing that his matches were as close as they were for as long as they were, now that he’s down at 141. Hopefully he’s able to find more ways to create offense while he’s grinding on guys the way we’ve seen other Nittany Lions do in the past, most recently Nick Lee, who Beau has had a lot of opportunity to learn from.


Sandwiched between two 5-takedown matches against Wisconsin’s unranked Lettini on January 6 and Clarion’s unranked Koleno on February 19, Bartlett scored a total of 10 takedowns in 7 duals against Michigan, MSU, Iowa, tOSU, Indiana, Rutgers & Maryland.

He’s “held center” well and has looked plenty strong enough at this weight class, but the neutral offensive attacks have not been plentiful. He’s dominated & ridden well on top, and generally escapes without giving up riding time points, two skills that should aid him well in an interesting, if not exceptionally deep, class in Tulsa. But it will be interesting to watch his neutral style evolve in his next 3 years of eligibility.

149 Shayne Van Ness

Shayne Van Ness, 2023 B1G Tourney


After getting stronger throughout the season, Van Ness entered his 1st Big Ten Tournament looking to demonstrate the growth he has made. Specifically, he’d get the opportunity to avenge his loss to the Hawkeye’s Max Murin in the quarterfinals, assuming he took care of business.

In his first match, SVN took on the 12-seed Jake Harrier of Illinois. Consistent with what we saw this season, he let it fly and put up a lot of points along the way. Van Ness tallied 5 takedowns as well as a pair of nearfall points to notch a 16-4 decision over Harrier.

In the quarters, SVN got his chance at redemption. Unfortunately, Murin’s experience was still too much to overcome. Murin was able to keep SVN uncomfortable and unwilling to fully commit to his offense. He then capitalized on an opportunity of his own to score a takedown and take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd. An escape from Shayne tied it up in the 2nd, but Murin had the advantage of riding time. Murin got an escape to start the 3rd and with riding time in his pocket he was able to defend SVN’s desperate attempts to hold on for the win.

In the first consolation round, Van Ness faced the 14-seed Reynolds from Purdue. In a return to form, he racked up 8 takedowns on his way to a 19-7 major decision.

In the consolation quarterfinals SVN took on the 9-seed Lamer from Michigan. Takedowns and turns got Shayne out to a 13-4 lead before the match was stopped for blood time. During the stoppage Lamer injury defaulted, although nothing was apparent before the blood time, potentially related to the concussion he suffered against Wisconsin’s Gomez in January.

Continuing the grind, Van Ness took on 7-seed Graham Rooks from Indiana. By way of 5 takedowns, an escape, and the riding time point, Van Ness would grind his way to a 12-4 major decision to notch more bonus for Penn State and set up the 3rd opportunity of the season against Murin.

In the consi finals, Murin once again was able to get out to a lead, thanks to a 1st period takedown. The match would play out the same as their prior meeting, with SVN unable to get his offense going as the savvy veteran kept him uncomfortable in neutral and SVN would finish in 4th after dropping the 3-2 decision.

Despite the two losses to Murin, this was a very strong tournament for Van Ness. He finished above seed and showed the dogged offense that has earned him lots of bonus throughout the year (Jp: 52%, on a 19-6 record). In his match against Harrier, we once again got to see him secure the major decision by near fall instead of settling for an attempted ride out. It’ll be interesting to see how far he can go and how many bonus points he can accumulate along the way at NCAAs. And while he’s been thwarted by veteran savvy earlier in the year, SVN’s inexhaustible gas tank will be a serious advantage as the toll of matches and weight cuts wear down the opposition.


Van Ness’ first year in the lineup has shaped up a fair bit like Bravo-Young’s in 2019. RBY went 24-7 that first year, including going 4-3 at Nationals in a deep weight to finish on the podium. But Bravo-Young’s bonus rate then was only 37.5%; in the ensuing four years, they were 45.5% (2020), 35.7% (2021), 54.6% (2022) and now 75% in 2023.

It should be fun to watch SVN chase a similar trajectory under these coaches these next few years. Including starting with next week!

157 Levi Haines


The promising freshman came into the tournament looking to keep the hype train at full steam, following an impressive dual season that was unfortunately lacking in top-ranked opponents. This would be a great measuring stick as we head into the NCAA tournament to see just how realistic title aspirations for Haines are.

After a first round bye, Haines took the mat against the 10-seed Gilcher from Indiana. Showing that he’s solid in all 3 positions, Haines scored a takedown, an escape, 2 nearfall points, and a riding time point to notch the 6-0 decision.

In the semis, Haines faced the 3-seed redshirt senior Kendall Coleman from Purdue. In a match that belied his lack of experience at the collegiate level, Haines wrestled a very smart match, scoring takedown in the 2nd period courtesy of the danger rule to win the 3-2 decision.

In the finals, Haines would face the toughest competition he’s seen all year in the 1-seed Peyton Robb of Nebraska. Both wrestlers were able to find opportunities for offense, but neither were able to capitalize on it. Of note was Haines’ defense of a very deep single from Robb which not only showed Haines has great offense, but he’s equally as skilled when it comes to defense. In the sudden victory period, Haines demonstrated the brute force we’ve seen throughout this season as he was able to power his hips through a Robb sprawl in the overtime period to finish a textbook double, earning him the Big Ten title.

It’s obvious to say that winning a B1G title as a true freshman is an impressive accomplishment. But what’s even more impressive is the way he did it. Usually when young guys win titles it’s because they have speed, agility, or a high motor. Rarely do we see someone come in and beat more experienced, more mature wrestlers at their own game. But that’s exactly what Haines did and what he’s capable of doing again in 2 weeks. We are so spoiled.


Pennsylvania’s District 3 is not often near the top of the PA totem pole at HS states, but Biglerville now has its first Big Ten Champion. And hoo boy, did it ever evoke those classic Adams County woodpiles!

Haines is as steady as they come, and he puts the workman in workmanlike. 3 bouts, 3 takedowns earned, zero conceded, 3 wins, and a championship. Congrats to Levi, and to the entirety of the 717 while we’re at it.

165 Alex Facundo

Alex Facundo, 2023 B1G Tourney


First up was the 13-seed Stoney Buell from Purdue. Facundo was able to score 3 takedowns on his way to a 7-2 decision in what appeared to be business as usual.

In the quarterfinals, Facundo faced the 5-seed Carson Kharchla from Ohio State, who Alex defeated 4-1 in their regular season matchup. Unfortunately things would not go as well this time as Kharchla scored a takedown and rideout in the 1st to take a 2-0 lead to the 2nd. The pair would trade escapes in the 2nd and 3rd, but Alex was unable to get his offense going to mount a comeback, and lost 3-1.

In the first round of consolations, Facundo faced the 11-seed Nick South from Maryland. The pair failed to meet in the regular season, as Facundo was able to pin South’s replacement in the dual. This match would be much closer as Facundo scored a 1st period takedown to take the lead and then wrestled a tight match the rest of the way for the 3-1 decision.

In the consolation quarterfinals Alex dropped a disappointing 3-2 decision to the 10-seed Bubba Wilson of Nebraska, courtesy of a conceded 3rd period takedown.

In the 7th place final, Alex faced the 8-seed Dan Braunagel from Illinois. After a scoreless 1st period, Facundo escaped from bottom, followed by a takedown and rideout to take a 3-0 lead to the 3rd. In the 3rd, Braunagel escaped but was unable to get through Facundo’s defense, giving the Nittany Lion the 3-1 decision.

This was definitely not what we’re used to seeing from Alex. In a season where he’s typically won by comfortable margins, the tight matches were surprising. For a wrestler as well rounded as Alex to come out on the losing end of close matches twice is even more alarming. Here’s hoping he’s able to right whatever is wrong over the next 2 weeks and make it to the podium at NCAAs.


I agree something looked a little different with Facundo this weekend. He’s sported a 30.4% bonus rate against a 19-4 record in this his first season in the lineup, and we’ve seen him battle incredibly hard to successfully thwart some very good shots. Still, the two losses this weekend were each 1-takedown affairs, and I’ll be curious to see if he can reverse those outcomes and successfully win in similar positions at Tulsa next week.

174 Carter Starocci

Carter Starocci, 2023 B1G Tourney


The second of three 2-time national champions, Carter Starocci came to the B1G tournament only concerned with getting to the NCAA tournament as healthy as possible. And he would do so in convincing fashion.

After the first round bye, Carter took the mat against the 8-seed Fisher from Northwestern. Carter wasted no time getting out to a 5-1 lead in the 1st period courtesy of 2 takedowns. Starocci earned 2 takedowns, an escape and the riding time point in the 2nd and 3rd periods to secure the major decision 10-2.

In the semifinals, Starocci took on the 4-seed Bailee O’Reilly from Minnesota. Starocci would once again notch two 1st period takedowns to get out to an early lead. The pair would exchange escapes in the 2nd and 3rd with Starocci closing out the scoring with a final takedown along with the riding time point to win 8-2.

In the 174-pound final, Starocci took on the 2-seed Mikey Labriola from Nebraska. After a scoreless 1st period, Starocci scored a takedown in the 2nd and would not relinquish the lead. An escape and takedown in the 3rd, followed by a rideout that secured the riding time point, earned Carter a 6-1 decision.

This was a dominant showing from Carter even without much bonus. It was nice to see him not only get out to a lead but extend that lead in his first 2 matches. Against a very solid Labriola, Starocci was able to control the match and play to his strengths to get the win. There will be no celebrating this championship as he’s clearly focused on the NCAA tournament. This was just a workmanlike showing in order to get there.


Starocci looks great. If he does manage to be thwarted and prevented a neutral takedown, his mat wrestling is so superior that he’s still likely to win 2 of 3 positions.

184 Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks, 2023 B1G Tourney


The 3rd of the three returning 2-time champs, Aaron Brooks has only gotten better throughout the season. A loss earlier in the year was the exception that proved the rule Aaron Brooks is the best wrestler in the 184 weight class. And his tournament would only further prove it.

In his quarterfinal bout, Brooks made short work of the 8-seed Brian Soldano from Rutgers. 3 takedowns put Brooks ahead in the 1st period. A reversal in the 2nd extended the lead and racked up riding time. Another takedown in the 3rd followed by 2 sets of 4 near fall ended the match early by an 18-2 technical fall.

In the semifinals, Brooks faced the 4-seed Matt Finesilver from Michigan. After some initial headgear issues fixed by Casey Cunningham (apparently equipment expert is also part of his repertoire), Brooks wasted no time in blast doubling his way to a 6-2 lead. Brooks would rack up a total of 8 takedowns, along with drawing 2 stall calls on the Fighting Finesilver, to win by an 18-6 major decision.

The bonus streak would continue in the finals against the mountain that is 2-seed Kaleb Romero from Ohio State. Undaunted, Brooks put together 7 nonstop minutes of action, scoring 3 takedowns and drawing a total of 4 stall calls on Romero, who seemed to have no interest in actually wrestling Brooks. All said and done, Brooks would win the final by a score of 12-2.

At this point, Aaron Brooks is simply competing with himself to determine just how great he can be. He may be without a catchy nickname like The Magic Man, he may not have a signature move like the bow and arrow, but Aaron Brooks very well could be the best wrestler we’ve seen yet wrestle for Penn State. From his technical proficiency, to his tenacity, to his mentality that just seems to always look for any opportunity at all to learn and improve, he is just phenomenal to watch.


Brooks’ competition and training schedule this year was similar to RBY’s, with a few fewer competitions. Against unranked Rider, Michigan State & Clarion, and against #22 Indiana, #25 Oregon State and #28 Maryland, Brooks conceded the starting lineup to Certified Stud Donovan Ball. Against the Top-10 powerhouses and the best competition, Brooks took the mat and has only the lone blemish to ISU’s Marcus Coleman to show for it.

After this weekend’s masterpiece, he is 12-1 with a 77% bonus rate. In fact, he’s increased that rate every year in the lineup: 43.8% in 2020; 50% in 2021 and 64% in 2022. His well-rested performance showed the rest of the country that Aaron Brooks is in peak, peak condition.

197 Max Dean

Max Dean, 2023 Big Ten Tourney


Max Dean is a technical grinder, but he also has a good bit of funk when needed. Unfortunately that skill set is employed defensively more often than not, but when you’re an undersized 197 you do what works.

In the quarterfinals, Dean faced the 9-seed Michial Foy from Minnesota. A 2nd period rideout and a 3rd period escape would earn him the underwhelming 2-0 decision.

The semifinals featured a rematch of last year’s national championship against the 5-seed Jacob Warner. After a scoreless 1st period without many offensive opportunities, the 2nd period was much better for the Nittany Lion, courtesy of an escape, takedown and rideout. In the 3rd, Warner was able to get out to a quick escape but was unable to do anything other than draw a stall warning on Dean, advancing Max to the finals via the 3-1 decision.

In the finals Dean faced the 2-seed Silas Allred from Nebraska. Dean, usually very stout defensively, had a lot of trouble defending the low single from Allred. Silas tallied a total of 3 takedowns throughout the match to defeat Dean 6-3.

Dean has had an up and down year. But he’s still every bit the wrestler he was last year when he won the National Championship. 197 is a very competitive weight class with a lot of tough talent (including former Penn Stater Michael Beard). This weight will be an absolute meat grinder on Friday at the NCAAs. We’ll see how much Dean learns from this loss and how well he can bounce back to defend his title.


Would you be surprised to learn that Dean’s bonus rate this year is 47.8%? That’s UP from 45.9% last year. It might be tough to align those stats against this season’s 3 losses (to last year’s 1) and against what looks like some tightness and inconsistency on the mat, but SWHA is right: Dean’s capable of earning the only takedown in neutral, and his top and bottom skills make him a contender once again.

285 Greg Kerkvliet

Greg Kerkvliet, 2023 Big Ten Tourney


Coming into the tournament there was only 1 question for Kerkvliet: would he assert himself as the top heavyweight in the conference? Throughout the season he has separated himself from the other heavyweights he’s faced, but Mason Parris elevated his game this year to keep pace.

The quarterfinal match against 7-seed Tate Orndorff from Ohio State put Kerk’s athleticism on full display as he racked up 3 takedowns as well as a reversal and the riding time point to win a 9-1 major decision.

In the semis, Kerk continued to show he’s separated himself from the #3-seed Tony Cassioppi from Iowa on his way to a 5-0 shutout that featured a 1st period takedown and rideout, a 2nd period reversal and rideout, and finally a 3rd period rideout.

The finals matchup against the 1-seed Mason Parris would give Kerkvliet an opportunity to avenge his loss from the regular season. While Kerk’s style is loose in an effort to leverage his athleticism, Parris wrestled his usual tight, power-focused style. An early takedown from Parris, capitalizing on a counter opportunity from Kerk getting a little too loose, found Kerk trailing early. Greg was able to draw a stall call on Parris after the wrestlers went off the mat, but that was about all the offense he’d muster in the 1st. Kerk would tie the score up via an escape in the 2nd but Parris continued to thwart his offensive attempts. Parris once again took the lead in the 3rd via an escape, however the pressure from Kerk drew another stall call on Parris and knotted the match at 3, as the wrestlers went to sudden victory. In the overtime period Kerkvliet continued to take shots, but exhausted from his efforts throughout the final period he went for broke and tried fighting through a shot that Parris initially defended well. The result was Parris catching Kerk off balance and securing the winning takedown.

Kerkvliet has all the skills and physical abilities needed to win a National Championship this year. His biggest liability is whether he can avoid making mistakes at key moments to do it. I could just as easily see him losing to Parris a third time this year as I could see him winning an 8-3 decision. We’ve seen many wrestlers, including 0-x B1G champion / 2-x National Champion Vincenzo Joseph, who use the B1G tournament for reconnaissance that they’ll put to use in that NCAA tournament. This was an opportunity to do just that against the opponent he’s most likely to see on Saturday night in Tulsa


This performance was a bit better than the one in the January dual, but as SHWA notes, Kerk is capable of beating this guy again. Parris has gotten smarter and more compact, and Kerk needs to do the same. He’s gotten better, stronger and healthier every year in the program, and he’s still on an upward trajectory toward his ceiling.

Executive Summary

2023 B1G Tourney Final Standings
via the Penn State Wrestling Club

Penn State finished this tournament with 4 Champions, 2 runners-up, a 3rd, a 4th, a 7th place finisher, and 9 qualifiers for “the Nationals” in Tulsa next week.

They outscored second-place Iowa by 11.5 points. The Hawkeyes qualified all 10 wrestlers for Nationals, and placed 2 Champs, 1 runner-up, two 3rds, two 5ths and three 7ths. With only 165’s Patrick Kennedy failing to win his last match, the Hawks have some nice momentum heading into Tulsa.

The Nittany Lions outscored the impressive and personable Cornhuskers (loved their interviews this weekend—jp) from Nebraska by 41.5 points. The Huskers qualified 7 for Nationals, and placed 1 Champ, four Runners-Up, a 5th and a 6th. Every one of their 5 finals matchups were against the powerhouse Lions and Hawks, and they went 1 for 5 there, but expect to see plenty of their big red in the Tulsa brackets and stands next week.

Overall in bouts, the Nittany Lions went 26-10 and they earned a 74-19 takedown advantage. Their 147 points consisted of the following:

  • 111: Placement Points
  • 24.5: Advancement Points
  • 11.5: Bonus Points (9.5 of them earned; includes one Injury Default & zero Medical Forfeits)

When BTN’s Ray Flores (who’s still somewhat new to the Cael-speak that emanates from all PSU wrestlers) asked Coach Cael, “how’s this feel?”, Cael replied: “it feels fine.”

He quickly added: “Right? I mean, we’ve got 9 guys moving on to the Nationals, this is a great tournament. Guys who were tough, wrestled tough. We’re moving on happy & healthy.”

To the follow-up question, “what makes this group so special?”, Cael answered:

Yeah, they’re just gamers, they’re competitors. They love to compete. They love the whole process. They’re just fun to go into battle with; they’re always giving their best regardless of the situation.

Coach kept the focused line of answers going when Flores asked if he liked being the hunter or the hunted:

We shouldn’t change our approach whatsoever, right? We just gotta go score points and, basically, compete with a little bit of gratitude & enthusiasm, and we’ll be alright.

Final Takery


You’d think that a B1G title would mean something to a team that’s somehow won more national titles than conference ones. But as we saw in the post-match interviews from RBY and Starocci, as well as remarks from Cael, they didn’t really seem to care all that much. Probably one reason why the BTN announcers fail to give Penn State the same treatment they give other programs.

But this team is focused exclusively on the NCAA tournament. For guys like RBY, Starocci, and Brooks, a B1G championship won’t mean anything if they fall short of their goal at NCAAs. Kerk and Dean know what they need to do to make sure they’re standing on the top of the podium in 2 weeks. They didn’t come to Penn State to win conference titles.

The problem with trying to summarize this tournament showing is that there’s too many measuring sticks to use on this team. On face value, they just won the most difficult conference tournament convincingly. They qualified 9 wrestlers for NCAAs which was the primary objective and are well positioned to win the program’s 10th national title in the past 12 years. They had 7 semifinalists, 6 finalists, and 4 champions in what is likely the broadest team we’ve seen Penn State field.

But it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed. This is a team that will certainly give the program’s NCAA team total record (146.5, 2017 St. Louis) a run for its money. With a healthy Robbie Howard, the tournament record (170) could also be in reach. Going into the postseason, 9 All Americans seemed like a very real possibility, especially with the special sauce Cael & Co work for the NCAA tournament. And yet this showing left some of that potential on the table. Don’t get me wrong, this is more of a criticism of the absurd expectations I’ve come to have as a fan of this program than it is of the wrestlers themselves.

Maybe I’m just too focused on the glass being half full. After all, we just crowned 4 B1G champions, including a true freshman phenom in Levi Haines. We have Aaron Brooks who isn’t just dominating his opponents, he’s transcending the collegiate game. We have promising talent in the younger guys, who may not make it to the finals but who will do damage and rack up bonus, especially in the consolation rounds.

At the end of the day, I guess I’m just adopting the view that Cael and the team clearly have. The B1G tournament is a stepping stone on the way to the NCAA tournament and it can’t really be separated from what the team does in Tulsa. The team will be sending 9. They’ve had a final opportunity to measure themselves and learn from their mistakes.

History has shown Cael is the best at making the most of it. And fortunately we’re less than 2 weeks away from seeing him do it again.


The entire wrestling community—other coaches, fans of other teams, the Big Ten Network’s TV personnel—have reached a point of PSU dominance where they just don’t know what to do anymore. RBY, Starocci & Brooks have been unsolvable in conference since they finished last year’s tourney on the same step atop the podium.

We can guess that the Penn State coaches informed the BTN that the network could interview PSU wrestlers as they came off the mat on Sunday, if they won titles, but not on Saturday after semifinal wins. The Nittany Lions won 6 of their 7 bouts in that round, but were not interviewed.

Does that contribute to the on-air personalities frequently verbally slipping when hyping other teams’ wrestlers as “the top-ranked _____”, when the #1 Penn State wrestler is sitting right there as the elephant in the room?


And for the announcers issuing the BTN awards, the Nittany Lions were probably their own worst enemies. Jim Gibbons admitted on air that they nearly awarded the outlet’s Outstanding Wrestler award to Nebraska’s Silas Allred, for defeating Dean, a National Champion, but chose Michigan’s Mason Parris for defeating PSU’s 2x All-American Kerkvliet, who had beaten Parris 3 times before this weekend, instead.

Meanwhile, Aaron Brooks’ statline of himself being a 2x National Champion, going 3-0 to become a 3x Big Ten Champion, winning all 3 bouts by Bonus, and earning a 15-0 takedown ratio and a 48-10 bout score ratio wasn’t considered, perhaps because Buckeye great Kaleb Romero just didn’t present as a challenging enough of an opponent?

All that is fine, and almost certainly the way this coaching staff prefers it.

To be fair, the Big Ten Conference itself named Sanderson the Coach of the Year and Haines the Freshman of the Year. They named Spencer Lee the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year (no gripes) and the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships (only a small gripe; Lee earned bonus in 2 of 3 bouts, Brooks in all three).

And if Penn State fans are being honest, we don’t terribly mind either. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to watch a world struggle with how to treat this juggernaut. Sometimes with the low-key tone of its leader, and other times just talk around it. Either way, we can still toast each other, and continue to enjoy the ride. “Gratefully”, even.

Also, perhaps Brooks aside, the PSU wrestlers were not perfect.

Starocci, for as much as he dominated #2 Labriola, did not major him. In RBY’s finals match against the top-riding Gopher, he never escaped in the third. Haines is still brand-spankin new and, yes, he won a Big Ten Championship in his true freshman year, but he only earned one takedown in each of his 3 wins.

Dean looked visibly shaken with his own performance as Cael raised the trophy and Assistant Coach Jimmy Kennedy worked to console him, live, on-air. Bartlett’s TD ratio was a mere 5-3; Van Ness displayed plenty of offense in his 4 wins—all Major Decisions, if not for Lamer’s INJ DEF—and earned a fantastic 22-0 TD ratio in them, but in his two losses to the veteran Murin, he lost the TD ratio 0-1 in each. Facundo’s offense was wayyy down from some of his Dual Season performances, and he twice lost 1-takedown bouts.

All that is to say, like the coaches are also fond of noting: there’s still plenty to work on.

One of this staff’s most consistent attributes, from all this consistent (and perhaps boring) language they’re all wont to spout, is that Penn State wrestlers are always most prepared for this singular upcoming event.

And we’ll be here to watch them go into battle. We Are!

(Note: Nationals brackets are expected to be released around 8p on Wednesday, March 8)