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Aaron Nagao gets a takedown | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

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Wrestling Postview: PSU 46, Indiana 0

Domination to kick off the B1G season.

Penn State kicked off the Big Ten dual season in Rec Hall on Sunday against the Indiana Hoosiers, starting their pursuit of a 10th Big Ten regular season championship. To put into perspective just how difficult the Big Ten Conference is to win, here’s a quick history lesson. Penn State has won 10 NCAA championships under Cael Sanderson. During that success, Cael’s teams have only managed to win or share the Big Ten Conference regular season championship 9 times and have only won the Big Ten Tournament 7 times.

What makes the Big Ten competitions so challenging is that they favor breadth over talent. A well rounded roster will beat a team that’s a mix of high-end and lower-end talent, at least until the NCAA tournament. Typically at this point in the season the focus for Penn State fans has been on how many wrestlers the team will qualify for the NCAA tournament. For the current roster, that attention is on 125, 149, and 165.

125: Braeden Davis, PSU vs Michael Spangler, IU

Braeden Davis shoots for a takedown.
Braeden Davis shoots for a takedown | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Braeden Davis is off to a strong start this season. After presumably winning the starting job, his focus is now on winning an auto-qualifying spot for the B1G. The best way to do that is to win convincingly and work his way up the rankings.


Davis got off to a strong start, finishing a double leg for the opening takedown and getting out to a 3-0 lead in the first 20 seconds. After Spangler was out for the escape, the pace slowed down as the wrestlers worked various ties and setups but were unable to create any meaningful opportunities.


Davis chose bottom to start the second period. A quick sit out by Davis was met with a lot of forward pressure from Spangler, setting up a Peterson roll by Braeden that led to a reversal and extended his lead to 5-1. Davis got himself low on Spangler’s leg and conceded the escape at the edge of the mat to avoid the stall call. Spangler answered with a deep single that Davis was able to counter by rolling through and getting the takedown to close out the period 8-2.


Spangler chose bottom to start the third. Davis was able to ride, nearly getting near fall points, for the first 30 seconds of the period. On the restart following a stalemate, Spangler quickly got up and out for the escape. Spangler tried for a headlock but Davis once again countered by rolling through and took the Hoosier to his back to earn the takedown and 4 near fall points. Spangler would be able to fight off his back to avoid the fall, resulting in a 16-3 major decision for the true freshman once the riding time point was awarded.


Davis continues to impress. He showed good offense and defense in this match, both generating his own offense and countering a good opportunity from Spangler for takedowns. He also showed very good situational awareness, avoiding getting out of position despite Spangler trying quite a bit of funk throughout the match.

PSU 4, Indiana 0

133: #4 Aaron Nagao, PSU vs Isaac Thornton, IU

Aaron Nagao running a power half.
Aaron Nagao running a power half | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Nagao’s a returning All American and has proven he’s capable of scoring points in March. The question at 133 is how many points that will end up being and if he can top last year’s finish.


Nagao got in on a head inside single right off the whistle. While Nagao was unable to finish cleanly, he eventually won the scramble for the takedown. Nagao then got both legs in, flattening Thornton out and turning the Hoosier for 2 near fall. After giving up the escape, Nagao was once again on the attack and scored another takedown for an 8-1 lead. Nagao would once again put on a strong ride on top, working numerous turning combinations but unable to force any more exposure.


Nagao chose bottom to start the second and turned an escape attempt into a reversal. Aaron conceded the escape and countered a shot from Thornton for his third takedown of the match. Nagao would concede another escape to continue his offensive attack, scoring another takedown and riding out the rest of the period.


With the score 16-3, Thornton chose bottom. Nagao elected to concede the escape and the wrestlers started from neutral where Nagao snapped Thornton down to the mat and tried to lock up a cradle. Unable to get the leverage, Aaron settled for the takedown to end the match by technical fall 19-4.


There’s not much more to say other than Nagao dominated the match. He looked great in neutral and continues to be dominant on top.

PSU 9, Indiana 0

141: #2 Beau Bartlett, PSU vs #23 Dan Fongaro, IU

Beau Bartlett looking for a pin.
Beau Bartlett looking for a pin | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries
Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Another weight where Penn State has proven experience in March, Beau has a much higher goal than qualifying for the tournament. Bartlett is looking to continue improving and bring home a national title.


Throughout the first period, Bartlett wrestled his typical stalking style of offense. While able to create some opportunities, Beau was never fully committed enough to score and the period ended 0-0.


Bartlett chose bottom and was quickly out for the escape to take a 1-0 lead. Beau was able to get in on a deep single but Fongaro was able to scramble his way to a stalemate and thwart the attempt.


Fongaro took bottom and tied the bout with an escape of his own. Bartlett struggled to fight through the 2-on-1 tie of Fongaro and generate offense. However, while countering Fongaro’s shot, Beau not only got the takedown but was able to rack up 4 near fall as well. The period would come to a close before Bartlett could get the fall, ending in an 8-1 decision.


Despite the score being close throughout the match, Beau was in control the entire time. He just seems to struggle committing to offense. Several times he had openings, but his hesitancy caused him to miss out. He seems to do better when he’s not thinking and just wrestling (as evidenced by his success in countering his opponent’s shots) and it would be encouraging to see him take more risks throughout the rest of the season to build his confidence.

PSU 12, Indiana 0

149: Tyler Kasak, PSU vs #14 Graham Rooks, IU

Tyler Kasak looking for a fall | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries
Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Coming into the season, 149 was a weight that Penn State felt confident at with Shayne Van Ness. However a season ending surgery put the weight into question. The true freshman Tyler Kasak has started the season off strong and another win over a ranked opponent would certainly show he’s capable of competing in March.


The wrestlers both looked to set up their offense throughout the first minute of the period. Kasak found himself in position to hit a headlock and successfully took Rooks to his back for the takedown and 4 near fall. With a 7-0 lead, Kasak was able to catch Rooks for 4 more near fall points before the period ended.


Rooks chose neutral to start the period in hopes of generating some offense. Kasak would get the takedown to extend his lead to 14-0 and ride out the rest of the period with a very controlling ride.


Kasak took bottom in need of an escape for the tech fall. Rooks put on a hard ride, keeping Kasak down and driving him off the mat when the wrestlers got to their feet. After nearly being ridden out, Kasak got out for the escape with short time remaining to get the 15-0 tech fall.


Kasak certainly seems capable of contributing to the team total in March. Throughout the match he just seemed to be more aware of his position than Rooks, which led to the headlock as well as the second set of near fall points. He did struggle to get out from bottom which is to be expected of any true freshman, but he’s already acclimating well to college wrestling and has likely picked up quite a few pointers from Levi Haines who made the national finals as a true freshman last year.

PSU 17, Indiana 0

157: #1 Levi Haines, PSU vs Zack Rotkvich, IU

Levi Haines looking for a bow and arrow on top.
Levi Haines looking for a bow and arrow | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Penn State will have a qualifier at 157 as long as Levi Haines is healthy in March. But Haines hasn’t looked as impressive this season as he did last year in his run up to 2nd place in NCAAs.


Haines opened the scoring with a low single that he quickly finished for a takedown. Haines put on a lot of pressure, keeping Rotkvich bellied out for most of the period, racking up over 2 minutes of riding time and drawing a stall warning.


After Rotkvich deferred, Haines chose to start the period from neutral. Another takedown for Haines found Rotkvich once again bellied out. Levi was able to capture the ankle of Rotkvich and turn the Hoosier with a bow and arrow for 4 near fall points and extend his lead to 10-0. Haines ran another bow and arrow to get 4 more swipes and end the period 14-0.


Rotkvich chose neutral and Haines immediately started looking to take the Indiana wrestler to his back. Levi did his best to find something but unintentionally got a takedown awarded to end the match by tech fall 17-0.


This was the offensive assault from Levi we’ve been expecting to see from the young Nittany Lion. His brute force and raw athleticism were on full display this match as he just overpowered Rotkvich. Expect to see him continue working on his technique throughout the rest of the season but hopefully he maintains a healthy dose of brute force.

PSU 22, Indiana 0

165: Mitchell Mesenbrink, PSU vs #23 Tyler Lillard, IU

Mitchell Mesenbrink looking for near fall.
Mitchell Mesenbrink looking for near fall | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries
Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

165 is the third and last weight in the Penn State lineup that doesn’t feature a returning NCAA qualifier. But Mesenbrink has been dominating so far this season and his ranking puts him well on his way to making his debut in the tournament this March.


Mesenbrink was immediately on the attack and scored the opening takedown. He bellied Lillard out and attempted to run an arm bar and half combination but the match was stopped for potentially dangerous. Mesenbrink conceded the escape on the restart to award Lillard the escape and immediately resumed his attacks. Mesenbrink was able to score another takedown, but shortly thereafter Lillard stopped the match for injury time. He attempted to continue, but after a Mesenbrink escape and takedown, Lillard would stop the match again and injury default out.


Another challenge passed with flying colors for the recent transfer. Mitchell didn’t have any trouble with Lillard’s athleticism, wrestling through some challenging positions while constantly on the attack. Lillard made a noble effort to wrestle through the injury he sustained at the Southern Scuffle but Mesenbrink’s pressure was too much for the Indiana wrestler to withstand. As for what Mesenbrink will be able to do in March, we’ll get a better idea as he continues to face Big Ten talent.

PSU 28, Indiana 0

174: #1 Carter Starocci, PSU vs Robert Major, IU

Carter Starocci controlling Robert Major during their match in Rec Hall
Carter Starocci controlling Robert Major during their match in Rec Hall | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

The first of the returning 3-time national champions, Starocci has Penn State well positioned for March at 174. Carter has been dominant so far this season and there’s no reason to expect that to change.


Starocci used his strength and footwork to work Major out of position at the edge of the mat to score the opening takedown. He would go on to score 4 more takedowns in a variety of ways to take a 15-4 lead into the second period.


Major chose bottom and Carter quickly went to work on top. After flattening Major out, Starocci was able to secure the right arm of Major for an arm bar. He was able to turn Major for 4 near fall points but lost control before he could get the pin, ending the match by 19-4 tech fall.


This was more of a clinic than a competition, no offense to Major. Carter used his full repertoire to take a commanding lead in the first and just dominated the match. Starocci already seems to be in peak form but he may very well find a whole new level by March.

PSU 33, Indiana 0

184: Josh Barr, PSU vs Roman Rogotzke

Josh Barr in control of his opponent.
Josh Barr in control of Roman Rogotzke | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

While Penn State seems pretty secure at 184 with returning All American Bernie Truax, true freshman Josh Barr took the mat on Sunday for Penn State.


After some initial hand fighting, Barr got in deep on a double. Rogotzke attempted to roll out of it but Barr followed through and scored the takedown. Rogotzke would escape and Barr immediately started looking for another takedown. Barr was the more active wrestler throughout the rest of the period, working the head of Rogotzke and trying to find an angle but didn’t get another shot.


Rogotzke chose bottom to start the second and immediately gramby rolled out for the escape. Barr was back in on the attack and scored his second takedown of the match to go up 6-2. Rogotzke once again got an escape and the wrestlers had a series of flourishes. Barr finally was able to get a clean shot and scored another takedown to take a 9-3 lead.


Barr chose neutral to start the period and scored yet another takedown to go up 12-3. Rogotzke would again get out and the wrestlers continued their series of flourishes. Neither wrestler would be able to score as the match ended in a 13-4 major decision for Josh Barr once the riding time point was awarded.


This was a great match by the true freshman. He was tested throughout the match with some difficult situations but either successfully thwarted the attacks or found ways to gain an advantage. After a year in the room with Starocci, Truax and Brooks, he’ll be well positioned to compete for a spot on the roster next season.

PSU 37, Indiana 0

197: #1 Aaron Brooks, PSU vs Gabe Sollars, IU

Aaron Brooks throws his opponent by and picks the knee
Aaron Brooks throws his opponent by and picks the knee | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries
Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

The second of the returning 3-time national champions, Aaron Brooks is a very proven commodity in March. While his national titles were at 184, Brooks is poised to continue that streak after moving up to 197.


Brooks immediately started the match off controlling the action. After a series of ties he was able to get Sollars out of position and pick an ankle for the takedown. He conceded the escape and went right back to work. After Sollars attempted to free his arms, Brooks dropped in on a low single and finished it for his second takedown of the period. Brooks let Sollars up again, looking to build on his 6-2 lead. Aaron was able to hunt the ankle from a front headlock and get behind for another takedown and go up 9-2.


Brooks chose bottom to start the period and was quickly out for the escape. Brooks continued a variety of attacks, ultimately getting a single for another takedown. Brooks continued to let the Indiana wrestler up, scoring 2 more takedowns to win by 20-4 tech fall.


Aaron Brooks continues to prove that he’s good at wrestling. This was a very interesting display as he set up almost all his offense by getting Sollars out of position first. The ankle pick, the low single and the knee pick were all set up by Brooks maintaining great position while creating a lot of action. There’s a lot of similarities in the style Brooks wrestles to that of Bartlett, but Aaron has clearly mastered the next step of using good position to capitalize on opportunities he creates.

PSU 42, Indiana 0

285: #1 Greg Kervkliet, PSU vs Nick Willham, IU

Greg Kerkvliet in on a low single
Greg Kerkvliet in on a low single | Scott Pilutik, Black Shoe Diaries

Heavyweight features another Penn State wrestler with a lot of experience in March. While Kerkvliet hasn’t been able to put it all together in the past, he seems poised to make his best effort yet this season.


After some ties, Kerkvliet shot a single from pretty far outside. He was able to come up with the single and ultimately finish the attempt with a hard drop off Willham to the mat. Greg put on a hard ride and hit a tilt for 2 near fall to go up 5-0. Kerkvliet would attempt several more turns throughout the period but was only able to earn a stall warning on Willham for his efforts.


Kerkvliet chose bottom to start the second and was quickly out for the escape. He scored another low single for a takedown and resumed his ride on top up 9-0. Greg kept the pressure on and eventually drew another stall call to earn a penalty point but was unable to find a way to turn Willham.


Willham took bottom to start the third and Greg immediately awarded the escape via optional start. Kerkvliet continued to be the aggressor, working to set up a shot. Once again he powered through for a shot and scored a takedown to go up 13—1. Willham worked to get out for the escape and Kerkvliet continued the attack. He couldn’t convert on a final double attempt and won by 14-2 major decision.


This was a very athletic display by Kerkvliet. Without regard for Willham’s weight, he was willing to take more chances on offense. Greg took several shots from distance and worked through the scrambles for takedowns. While this isn’t likely to be a strategy he employs in March, it was certainly entertaining for the Rec Hall crowd.

PSU 46, Indiana 0

Executive Summary

Box score, PSU over Indiana, 46-9
Box score, PSU over Indiana, 46-9

Wrestling only 6 of its 7 top-5-ranked wrestlers, Penn State scored early and often en route to a dominating win. 9 of the Lions 10 wins were via Bonus, including 5 Technical Fall victories. That resulted in a lopsided 150-23 bout point differential for the dual.

For the first time this year, the Nittany Lions were not taken down in any of the 10 bouts, having dominated the takedown battle 35-0.

The Ridge Riley winner for most outstanding wrestler was Tyler Kasak.

The Takery:

There’s not a lot to say about this match as Penn State dominated at each weight, start to finish. But that is an incredible story for the first Big Ten dual of the year. This lineup is certainly not taking anything for granted and top to bottom is probably the most well-rounded roster Cael Sanderson has fielded. To achieve that status while also featuring two 3-time national champions and 5 returning All Americans is having your cake and eating it too. The emergence of the 3 freshmen, all of whom seem destined to compete in their first NCAA tournament in March, has certainly been the cherry on top.

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