There are many things we as Penn State Wrestling fans have become almost too accustomed to. Winning, domination, points, and fun? Of course. It can be challenging as a fan to feel the excitement you want to feel about all the success at times, even if any sane fan realizes what a rarity such sustained loftiness really is.
But I think another aspect we can sometimes overlook is the level to which the sport’s most capable coaches work to prepare their team when facing the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes—one of maybe more than two teams who do this regularly and best—did not disappoint this night. Their team brought extremely sound game plans, technique, and competitiveness to the table, and virtually every point was well earned.
125: #3 Braeden Davis, PSU vs Vinny Kilkeary, OSU
These two true Freshmen met last March in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic, seeing Kilkeary prevailing 5-2 on a highly controversial scoring sequence late (consider yourself foreshadowed).
Braeden came off the whistle with his usual aggression, taking a half shot early–but Kilkeary controlled the ensuing over-under position in a manner that seemed to give Braeden pause, who shifted to trying to set up shots from space. The two exchanged well-defended attacks, but no scoring. 0-0.
With choice, Kilkeary quickly earned his escape. Davis followed with a slick knee pick to dump for the takedown with a minute left on the clock. Kilkeaery returned to his feet, and stayed there long enough to earn a stall warning on Davis, before Braeden returned him with authority out of bounds. On the restart, Kilkeary did work his way out. 3-2
Davis got to his favored bottom position of a wide sit-out, before easily escaping. Kilkeary upped his aggression with several attacks before Davis managed another threatening shot–but that got them back to that same over-under position; Kilkeary threatened upper body, forcing Braeden out of bounds, and earned a stall point with 31 seconds remaining. Kilkeary rapidly attempted leg attacks, and off of one, managed to catch a double-under bodylock, throwing Braeden to the mat. The ensuing unscored (and upheld on video review) scramble was probably the most watched and talked about wrestling sequence of the weekend—with many on the OSU bench, in the PSU-partisan crowd, and online wondering just how much reaction time wrestlers get from initial control positions. In the end, Braeden’s hand was raised. 4-3 Dec.
The call was clearly highly debatable. Had I been referee, I think I would have called the 3 points. But I can also see the case for what head official Nick Grosso must’ve seen—while Kilkeary achieved a position of control, he was not able to maintain it through Davis’ reaction to it. Tom Ryan was mad, and tweeted thus a few hours after earning his team a fairly customary bench warning while visiting Rec Hall.
We need a system that “protects” officials. Their job is not easy. With video review, we should always get it right. Our belief is that it’s too important not to. Anger is an emotion that can move us toward real change. It’s time. We need more resources from the NCAA & Big 10.— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) February 3, 2024
3rd party review all season for sure. That takes resources. Every video review catalogued and sent to every official for learning. Tests should be given with a passing grade of 100 required. This isn’t a knock on officials. It’s hard. Things happen fast. It’s time!— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) February 3, 2024
PSU 3, Ohio State 0
133: #5 Aaron Nagao, PSU vs #12 Nic Bouzakis, OSU
Nagao fired off a shot early, but Bouzakis downblocked and worked a front-headlock aggressively. After a heavy snap and resulting single-leg, Bouzakis briefly threw him to his back before Aaron turned down. While Aaron got out quickly, Bouzakis was quickly back on the legs and finishing around the corner, before cutting Aaron. Nagao got in on his own leg attack, but Bouzakis neutralized with a crotch lock before eventually winning the scramble by threatening cradle. Bouzakis rode out the period with 1:10 RT. 9-2
Nagao got back to his low single, and this time managed to hook a leg and finish—but Bouzakis kept wrestling and reversed. Aaron worked his way back to threatening his own reversal with possible back points, when Bouzakis conceded the escape. The two continued to attack each other, with Bouzakis locking hands on a leg, and Aaron craftily working for control he was ultimately unable to achieve before the buzzer. 11-6.
Nagao found his feet quickly and escaped. Bouzakis got his head under a leg, but Nagao neutralized on a scramble that ate a big chunk of clock. Bouzakis was called for stalling just before Nagao managed an emphatic snap that earned him what looked to be an easy go-behind–but upon post-buzzer official conference and review, yielded Bouzakis a point on a headgear-pull. With riding time, 12-7 Dec.
This match had lots for Nagao to work on, but one will undoubtedly focus on being ready for an aggressive and confident Bouzakis, who seems to have found a new gear. It was encouraging to see Aaron claw his way back into the match—he’ll just need to bring that intensity from the first whistle if/when these two meet again.
Penn State 3, Ohio State 3
141: #2 Beau Bartlett, PSU vs #3 Jesse Mendez, OSU
On paper, undoubtedly the match of the night, with two rising stars in the sport espousing disparate styles (Mendez’s attacking pressure vs Beau’s icy resolve and lightning quick counter offense). This one was circled by most, and did not disappoint.
Beau started with an aggressive snap, before the two settled into an extended feeling-out with hand fighting predominating. Beau nearly connected on a single with 40 seconds left, but Mendez sprawled out of harm’s way. 0-0.
Mendez stood quickly and escaped. Mendez tried repeatedly to snap Bartlett out of position, but Beau calmly held ground. Mendez connected on a single leg, but Beau calmly locked through the crotch and neutralized. 0-1.
Mendez managed to hook Beau’s ankle and pressure forward for the first 15 seconds on top before Beau worked his way to neutral. The remainder of the period was a clinic in head-hands defense for both wrestlers. 1-1.
Mendez hit a scintillating outside step to the low single, but again Beau’s equally-quick reaction saw him lock through Mendez’s legs, and he guided Mendez to a neutral danger position that earned him the clinching takedown. Ryan threw the brick on the count, but the call was confirmed (indicating supporting video evidence). 4-1 Dec.
Beau found a way once again in sudden victory and, with #1 Real Woods losing later in the evening, set himself in good position for the top seed at the B1G tournament. Woods will be his next match and Beau can solidify things even further.
Penn State 6, Ohio State 3
149: #12 Tyler Kasak, PSU vs #9 Dylan D’Emilio, OSU
While the previous bout had everyone’s pen-mark around it, this one was also exciting for PSU fans to glimpse. With this Kasak’s 6th competition date, Kasak’s redshirt is now off, and it seems the starting 149lb slot is his. How would he fare against a seasoned All American?
Tyler controlled the ties early and found himself to a single before the savvy D’Emilio neutralized on a scramble to stalemate. Kasak again seemed to have a power advantage with the underhook and collar tie. D’Emilio fired a nice shot a minute out from the buzzer, but Kasak deftly dodged it.
D’Emilio confidently stood before Kasak pulled off a nifty suck-back to the senior’s back, scoring an electrifying 2 NF. Cody threw the brick, thinking it may have been 3 or more NF, but the officials felt it was 2 separate 2-counts. Kasak almost turned him again on the restart before putting on a upper-classman-level ride with a good mat return. With D’Emillio’s following hip heist, Kasak found himself in a waterfall position that started the newly expanded “on the leg” count, yielding a stall warning on Tyler. D’Emilio escaped on the restart, but not before 1:30 RT. 2-1.
D’Emilio conceded an easy escape, and Kasak continued to pressure forward and control the ties before D’Emillio connected on a shot, that Kasak deftly leaned into, keeping his balance and coming around with a leg in to secure his counter takedown. Kasak again looked beyond his years in savvy with powerful riding before 3Cs suggested a neutral restart with 14 seconds remaining in hopes of finding a bonus point that eluded him. 7-1 Dec.
I continue to be very impressed with how strong, quick, and wily true Freshman Tyler Kasak is. Not sure what his ceiling is this year, but it’s encouraging to see he hasn’t found it yet.
Penn State 9, Ohio State 3
157: #1 Levi Haines, PSU vs #29 Isaac Wilcox, OSU
Like Kasak these past 2 years, Levi eschewed his final high school season to train with David Taylor at M2, only to work his way into a stacked lineup as a true freshman. Levi is now the man to beat nationwide at 157, and he’s wearing that crown well, if at times, in closer-than-comfortable matches.
The 2 wrestlers started seeking a lot of space, with head fakes and motion dominating the action. Levi committed to a left-handed high-crotch with 45 seconds left, and methodically stayed low on the whizzer defense before he was able to shelve the leg and reach across for the finish. Credit to Wilcox in staying active late and escaping with a last second switch. 3-1 .
Haines kept after the hard riding, flattening Wilcox early and alternating wrist work with breakdowns. Wilcox again earned a nice escape with 45 seconds on the clock, and Levi with 1:40 RT. 3-2.
Levi escaped easily off the whistle and stalked Wilcox before reaching for a sweep single, hooking the leg, and securing the takedown. Levi cut him with a minute remaining. Wilcox connected on his own shot, but Levi worked his way to the counter TD. 11-3 Major Dec.
Levi Haines did what he was expected to here, securing a bonus point and continuing his unblemished campaign. It’s still a good thing to see.
PSU 13, Ohio State 3
165: #7 Mitchell Mesenbrink, PSU vs #20 Bryce Hepner, OSU
Mesenbrink has captured the attention of the wrestling world with his pace and variety of attacks. Hepner, while without major accolades, is a very well coached and capable B1G opponent, who would prove to have a handful of lessons for our young phenom to learn.
Mitchell was in on a single off the whistle, but Hepner showed some scrambling savvy in neutralizing to a stalemate. Mesenbrink went for a double next, finishing more easily before working hard for the bar and half turn. Hepner turned all the way through, with Mesenbrink giving up a locked hands point and the escape. Mitch reached for an ankle before doubling off for the easy finish, and working wrists on top as Hepner worked to not get turned, getting called for stalling late and yielding 1:47 RT. 6-2.
Mesenbrink chose bottom, giving Hepner a chance to flex his strength as a leg rider. Mitch worked with his hips high and head low to try and shake a very sticky Hepner off, resulting in two stalemates the Rec Hall faithful were certain were stalling on top. On a restart, Mesenbrink hooked Hepner’s leg with his arm, and came around for the reversal, getting RT to 59 seconds. 8-2
Hepner asked his coaches if he could take top. Down 6 points, that’s not a conventional choice, but keeping the score close seemed to be the goal. He continued to get legs in and ride before Mesenbrink secured a wrist and reversed, but Hepner hit a granby, threatening a pancake before reversing back. With 30 seconds left, Hepner locked a cradle, but seemed content to hold on to it and keep things to a 10-4 Dec.
Dual meets are interesting, because sometimes “keeping it to a decision” is a task you are given. As a fan, I would have liked to see Hepner try to win it, but he played his role admirably here, and I’m certain Mitchell will be working on getting out from leg riding a lot in practice soon.
PSU 16, Ohio State 3
174: #1 Carter Starocci, PSU vs #11 Rocco Welsh, OSU
Any who follow PIAA wrestling knows Rocco Welsh is a tough competitor. We have our own tough PIAA product in Starocci, but many were looking forward to this contest to gauge just where Welsh stacks up against the best in the weight class.
The period started with some furtive hand fighting, Welsh clearly looking for wrist control, but getting interlocked fingers more than once. Carter reached for a high-crotch before slipping behind to rear standing, and executing a classic PSU front trip at the edge for the score. Welsh earned a rare and well-earned escape from Carter on the restart. He resumed his wrist-hunting that ended in finger locks, which referee Nick Grosso pleaded he avoid. Carter stalked Welsh with fakes and snaps, earning a stall warning near the end of the period. 3-1.
Welsh chose bottom and again was able to work his way out in under 30 seconds. Carter continued to pressure forward, taking several shots, but Welsh did not break his good position.
Carter earned an easy escape, and the two returned to their hand-fighting neutralization. With about a minute left, it appeared as though Carter was happy to just rely on his otherworldly defense to secure the decision, even as Welsh increased his own attempts at attacks, eliciting a stall warning on Carter with 10 seconds on the clock. 4-2 Dec.
61 straight wins, but Carter’s bonus streak resets after this tough, but never in doubt battle.
PSU 19, Ohio State 3
184: #5 Bernie Truax, PSU vs Ryder Rogotzke, OSU
Bernie got after it, nearly connecting on a brilliant sweep single 10 seconds in. Rogotze also looked to neutralize with wrist control, but Bernie found a low single before finishing behind, and evading a chin-whip attempt by Rogotzke. Rogotzke got up and out quickly after, but Bernie was again in on his sweep single before tripping him to the mat and collecting the double-leg finish. Rogotzke again was head-hunting from bottom, before getting an escape on the restart. Rogotzke worked some snaps, and once more tried to slow Bernie’s shot down with wrist control that resulted in interlocking fingers. 6-2.
Rogotzke escaped easily, but Bernie was in on the left leg in a flash, securing his 3rd takedown on the ensuing scramble. But Rogotzke again found an escape, this time choosing a front headlock/underhook where it was clear he was looking for the right balance point, which he found as Bernie raised his hips hoping for an angle to the go behind, and Rogotzke used that momentum to throw Truax to his back and secure the Fall.
On the BTN broadcast, it looked to me like perhaps Bernie’s right scapula was not on the mat, but his lower back looked flat, and he did not have much hope of escaping that position. Lesson learned about one tricky guy in Rogotzke, we saw Bernie has all the tools needed to win a potential rematch.
PSU 19, Ohio State 9
197: #1 Aaron Brooks, PSU vs #22 Luke Geog, OSU
Aaron started by taking ground (stop me if you’ve heard this before), but Geog also seemed intent on controlling Brooks’ wrists when he could. Aaron quickly shifted to working collar tie snaps and seeking angles to a go-behind–which he found a minute, 10 seconds in. Brooks cut him immediately seeking a followup takedown, hitting paydirt with close to a minute remaining, riding out the period with 59 seconds RT. 6-1.
Brooks conceded an escape early, and was back to typical full-court press mode, easily scoring a go-behind on a desperate Geog shot. Aaron cut him quickly and pressed again on the edge, before the referee again stopped action for interlocked fingers on the attempted OSU wrist control. Geog found a wrist on the restart, and ducked down for a high crotch that Aaron was able to counter with a heavy downblock and hooked the leg to score. Aaron tried for a cradle before again cutting with 30 seconds, but was unable to score on a full-reverse Geog. 12-4.
After an easy escape, Brooks snapped and connected on a single, but the finish was blown dead as potentially dangerous, and Geog came up a bit gimpy. Brooks worked an angle off a spirited, but unexecuted attack by Geog for another takedown and cut, and a similar exchange ensued. Aaron debated the rideout for the tech before cutting again and securing his own single with double-leg finish. 22-6 Tech Fall.
It’s almost hard to write about Aaron Brooks at the NCAA level. Hasn’t it all been said before? What I’m vibing on this year is the fire with which he competes. I wish I could hear better what Aaron was telling Grosso after that PD call in the 3rd. The man had an opinion. Nevermind, he also has skill, grace and power that we can all just enjoy in his final NCAA campaign.
PSU 24, Ohio State 9
285: #1 Greg Kerkvliet, PSU vs #12 Nick Feldman, OSU
Feldman was B1G and NCAA wrestler of the week after his upset and dual-clinching victory over Michigan’s Davison. But beating the big dog in his house is another matter.
With the obligatory “feeling out” minute wrapped up, big Greg executed a cat-like shot, and finished with an explosion of power, driving Feldman into the center of the mat to gasps from the crowd. Greg worked hard to keep Feldman flat and earned an initial stall warning on the buckeye wrestler, before the favor was returned by a warning on Kerkvliet for hooking the ankle and riding parallel with 26 seconds left. Upon restart, Greg worked for a wrist off to the side and rode out the period with 1:41 RT 3-0.
DGK executed one of the prettiest and powerful hip-heist escapes you’ll ever see a heavyweight do off the whistle. Feldman was looking for a sweep single, but Greg’s agility remained on display, dodging then reaching to barely get a hand behind a leg, pulling it up and finishing again with generous authority. Kerkvliet accumulated 2:30 in RT to end the period. 7-0.
Feldman chose neutral, giving Kerkvliet an angle on another single and clean finish. From here, Feldman shifted firmly to “don’t get turned” mode, conceding a stall point as Kerkvliet rode out. 12-0 Major Dec.
Greg’s 3 takedowns and 1 escape (not to mention his completely smothering ride) may not have been enough to get a technical fall—but each as a piece of wrestling worthy of complete admiration is unimpeachable. This man has it all, and looks to be in the driver’s seat to reach his goals.
PSU 30, Ohio State 10
While Lehigh remains the only squad to hold Penn State to 7 bout wins, the scrappy Buckeyes nearly tied Michigan’s two in keeping PSU Bonus Point wins to a mere three. We gave Rogotzke the takedown that led to his planting of Truax, so they finished with 4 to Penn State’s 24.
Ridge Riley winner: Tyler Kasak.
I think I need to tip my cap to Tom Ryan and his staff after this meet. They had their guys ready to face one of the all-time lineups in college wrestling, and while the score doesn’t show it, this was not a walk in any kind of park. The wrist control thing from the mid weights on up seemed to really slow the PSU attacks down, and every “young buck” seemed to be ready to flex his particular strengths for maximum effect. The controversial calls at the beginning of the dual may have brought some wind out of their sails, or perhaps they fueled even more “controlled anger” (as Ryan recently said was driving them this year). Whichever way that broke, I think it’s safe to say Penn State found a lot they have yet to work on and improve upon before the postseason. Which, of course, is exactly what you want out of an in-conference dual in February against a heated rival (along with the win, of course).
It could have just been me, but I feel a few of our guys were not at their best this week with their conditioning and/or general energy level. Davis, Nagao, and Starocci all seemed to, at different times in their bouts, take their feet off the gas more than we have been accustomed to seeing. I won’t speculate on why, and my perception could be flawed based on the quality of the competition, but we know what happens to Nittany Lions in March, so I just can’t but help feel comforted by history apparently repeating itself once more.
Post-dual Press Conference
I had the good fortune of press credentials for this meet, and brought my gear to my first post-dual presser.
Cael had praise for the preparation of the Ohio State team, touched a bit upon the controversy at 125, spoke with some fire about the music now playing during bouts in Rec Hall, and skirted inquiry into any technique adjustment to neutral wrist-control as only Cael can.
That press room is nice and swanky, by the way. Very comfortable seats, and almost no annoying door slamming to edit out in post-production. I was in heaven, and laughing right alongside Mitchell and Beau when Cael refused to answer the technique question. I look forward to continuing to grab footage of these for the remainder of the home duals.
One other note: I wanna give a special shoutout to BSDWrestling photographer Scott Pilutik for shooting this match whilst afflicted with some sort of nasty bug. Heal up man! His fantastic photos really make this content thing a breeze. Scott’s lense caught one very happy thing that I missed: Sammy Sasso hanging out at the OSU Bench. So great to see Sammy traveling with the team after being shot in a robbery this past August.
Next Up: Iowa 9pm EST Friday, 2/9, Iowa City, BTN, LionVision Audio