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‘Take A Deep Breath & Just Go Wrestle’: Penn State Wrestling Bounces Back In Big Ten Semifinals

Following a slow start during the first session of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships, Penn State wrestling bounced back in a big way Saturday night, climbing within 15 points of Iowa, the current leader, in the team scores.

Six freshmen made their tournament debuts Saturday morning, and their inexperience showed early. Robbie Howard, Beau Bartlett, and Joe Lee all suffered first-round losses. While Bartlett failed to qualify for nationals after posting a 1-2 record, the other five freshmen, Howard, Lee, Carter Starocci, Michael Beard, and Greg Kerkvliet, punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships.

Head coach Cael Sanderson said Saturday night he felt some of the freshmen came out “a little gun-shy.” Despite a tough first round, the young wrestlers gathered their composure and wrestled with confidence in the second session.

“I think they just were a little more relaxed. I think we just came out a little tight, a little gun shy, maybe. So you’ve just got to go compete — it’s just a sport. It’s just for fun, right?” Sanderson said. “Maybe we were taking ourselves a little too seriously this morning. I just think we needed to kind of take a deep breath and just go wrestle, and that’s what we were able to do.”

Sanderson added that preparing wrestlers for a challenge they’ve never faced is ultimately his job, and perhaps something he needed to focus on more. He said he and his staff will evaluate those factors to avoid a rough start at the NCAA Championships in two weeks.

Penn State will have four finalists in Sunday’s session in Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci, and Aaron Brooks. Freshman grapplers Howard, Beard, and Kerkvliet will all wrestle in Sunday’s consolation semifinals with a chance to wrestle for third place. Joe Lee, meanwhile, will wrestle for seventh place, while junior Brady Berge will compete in the consolation semifinals, too.

“I thought they [the freshmen] did a great job, and they kept their composure and came back and battled and won some tough matches,” Sanderson said. “Just the experience here for the freshmen is obviously outstanding but we’re not really here for experience. We’re trying to score some points.”

Currently, Penn State sits in second place in the Big Ten Wrestling Championships with 111.5 points, just a bit behind Iowa’s 126.5 points. Sanderson feels the Nittany Lions have a great chance to compete Sunday afternoon so long as they stay composed and have fun.

“Maybe we were taking ourselves too seriously this morning and just needed to kind of take a deep breath and just go wrestle, and that’s what they were able to do,” Sanderson added.

If Penn State’s freshmen and finalists put together another good session Sunday, they could give Iowa a run for the money. However, it will be a tough task, as Iowa has six finalists compared to Penn State’s four.

Wrestling will get underway with consolations at noon Sunday morning, while the finals and placement matches will begin at around 4 p.m. Fans can watch those matches live on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Max Tolson

Max is a senior majoring in print journalism. He hails from the small town of Millsboro, DE and loves to watch the Eagles and Penn State wrestling. Follow him on twitter @TolsonMax or send emails to [email protected] Go Birds!

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