Penn State Wrestling 2021 NCAA Championships Preview

With nine wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Championships this weekend in St. Louis, Penn State will attempt to win its ninth national title under Cael Sanderson’s leadership.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a second-place performance at the Big Ten Championships two weekends ago at the Bryce Jordan Center. While Iowa is the heavy favorite to win the team title this weekend, Penn State could still give the Hawkeyes a run for their money if its young guns can step up.

Aaron Brooks captured the No. 1 seed for the tournament at 184 pounds, while Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee are both seeded second at 133 pounds and 141 pounds, respectively. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Carter Starocci holds the No. 3 seed at 174 pounds.

Here’s a look at how how Sanderson’s squad could fare heading into the weekend:

Robert Howard

Robert Howard has a tough draw in the 125-pound bracket as the 23rd seed. He’ll face No. 10 Malik Heinselman of Ohio State in the first round. Howard has fallen to Heinselman twice this season, each by a slim score of 5-2. Howard does have the ability to pull off this first-round upset, but if not, he’ll need to rattle off four straight wins in the consolation bracket to earn All-American status.

Roman Bravo-Young

Roman Bravo-Young is the second seed at 133 pounds after winning his first Big Ten Championship a few weeks back. He has a good draw in the bracket as he’s on opposite sides of hammers No. 1 Daton Fix of Oklahoma State, No. 4 Austin DeSanto of Iowa, and No. 5 Micky Phillippi of Pitt.

He’ll likely face undefeated No. 3 Korbin Myers of Virginia Tech in the semifinals in what should be a very entertaining match. If Bravo-Young can pick up the win there, we could see a finals matchup between him and No. 1 Fix. Fix is an NCAA runner-up and has lost just twice in his career, but Bravo-Young’s free-flowing style could give him trouble.

Nick Lee

In perhaps the deepest weight class of the tournament, Nick Lee holds down the second seed at 141 pounds. Expect him to run through the bracket up until the semifinals, where he’ll likely face a rematch with No. 3 Sebastian Rivera of Rutgers. Lee narrowly beat Rivera 8-6 in overtime in the Big Ten semifinals. If he can win again, he’ll likely have a separate rematch with No. 1 Jaydin Eierman of Iowa, whom he lost to 6-5 in the Big Ten title match.

Brady Berge

At 157 pounds, Brady Berge comes into the tournament as the 12th seed. He’ll have a tough first-round matchup against one-loss No. 21 Andrew Cerniglia of Navy. If he wins there, he’ll draw Iowa hammer No. 5 Kaleb Young in the next round. While Berge does have a tough draw, he wrestles seemingly every opponent closely, which could help him pull off a few upsets and earn All-American status.

Joe Lee

Redshirt freshman Joe Lee is the 23rd seed at 165 pounds. This weight class is loaded with experience, and Lee will need to wrestle much better than he has so far this season to make the podium. He’ll need to pull together some hard-fought wins in the consolation bracket unless he can upset No. 10 Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State in the first round.

Carter Starocci

174 pounds is another deep weight class with multiple wrestlers who could make a run to the finals. No. 3 Carter Starocci has a solid draw as most of the studs in the weight are in the upper half of the bracket. If Starocci wrestles with the same grit that he’s had all year, he’ll make it to the semifinals, where he could face either undefeated No. 2 Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley or No. 7 Kaleb Romero of Ohio State. If he can win in the semis, we’ll likely see a Big Ten finals rematch between him and No. 1 Michael Kemerer of Iowa, who handily won 7-2 the first time around.

Aaron Brooks

Penn State’s best chance at crowning a champion is top seed Aaron Brooks at 184 pounds. Brooks does have some tough opponents on his side of the bracket with No. 5 Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech and undefeated No. 4 Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa, but he should reach the finals.

In the championship match, Brooks could wrestle either No. 2 Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State or No. 3 Lou Deprez of Binghamton. He’ll need to put together some tough wins, but an NCAA Championship doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

Michael Beard

Michael Beard holds the No. 15 seed at 197 pounds and could make some noise in the bracket. If he can get past No. 18 Jacob Koser of Navy in the first round, he’ll likely wrestle No. 2 Eric Schultz of Nebraska. Schultz is a stud, but Beard can give even the best some trouble when he wrestles at his highest level. After all, he took No. 1 Myles Amine of Michigan to overtime at the Big Ten Championships. Beard will have a tough run, but don’t be surprised if he finds the podium at the end of the weekend.

Greg Kerkvliet

After missing most of the season due to injury, Greg Kerkvliet holds the No.9 seed at heavyweight. Kerkvliet has some tough possible opening-round matchups on his side of the bracket. He will have No. 8 Jordan Wood of Lehigh in the second round and No. 1 Gable Steveson of Minnesota in the quarterfinals if he beats moves on. He’d need to pull off a miracle to beat Steveson, who’s probably the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the country.

Kerkvliet may lack the weight advantage against some of the other heavyweights, but he’s very tall and seems to have better speed than most other big guys. If he puts together his best wrestling, he should reach All-American status in his first NCAA Tournament.

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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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