Penn State Wrestling Posts Strong Showing To Open NCAA Championships

Penn State began its national title defense Thursday afternoon in St. Louis with a solid opening round.

Cael Sanderson’s squad went 8-1 on the afternoon, scoring bonus points in seven of those matches. True freshman Robbie Howard got the momentum started for the Nittany Lions with a 6-4 upset of No. 10 Malik Heinselman of Ohio State at 125 pounds.

Penn State currently sits in second place in the team score with 17 points behind Iowa (19).

How It Happened

Session 1A

No. 23 Robbie Howard kicked off the tournament for Penn State at 125 pounds against No. 10 Malik Heinselman of Ohio State. Howard managed to get in on a few shots early, but Heinselman defended them nicely as the two were tied heading into the second period. The freshman would come up big in the second as he scored a reversal and nearly pinned Heinselman to go up 6-0.

Howard would hold on to the lead and complete the upset with a 6-4 decision and avenge his two losses from Heinselman earlier in the year. Penn State had not won in the tournament at 125 pounds since 2016. Howard will go on to face No. 7 Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley in the second round.

No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young made easy work of No. 31 Sean Carter of Appalachian State in his first bout at 133 pounds. He put on a takedown clinic and added more than three minutes of riding time to earn a 20-5 technical fall. Bravo-Young will face No. 18 Kyle Burwick of Wisconsin in the next round.

Penn State kept the ball rolling at 141 pounds as No. 2 Nick Lee won an 18-0 technical fall in just the first period over No. 31 Julian Flores of Drexel. Lee scored a quick takedown and never looked back, managing to turn Flores with ease. He’ll go on to face No. 15 Clay Carlson of South Dakota State in round two.

At 157 pounds, No. 12 Brady Berge faced off against No. 21 Andrew Cerniglia of Navy. The two wrestled evenly through the first three minutes, but Berge managed to pull away in periods two and three. He wrestled solid on his feet, scoring five takedowns on Cerniglia. A riding time bonus point gave Berge a 12-4 major decision and kept the Nittany Lions undefeated in the round. He’ll advance to wrestle No. 5 Kaleb Young of Iowa.

Session 1B

After a bit of a break, No. 23 Joe Lee took the mat against No. 10 Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State at 165 pounds. The two felt each other out in the first period, and the score was tied 0-0 heading into the second. Wittlake took advantage of a body lock throw and went up 7-1 after the six-point move. Lee couldn’t manage a comeback, and the Nittany Lions suffered their first loss of the round.

No. 3 Carter Starocci got Penn State back on track with a win over Victor Marcelli. Starocci was unstoppable on his feet, scoring takedowns with ease. With just over two minutes of riding time, Starocci cruised to a 10-2 major decision. He’ll face No. 14 Hayden Hastings of Wyoming in the next round.

At 184 pounds, top seed Aaron Brooks picked up a win in dominant fashion over no. 32 Jhaquan Anderson of Gardner Webb. Brooks capitalized on four takedowns and eight nearfall points to earn a 17-1 technical fall. He’ll go on to the next round to face No. 17 Owen Webster of Minnesota.

No. 15 Michael Beard drew No. 18 Jacob Koser of Navy his first-round match at 197 pounds. Beard wasted no time getting to work, scoring a takedown and locking up a tilt to gain an early 6-0 advantage. He’d keep the scoring up in the second and third periods on his way to a 14-4 major decision. Beard will advance to the second round to face No. 31 Owen Pentz of North Dakota State.

The Nittany Lions closed out the session with No. 9 Greg Kerkvliet facing No. 24 Johnathon Birchmeier of Navy at heavyweight. Kerkvliet ended this one quick, gaining an early takedown and locking up a series of tilts to win by an 18-0 technical fall in just the first period. He’ll see No. 8 Jordan Wood of Lehigh in the second round.

What’s Next?

The second session of the NCAA Championships will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday night. Catch all the action on ESPN’s family of channels.

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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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