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Cael Sanderson, Penn State Wrestling ‘Excited About The Future’ After Dominant Championship Performance

Penn State wrestling couldn’t pull out its ninth team national championship of the Cael Sanderson era Saturday night, but boy did they impress on a big stage.

With a second-place finish, the Nittany Lions crowned all four of their finalists as NCAA champs and even had seventh-place spots from two of its freshman All-Americans.

Roman Bravo-Young got the party started with an electric 4-2 decision in sudden victory at 133 pounds, while Nick Lee and Carter Starocci both followed with wins in overtime as well.

After that trio solidified their spots as national champions, it was up to Aaron Brooks, Penn State’s sole No. 1 seed, to complete the four-way sweep.

Brooks stepped into his clutch spot with ease. The sophomore battled all the way to the end with NC State’s Trent Hidlay, but the challenger was hit with a stall late in the third period to hand Brooks the 3-2 decision. With that, Penn State’s four-peat was complete.

While disappointed that his group couldn’t secure yet another team national title, Sanderson was plenty proud of the wrestlers who fought their way to NCAA Champs. Along with that, the head coach noted the battle his group had up and down the roster.

“It’s been a crazy year for everybody,” Sanderson said. “You know, guys like Greg Kerkvliet — he was told he was out for three months. He couldn’t lift a weight, he couldn’t jog for six or seven weeks. He wrestled and then ended up being an All-American.

“You go up and down the lineup and these guys did a really good job. I’m really proud of them and excited about the future,” Sanderson added.

When considering some of the rising stars on this roster, Brooks and Starocci are two names that obviously come to mind. However, wrestlers such as Kerkvliet and Michael Beard help reinforce that the Nittany Lions aren’t leaving the top of college wrestling anytime soon.

Kerkvliet didn’t even start wrestling this season until Maryland, the final dual of Penn State’s regular season. That didn’t stop the redshirt freshman from making a fairly deep run in then NCAA heavyweight bracket and even being named an All-American.

The Minnesota native’s run was stopped short by perennial superstar Gable Steveson, but he still battled his way back to a seventh-place finish in the consolation bracket. Fellow redshirt freshman Beard finished in the same spot in his 197-pound class.

With just one senior at this year’s NCAA Championships in Nick Lee, Penn State’s younger crop of wrestlers has a strong bond that was evident all weekend long.

“You want to care about your teammates,” Sanderson said. “It’s a little tricky too, because you gotta wrestle your own match. Obviously the best thing you can do for the team is just control your emotions and go out and use your energy.

“But after Roman won the guys were in the back…Carter and Aaron both said if they weren’t about to wrestle they would’ve been crying — just happy for Roman.”

As exciting as Saturday night was for Penn State, the fact that it fell just short of a team title isn’t lost on the group. Sanderson and the rest of this group are hungry, and that could be bad news for the world of college wrestling.

“We got a lot of work to do,” Sanderson said. “There’s a lot of great teams coming up with a lot of young superstars. We gotta do a better job as a program and just keep climbing here.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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