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Penn State Wrestlers Not Adding Any Pressure Ahead Of NCAA Championship Finals

Day two of the NCAA Championships went about as well as possible for Penn State wrestling Friday night.

Cael Sanderson’s group sent four Nittany Lions into the semifinals, and four came out with shots at championship bouts on Saturday night. Roman Bravo-Young, Carter Starocci, Nick Lee, and Aaron Brooks all set themselves up to compete on college wrestling’s biggest stage.

Of all those dominant performances, Starocci’s victory stands out for several reasons. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year was the lowest-ranked and youngest Nittany Lion left in a semifinal. As a No. 3 seed at 174 pounds going against Utah Valley’s No. 2 Demetrius Romero, Starocci secured a 2-0 decision thanks to an escape in the second period and ride out to finish the third.

As impressive as this run may seem for the Erie, Pennsylvania native, Starocci’s not overthinking anything along the way.

“I don’t feel any pressure and our team doesn’t feel any pressure,” Starocci said. “We go to practice and we have the best guys everywhere. Our coaches are still scrapping with us. When we get out here and wrestle these guys, it’s kinda like fun — like a playground honestly. Our guys don’t get overwhelmed. We’re just going out there and doing what we love.”

Starocci will need to keep that loose mindset entering a key championship bout. As Sanderson’s group trails Iowa by 14.5 points in the team standings, Starocci will have a chance to shorten that gap when he faces the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 Michael Kemerer.

Kemerer currently holds an 11-0 record on the year, and has dominated his way through the 174-pound bracket with two tech falls and a major decision.

“As far as pressure, I don’t see why it would make sense to have pressure,” Starocci said. “We train every single day for this moment. Why have pressure?”

While Starocci is the youngest of this group of All-Americans, Lee is the unquestioned veteran of the group. As the No. 2 seed at 141 pounds, Lee clinched his trip to the finals with an exciting 9-3 win over No. 3 Sebastian Rivera.

Like Starocci, the senior will get a shot at a Hawkeye Saturday night. In fact, Lee knows plenty about his opponent, No. 1 Jaydin Eierman. The Iowa star just took down the Nittany Lion in the Big Ten Championship final a few weeks ago.

Frustrating? Sure. But Lee is considering his chance at revenge as nothing but yet another fun opportunity with his team.

“Who I wrestle tomorrow, I’ve wrestled before. I’ve wrestled him like three times now,” Lee said. “It gets more fun each time because you kinda have to strategize, and it’s like a chess match. To a lot of fans it looks like brawl, and sometimes it is, but it’s fun whenever you get really good opponents and you really have to think a little bit.”

As he focuses on that tall task, Lee also remains a key veteran of the group. He led by example by carrying that positive attitude with him throughout Friday’s competition.

“You’re in the semifinals of the tournament that’s the peak of our sport,” Lee said. “It doesn’t get much more fun than that, win or lose.”

Along with Lee and Starocci, the pair of Big Ten Champions Bravo-Young and Brooks handled their business just fine Friday night. No. 2 Bravo-Young kicked off the competition for Penn State by finishing off Virginia Tech’s Korbin Myers with a 5-3 decision.

“RBY” locked down the win with a classic speedy takedown of Myers in the third period.

Bravo-Young will make his NCAA finals debut against No. 1 Daton Fix of Oklahoma State Saturday night in what could shape up to be an instant classic.

As for the last of the finalists, Penn State’s only No. 1 seed did his thing. Brooks secured a 6-4 victory over No. 4 Parker Keckeisen at 184 pounds. While the sophomore had the burden of securing the 4-0 semifinal record for Penn State, it only motivated Brooks to get the job done Friday.

“I see my teammates winning, it shows me the time and effort we’re putting in the room is paying off,” Brooks said. “It gives me a boost in motivation like ‘hey, we’re doing the right things. Our guys are winning. It’s my turn now.'”

The Nittany Lions will have plenty of chances to do some more winning Saturday. The championship bouts will kick off at 7 p.m., and all four of those Nittany Lions can be watched on ESPN. As for the medal rounds at 11 a.m., freshmen All-Americans Greg Kerkvliet and Michael Beard will battle for seventh place finishes in their respective brackets.

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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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