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Previewing The Enemy: No. 1 Penn State Wrestling vs. No. 2 Iowa

If you love college wrestling, this is about as good as it gets.

No. 1 Penn State wrestling (13-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will visit No. 2 Iowa (11-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 28, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the Big Ten Network. Cael Sanderson’s group is coming off of two dominating victories over No. 3 Michigan and Michigan State, while the Hawkeyes just took down then-No. 9 Ohio State 21-12 in Columbus last Friday.

There’s no shortage of buildup any time these two squads meet. The Hawkeyes were last year’s team national champions in St. Louis—their first since 2010—but their fans were still plenty frustrated when Penn State managed to crown four individual champs. Nittany Lion Bo Nickal hasn’t been hesitant to go at it with Iowa fans on Twitter over the past few weeks, either.

All of that talk will finally be settled Friday night in Iowa City. But first, let’s take a deeper look at Penn State’s opponent.

A Look At Iowa

Outside of an awesome lineup, the Hawkeyes will certainly have home advantage on their side. Carver-Hawkeye is considered one of the more exciting venues in college wrestling, but Penn State certainly has some familiarity with it.

Since Sanderson’s reign began back in April 2009, the Nittany Lions have managed two dual-meet victories in five tries. In their last attempt, however, they fell 19-17 to the Hawkeyes in January of 2020.

A legend for Iowa State, Sanderson doesn’t have any shortage of knowledge on the Hawkeyes and their home arena. However, the head coach gave a classic Penn State wrestling answer when considering Friday’s dual at his weekly media availability.

“We’ve wrestled in a lot of venues around the country,” Sanderson said. “Rec Hall being one of them—the [Bryce] Jordan Center, being one. We’re just going to compete. We’re not worried about any outside distractions.”

Penn State certainly will have plenty to worry about besides the electric atmosphere Friday night. Even with perennial national-champion Spencer Lee out with season-ending surgery, Iowa still boasts highly ranked wrestlers in each class, including six in the top 10.

The lineup is largely highlighted, among several others, by No. 2s Jaydin Eierman and Michael Kemerer, No. 3 Austin DeSanto, and No. 5 Alex Marinelli.

Iowa is also undefeated on the season, their only close duals coming last week against Ohio State and in a four-point victory over NC State in December down in Niceville, Fla. Much like Sanderson, 15-year head coach Tom Brands runs a well-oiled machine up in Iowa City, and it will be on full display Friday night.

Key Matchups

133 lbs. — No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young vs. No. 3 Austin DeSanto

You could say this for just about every bout, but both of these guys are really, really good. Bravo-Young has rolled to a 10-0 record this season while DeSanto sits at 12-0, and neither of the pair has been particularly challenged by any of their opponents thus far.

Bravo-Young is the reigning national champ at 133 pounds, but outside of Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix, the redshirt senior DeSanto is RBY’s clear challenger. The pair have already met on five occasions through their collegiate careers. After the Hawkeye won the first two meetings in 2019, Bravo-Young managed victories in the next three bouts, most recently a 5-2 decision at the 2021 Big Ten Championships.

If DeSanto does go, as he’s currently listed as OR alongside Cullan Schriever, expect even more fireworks when the pair face off early on in Friday night’s dual.

141 lbs. — No. 1 Nick Lee vs. No. 2 Jaydin Eierman

Another pair of old friends will get to meet on the mat just after Bravo-Young and DeSanto finish up. Two more undefeated wrestlers thus far, Lee and Eierman have gone against each other three times over the course of their careers.

Most recently, the Nittany Lion took down Eierman with an electric 4-2 sudden victory win for last year’s National Championship at 141 pounds. Eierman had beaten Lee for the Big Ten crown just two weeks earlier at the BJC, however, and earned a major decision in the pair’s first meeting at the 2018 NCAA Championships.

That first 2018 battle was back when Eierman wrestled for Missouri. He was forced to sit out the 2019-20 season following that decision, but he is back and dominating in a big way for the Hawkeyes in his seventh season of college wrestling. Lee will certainly have a tall task against the veteran wrestler.

149 lbs. — No. 19 Beau Bartlett vs. No. 10 Max Murin

It’d be a tall task for the sophomore, but it would be a massive momentum swing if Bartlett is able to pull off this upset over Murin.

Bartlett has picked up three losses this season but is coming off a solid 5-2 decision over Michigan State’s Peyton Omania this past Sunday in East Lansing. Bartlett hasn’t beaten a top-ten wrestler in his young Penn State career, however, and Murin is hardly a pushover. The senior just fell to No. 2 Sammy Sasso for his second loss of the season, and will likely be hungry to get on track against Bartlett.

If there were ever a time for Bartlett to grow up fast for the Nittany Lions, it’d be Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye.

174 lbs. — No. 1 Carter Starocci vs. No. 2 Michael Kemerer

Another No. 1 v. No. 2 bout. It doesn’t get much better than that.

In case you forgot about his exciting run to a national championship last year, the then-redshirt freshman Starocci beat Kemerer in a sudden-victory period to lock up the crown at 174 pounds. Similar to the Lee-Eierman situation, however, Kemerer did beat the Nittany Lion for a Big Ten Championship just a few weeks prior.

With two duals split last season, this pair of dominant athletes will certainly make for an entertaining bout down the stretch.

197 lbs. — No. 2 Max Dean vs. No. 4 Jacob Warner

Expect to see some awesome wrestling in the penultimate bout Friday night.

Since arriving in Happy Valley from Cornell for the 2021-22 season, Dean has burst onto the scene with a 12-1 record. The junior ripped off 12 straight wins to open the year, but fell to Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey this past Sunday.

Dean’s early dominance will be tested against Warner, who’s 11-1 on the year and has held strong at InterMat’s No. 4 spot. The senior has put together a couple of All-American seasons at Iowa so far and should be yet another worthy challenger for a strong Nittany Lions’ lineup.

Based on Penn State and Iowa’s probable starting lineups, other key bouts could come as listed:

  • 125 lbs. — No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt vs. No. 11 Drake Ayala OR Jesse Ybarra
  • 157 lbs. — Terrell Barraclough OR Tony Negron vs. No. 12 Kaleb Young
  • 165 lbs. — No. 11 Brady Berge OR Creighton Edsell vs. No. 5 Alex Marinelli
  • 184 lbs. — No. 1 Aaron Brooks vs. No. 17 Abe Assad
  • 285 lbs. — No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet vs. No. 5 Tony Cassioppi

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior 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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