Penn State Wrestling Sends Nine To 2022 NCAA Championships
After finishing second at the Big Ten Championships last week, Penn State wrestling will travel to Little Caesars Arena in Detroit to make a run at the NCAA Championships.
The expectations are high for the Nittany Lions, who possess six top-five overall seeds in their respective weight classes. Still, nothing’s fazing Penn State’s program.
“It’s about focusing on the positive and being ready to go, which we are,” said head coach Cael Sanderson. “Then, we will have our best performance of the year.”
With the action just a day away, here’s a brief look at how Penn State’s nine qualifying wrestlers are shaping up to open the tournament.
125 pounds — No. 16 Drew Hildebrandt
Although Hildebrandt made an early exit in Nebraska, this is not the senior’s first time on the big stage. Since his career began at Central Michigan, he has made it to NCAA Championships in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Last year, Hildebrandt walked away from his best performance yet with a fourth-place finish due to a loss to No. 15 Patrick McKee of Minnesota.
This weekend, the 125-pound wrestler will start off his run against No. 17 Anthony Noto of Lock Haven. Hildebrandt stands at 9-3 on the season and owns a 2-3 record against the NCAA Tournament field this year. Noto, meanwhile, hasn’t lost a match since November 7 and should pose a good challenge for Hildebrandt.
133 pounds — No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young
Bravo-Young is another senior in this stacked lineup who is heading to defend his 2021 national title. The Arizona native has qualified for the tournament every year. He placed eighth his freshman year and finally brought home the win last year. 2020’s tournament, of course, was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic.
Bravo-Young, who’s competing in what’s expected to be his final season, won’t know his first-round opponent until No. 32 Dominic LaJoie of Cornell and No. 33 Domenic Zaccone of Cambell face off. Should Bravo-Young move on, he could later expect rematches against same-bracket foes like Iowa’s Austin DeSanto (No. 5) and Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix (No. 2).
141 pounds — No. 1 Nick Lee
Next up is Nick Lee, who’s also defending a national title. In his first two seasons, Lee took fifth place before finally winning it all last year.
“Having done it three times now, I kind of know what to expect,” the defending champion said this week. “I know what the level of competition is going to be and what the demand is going to be.”
Lee’s biggest competition should come from No. 2 Jaydin Eierman, who Lee upset to take home the national crown in 2021. First, he’ll need to get far enough in the bracket, of course. He’ll face off against the winner of No. 32 Josh Mason of Bloomsburg and No. 33 Dylan Cedeno of Virginia.
149 pounds — No. 13 Beau Bartlett
No. 13 Beau Bartlett is preparing to make his NCAA Championships debut. The sophomore has faced his first full season worth of competition in 2022.
During this season, Bartlett had his most notable dual against Ohio State’s No. 4 Sammy Sasso, against whom he lost by only one point in the annual Bryce Jordan Center dual. If he wrestles hard, Barlett could for sure make some noise this weekend.
Bartlett will see No. 20 Collin Realbuto of Northern Iowa in his first-round matchup. Bartlett is 14-8 on the season but owns a 5-7 record against fellow 149-pounders in this bracket.
157 pounds — No. 16 Brady Berge
After transferring back to Penn State in January, Brady Berge is set to compete once again in the NCAA Championships for the Nittany Lions.
In 2021, the wrestler made the decision to medically retire following a season-ending concussion in St. Louis during last year’s tournament. Since then, he moved on to become a volunteer assistant coach at South Dakota State University before ultimately coming back to pick up his own collegiate career.
While Berge has been jumping between the 157 and 165-pound weight classes, he will take on this competition from the former. Berge will enter the mat against No. 17 Hunter Willits of Oregon State. Impressively, Berge is 9-2 on the shortened season and 4-1 against the field.
174 pounds — No. 1 Carter Starocci
Next on the list of past champions, No. 1 Carter Starocci is back. The sophomore is already off to a stronger start than the 2020-21 season with an undefeated record and a Big Ten title already under his belt.
Starocci has been nothing short of dominant this season, and by the looks of this tweet from a couple days ago, he is not lacking confidence.
Starocci will face either No. 32 Dominic Solis of Maryland or No. 33 Connor O’Neill of Rutgers. He’s 18-0 on the season and, more importantly, 9-0 against the NCAA Championships’ loaded bracket.
184 pounds — No. 2 Aaron Brooks
Rounding out Nittany Lions defending titles, No. 2 Aaron Brooks is back and searching for a get-right tournament following a heartbreaking Big Tens loss.
After achieving both a national and Big Ten championship last season, Brooks has great potential for this again after his win in Nebraska two weeks ago. He is ranked No. 2, but that shouldn’t stop Brooks from getting where he wants to go.
He will face off against No. 31 A.J. Burkhart of Lehigh. Brooks owns a 16-1 record this season and is 11-1 against the NCAA Championships field.
197 pounds — No. 1 Max Dean
Once again, the Nittany Lions have a first-ranked wrestler. This is the first time Max Dean will be back at the NCAA Tournament since he finished as a runner-up with Cornell in 2019.
“I’ve lost and I’ve won, and it’s been a few years,” Dean said about his second-place finish. “[I’m] keeping it light and focusing on wrestling, not what the stakes are, just going out there to compete.”
Dean will wait for the results of No. 32 Will Feldkamp of Clarion and No. 33 Matthew Waddell of Chattanooga before learning his first-round opponent. Dean is 18-1 on the season and 11-1 versus wrestlers in the postseason bracket.
285 pounds — No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet
To round out Penn State’s qualifiers, we have No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet. He took home seventh place last year with a loss to Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State. This year, Kerkvliet has been a solid top-five rank for multiple weeks of the regular season before finishing in third place in the Big Ten Tournament.
Kerkvliet will take on No. 29 Brandon Metz of North Dakota State. Penn State’s heavyweight star is 18-2 this season and owns a 9-2 mark against qualifying NCAA Championships wrestlers.
More details about Penn State’s NCAA Championships schedule — including when wrestlers compete — should be available soon. The entire tournament will be broadcast on ESPNU or ESPN from March 17 to 19.
We’ll keep you posted all weekend long with session recaps, live blogs, and minute-by-minute tweets. Until then, browse the full list of this year’s brackets online and get excited for an action-packed tournament.
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