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Penn State Wrestling’s Max Dean Finds Purpose During 2021-22 Championship Run

Penn State wrestling’s historic era of dominance continued this past weekend in Detroit when it clinched its ninth team title in the past 11 seasons.

The Nittany Lions saw five perfect runs at Little Caesars Arena for Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks, and Max Dean, who all went on to win their championship bouts. Each of those wrestlers managed to secure back-to-back crowns in their respective weight classes with wins in Detroit, besides the Cornell transfer Dean.

Dean transferred to Happy Valley this past May after his former squad canceled its season due to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 197-pounder, who earned All-American honors in his first two seasons with the Big Red, quickly gained the respect of teammates and fans alike during his first season at Penn State.

The Nittany Lion put together a 23-1 record this season with his only loss coming to Michigan State’s Cam Caffey back in late January. While Dean ripped off wins in his first 12 bouts for Cael Sanderson’s team, he was also making his presence felt as a strong teammate. The junior developed a reputation as Penn State’s grill master over the past several months and even helped All-American Carter Starocci with some car troubles ahead of the Rutgers dual at Rec Hall this past January.

For Dean, just being a member of the team was just as important as putting together wins on the mat. Just after his championship victory over Iowa’s Jacob Warner, he reflected on all he got to be a part of this year.

“I remember thinking before the season even started, ‘If I don’t start…If I don’t ever win a match…I’m just lucky to be here,'” Dean said. “Their perspective on life — I think that’s why there are so successful — is just so next-level.”

Dean clearly has high praise for the entire team but most notably for his head coach and his long-time assistant, Casey Cunningham, who played key roles in leading him to such a dominant year. After a year off from wrestling, Dean needed the exact leadership that the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff provides.

The All-American noted that before he arrived at Penn State, he began to fall out of love with wrestling as a whole.

“I needed something, and they gave it to me,” Dean said. “So, just thinking of those guys and so many people…I know I wouldn’t be here tonight without them. It’s emotional because they’re just such classy guys. They’ve been so good to me.”

The emotion was clear for the Lowell, Michigan, native as he celebrated his championship with his family and fiancĂ© in the crowd. Dean’s brother, Gabe, was a two-time NCAA champion at Cornell, while his father wrestled at Minnesota in the late 1980s.

Dean’s family rejoices in the crowd following his title-winning victory

The celebration couldn’t officially begin, however, until Dean locked up the victory. The Nittany Lion trailed Warner 1-0 early in the third period but quickly tied things up with an escape of his own. From there, a late escape gave him a 3-1 lead with 32 seconds left that he never relinquished.

Penn State had already clinched the team title hours before the finals began, but the pressure was still heavily on Dean to earn the victory for himself and keep a perfect record for the Nittany Lions in championship bouts. In high-leverage moments like that one, Dean just leans on the training he’s been a part of over the past several months.

“You talk about what integrity is. Integrity is having values and sticking to them even when it’s uncomfortable,” Dean said. “That’s why in situations when it’s uncomfortable out here — we’re competing, it’s 1-1, and your dreams are on the line. But you’re so focused because you have your values, and you decide how you’re going to wrestle and you’re sticking to it no matter what.

“That’s Cael Sanderson, that’s Casey Cunningham, and that’s everybody else,” Dean continued. “Getting with them and adding them to my support system — you’d be silly not to.”

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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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