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Penn State Wrestling Dominant In Session I Of NCAA Championships, Send Eight To Next Round

No. 1 Penn State wrestling, coming straight off its eighth Big Ten Championship victory, traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to partake in the 2024 NCAA Championships. The Nittany Lions, the defending national champions, brought four No. 1 seeds into the tournament, including two wrestlers searching to win the fourth title of their legendary careers.

Session I of action began at noon on Thursday, and eight Nittany Lions moved on to the next rounds.

How It Happened

125 Pounds

Defending Big Ten Champion No. 1 Braeden Davis battled against No. 33 Tristan Lujan of Michigan State. Davis fought for a tough takedown to take an initial 3-0 lead in the bout, remaining on top for the rest of the period to collect over 60 seconds of riding time heading into the middle period. A quick escape and eventual second takedown from Davis extended the freshman’s lead to 7-0 after two periods. An allowed escape from Lujan was the only point scored in the third period, giving Davis an 8-1 decision and advancing him in the bracket.

133 Pounds

No. 10 Aaron Nagao took on No. 23 Marlon Yarbrough of Virginia. Nagao quickly found himself on the business end of two takedown attempts from Yarbrough, sliding to a 6-2 deficit after the first period. After escaping from bottom position to start the second period, Nagao fell once again to a third takedown late into the period, increasing his deficit to 9-3 into the final two minutes. A fourth takedown from Yarbrough finished off the bout with a 13-5 major decision from the Cavalier after riding time, sending Nagao into the consolation bracket.

141 Pounds

After coming just short of a Big Ten Championship, No. 2 Beau Bartlett kicked off his national championship push against No. 31 Kai Miller of Maryland. Despite both wrestlers’ best efforts, no points were scored in the opening period, and Bartlett began the second period in bottom position. After an escape from the Nittany Lion, no other points were scored in the period as Bartlett held a narrow 1-0 lead moving into the final two minutes. Bartlett finally secured the bout’s first takedown along with two back points with under 10 seconds left in the third period to take a 6-1 decision victory and advance in the bracket.

149 Pounds

In action shortly after, No. 7 Tyler Kasak battled against No. 26 Jaden Abas of Stanford. In a similar fashion to Bartlett’s match, no points were scored in the first period. After scoring the match’s first point with an escape from the bottom position, Kasak fell victim to the match’s first takedown and trailed 3-1 heading into the final two minutes. Kasak couldn’t climb back in the final period, falling 4-2 to Abas and into the consolation bracket.

157 Pounds

No. 1 Levi Haines took on No. 31 Isaac Wilcox of Ohio State in his first action of the weekend. Haines grabbed two takedowns in the first period, jumping out to a quick 6-1 lead heading into the second period. Continued offensive pressure throughout the final two periods saw Haines emerge victorious 17-2 via technical fall and advance in the tournament.

165 Pounds

Wrestling next for the Nittany Lions was No. 2 Mitchell Mesenbrink staring down No. 31 Maxx Mayfield of Northwestern. Mesenbrink struck first for an opening takedown, putting himself in front 3-1 early after an escape from Mayfield. Mesenbrink added two more takedowns in the first period, extending his lead to 9-2 heading into the second period. After an additional pair of takedowns in the second period and a quick takedown to start the third, Mesenbrink won the bout 18-2 by tech fall at 5:32.

174 Pounds

In his first match returning from an injury that sidelined him at the Big Ten Championships, No. 9 Carter Starocci walked out to the mat to take on Minnesota’s No. 24 Andrew Sparks. After giving up the match-opening takedown, Starocci bounced back with a takedown of his own and a four-point near fall to take an 8-3 lead after one period. A second takedown from Starocci in the middle period extended his lead to 11-4 heading into the final two minutes. Neither wrestler made many offensive moves in the third, giving Starocci the 12-6 decision victory in his return.

184 Pounds

No. 6 Bernie Truax squared off against No. 33 Cameron Pine of Clarion to start his weekend. A dominant first period from Truax gave the Cal Poly transfer an early 9-1 lead over Pine as the bout entered the second period. Another two takedowns from Truax in the second extended his lead to 15-3 heading into the final two minutes. A final takedown in the third period was enough to award Truax the 18-3 tech fall at 5:09.

197 Pounds

Four-time Big Ten Champion No. 1 Aaron Brooks took on No. 33 Evan Bates of Northwestern. Two quick takedowns from Brooks in the first period built a 6-1 lead for the Nittany Lion headed into the middle period. A handful of takedowns in the second and third periods gave Brooks a 19-4 tech fall victory at 5:24.

Heavyweight

Closing out session one for the Nittany Lions was No. 1 Greg Kerkvliet taking on No. 32 Nick Willham of Indiana. A lone takedown from Kerkvliet in the first period created a small 3-0 lead, and increased offensive pressure in the second from Kerkvliet grew the blue and white wrestler’s lead to 16-3 after two. One more takedown in the final period gave Kerkvliet a 19-3 tech fall at 5:16.

The group scored a total of 15.5 points in Session I.

What’s Next?

Session II of the NCAA Championships will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 21. All matches can be streamed on ESPN+.

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About the Author

Brendan Wagner

Brendan is a Junior majoring in print and media journalism. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Mooresville, North Carolina. As a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, you can find him on Twitter, @brchwags, often complaining about the Pittsburgh Steelers and probably Russell Wilson.

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