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Lions dominate, push five through to finals

NCAA wrestling

DETROIT — Penn State put a stranglehold on a 10th NCAA team title with yet another sparkling semifinal performance Friday night at the 2022 NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships at Little Caesars Arena.

The Nittany Lions won five of six semifinal bouts in another Friday night tour de force. Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184) and Max Dean (197) all advanced to Saturday’s championship finals. Greg Kerkvliet (285) lost in the semfinals. All six have earned All-America status.

Drew Hildebrandt, Beau Bartlett and Brady Berge were eliminated earlier Friday.

Former Chestnut Ridge standout Justin McCoy fell one win short of All-America status, as did Central Cambria grad Max Murin.

At the end of two full days of competition, Penn State leads the team race with 108 points, 23.5 ahead of second-place Michigan. Arizona State is in third with 63.5, followed closely by Iowa with 62 and Nebraska in fifth with 54.

“They’re tough matches. Every one of those matches are great matches. I mean, they felt like NCAA kind of final matches and guys just did a great job kept their composure were the aggressors and went out there and got the takedowns,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They were just themselves. These big moments, obviously, when the team race is on the line, as a lot you know, and that’s something our guys deal with.”

The eighth collegiate meeting between Bravo-Young and Iowa’s Austin DeSanto was another cliffhanger. After a scoreless first, the two traded escapes in the second and third. With fewer than 30 seconds Bravo-Young initiated a single-leg shot and a scramble ensued. With the two wrestlers on the out-of-bounds stripe, RBY had DeSanto’s leg trapped and then reached in and grasped his foot and ankle for the go-ahead takedown with just nine seconds remaining. DeSanto skipped free with seconds to go but it was too little too late and the Nittany Lion escaped with a 3-2 win, his sixth in a row over the Hawkeye

“That’s probably my eighth or ninth time wrestling (DeSanto). It gets harder every time,” Bravo-Young said. “Like I said, when I got off the mat, I have to thank him. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He pushes me in different kinds of ways. I’m doing extra workouts and stuff. I knew how to get one takedown, and I just found I away to get that at the end, once again.”

Bravo-Young will have a rematch of last year’s final with Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix Saturday.

“That’s the match I’ve been looking for for about a year now, so it’s here tomorrow. It’s going to go down,” Fix said. “It’s been on my mind ever since it took place last time, so you know, wish I would have scored more points, but I can do that tomorrow.”

Bravo-Young drew Virginia’s Brian Courtney in the quarters and his prowess on his feet was too much for the Cavalier. Five RBY takedowns, a reversal and a riding time point for 3:32 in advantage added up to a 13-6 decision.

Lee, too, notched a 3-2 win in the semifinals, over Stanford’s Real Woods. Lee scored a takedown at the 1:04 mark of the first period and escaped 11 seconds into the second to lead, 3-1, heading into the third. He amassed 59 seconds of riding time before Woods escaped but Lee kept him at bay the rest of the way for the win.

“It’s really awesome. I feel like I’m just trying to be my best self, and if my best self is in the national championships, then that’s where I want to be,” he said.

Lee will face No. 15 seed Kizhan Clark of North Carolina in the finals. Lee said he doesn’t know anything about him.

“No. He is in the finals of the national tournament, so he is an incredible wrestler, so I’m excited. It should be a fun match,” he said.

Starocci controlled much of the action in his 10-3 win over NC State’s Hayden Hidlay at 174. Brooks countered a shot by Trent Hidlay in overtime in a 184-pound semifinal and converted on the winning takedown in a 6-4 win.

Dean became Penn State’s fifth finalist with a convincing 9-3 win over Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State. It will be Dean’s second trip to the finals after losing a close decision in the 2019 final while at Cornell.

He’ll take on Iowa’s Jacob Warner in the final.

Kerkvliet had the unenviable task of taking on defending NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson of Minnesota. The match was relatively close until the end when Steveson countered a desperation shot by Kerkvliet to close out an 8-3 win. Kerkvliet will meet Michigan’s Mason Parris in the consolation semifinals.

Lee was locked in a tight battle with Oregon State’s Grant Willits when the Nittany Lion went next level. He escaped in the second to take a 3-1 lead and then shot in on a single. During the ensuing scramble, Lee trapped one of Willits’ legs, lifte the other and drove him to his back and stuck him in 3:45.

After a scoreless first against Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola, Starocci escaped to start the second and picked up a takedown. He added another in the third and a point for 2:13 in advantage for a 6-1 decision.

Brooks put on a technical clinic on his feet against Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero. He racked up five of them, along with an escape, penalty point and riding time point for a 13-2 major decision.

Dean survived another rollicking, controversial match. He entered the third period tied 2-2 with Lou Deprez of Binghamton, but the Bearcat had 1:05 in riding time. Dean looked like he had been denied a takedown during a scramble, but coaches Cael Sanderson and Casey Cunningham threw the challenge brick. The call was reversed, giving Dean a takedown. Deprez escaped late but Dean fended him off for a 4-3 win.

Kerkvliet was never threatened in a steady 7-1 win over Nebraska’s Christian Lance. He used two takedowns a reversal and a point for 4:09 in riding time for the win.

During the first session on Friday, Penn State’s contingent shrunk from nine to six. Bravo-Young, Lee, Starocci, Brooks, Dean and Kerkvliet advanced to the semifinals. Berge went 1-1 and was eliminated. Hildebrandt and Bartlett lost their first matches were were bounced as well.

McCoy bounced back from his Round of 16 loss with a pair of major decisions in Friday’s first session. In the second round, the senior from New Paris piled up a 14-4 win over William Formato of Appalachian State. In the third round he blanked Izzak Olejnik of Northern Illinois, 8-0. In the All-America round the former Chestnut Ridge standout faced off with West Virginia’s Peyton Hall. McCoy fell, 11-3, one win short of All-America status.

Iowa’s Max Murin, the two-time PIAA champion for Central Cambria, gave No. 1 seed Yanni Diakomihalis from Cornell a good fight in the quarterfinals. In the end, the Big Red standout prevailed, 6-3. In the All-America round, Murin faced off with Appalachian State’s Jonathan Millner and that’s where his journey ended. Millner handed him an 8-1 decision and the Ebensburg native finished one win short of All-America status.

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