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After Day 1, Penn State has four wrestlers advance as finalists in Big Ten Championships

PHOTO PROVIDED Nick Lee used a late takedown to post an 8-6 (sv) win over Rutgers’ Sebastian Rivera in the Big Ten semifinals.

STATE COLLEGE — A slow start to the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships meant Penn State had to play catch up Saturday in the race to try to unseat Iowa as team champion.

While the Nittany Lions steadily gained ground throughout the evening session at the Bryce Jordan Center, they still have a long way to go if they want to add another Big Ten championship trophy to their collection.

Iowa pushed six wrestlers into the finals and accumulated 126.5 team points to stand in first place after the first day of competition. Penn State has four finalists and 111.5 team points. Nebraska is third with 88 points, followed by Michigan in fourth with 76 and Purdue in fifth with 67.

“Yeah, we definitely started off pretty slow. There were some tough losses,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think the guys just have wrestled better and wrestled better this afternoon. So yeah, like you said, we have nine going to the nationals. You know, we’re hoping to get 10 obviously.

But, we’re happy with the nine and we just need to finish strong tomorrow and you’re ready for the NCAA.”

Roman Bravo-Young (133 pounds), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184) will all wrestle for championships Sunday afternoon. Robbie Howard (125), Brady Berge (157), Joe Lee (165), Michael Beard (197) and Greg Kerkvliet (285) are still alive in the consolation bracket and have also earned NCAA berths.

Here’s a look at how each Nittany Lion performed and the championship finals matchups at each weight:

125 pounds: Howard rebounded from a tight 3-2 first-round loss with a pair of major decisions and a dramatic sudden victory win to advance to the consolation semifinals. He can finish no worse than sixth and has earned a berth in the NCAA Championships. After 16-4 and 10-1 consolation wins, he locked up double overhooks and tossed Michigan’s Dylan Ragusin to his back for a 3-1 sudden victory win in the third round of consolations. He’ll meet Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman this afternoon.

Finals matchup: (1) Spencer Lee, Iowa vs. (7) Devin Schroder, Purdue.

133 pounds: Bravo-Young earned his second consecutive trip to the finals with an 8-3 semifinal win over Northwestern No. 4 seed Chris Cannon. Two quick-strike double-leg takedowns gave him a 4-2 lead at the end of the first period. In the second, Cannon escaped but neither wrestler could score from there and Bravo-Young led, 4-3, heading into the third. In the final period, Bravo-Young escaped scored another takedown and earned a point for riding time. Bravo-Young started his day with a bye and then a 9-3 quarterfinal win,

Finals matchup: (1) Bravo-Young vs. (2) Austin DeSanto, Iowa.

141 pounds: Lee, too, earned his second straight trip to the finals, but it took extra time in the semifinals to do it. After a first-round bye and a 16-1 technical fall in the quarterfinals, he was paired with Rutgers’ Sebastian Rivera in what would turn into an entertaining back-and-forth match. Rivera struck first with a low takedown in the first, but Lee escaped and drove right back in on a low double for a 3-2 lead. Rivera escaped to knot the score at 3-3 at the end of one. Lee escaped in the second but Rivera took the lead right back with a slick takedown of Lee. Lee, though, earned a point for locked hands and then escaped to lead, 6-5, heading into the third. Rivera escaped early in the third and Lee just missed a takedown at the final buzzer and regulation ended with the score tied at 6-6. In the sudden victory period, Lee got in on a low single and a wild scramble ensued. But Lee was able to gradually improve his position, finally scoring the takedown with just two seconds left for an 8-6 win.

Finals matchup: (2) Lee vs. (1) Jaydin Eirman, Iowa.

149 pounds: Bartlett went 1-2 in his first Big Ten tournament experience. He was bounced from the tournament after a second-round sudden victory consolation loss Saturday night. Only the top seven placers earn automatic bids, so the freshman will have to wait and hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Finals matchup: (1) Sammy Sasso, Ohio State vs. (7) Ridge Lovett, Nebraska.

157 pounds: Berge went 3-1 and is into the consolation semifinals against Minnesota’s Brayton Lee. Berge has earned an automatic berth to the national tournament. He started his day with a 13-4 major decision before falling on a late takedown by Purdue’s Kendall Coleman, 3-2. He bounced back Saturday night with a pair of 12-2 major decisions to stay alive.

Finals matchup: (1) Ryan Deakin, Northwestern vs. (2) Kaleb Young, Iowa.

165 pounds: Lee shook off a sluggish start to the tournament in the first session and went 2-2, earning an NCAA bid. Lee’s day started with a 7-5 sudden victory loss to Maryland’s Jonathan Spadafora, who Lee had pinned in the dual meet. Lee followed with a 4-3 win and then, in the evening session, looked reenergized as he scored a fall in 44 seconds. But in the third round of consolations, he was leading 2-0 when he was cradled and pinned. He will face Northwestern’s David Ferrante in the seventh-place bout.

Finals matchup: (1) Alex Marinelli, Iowa vs. (3) Ethan Smith, Ohio State.

174 pounds: Starocci went 3-0 in marching to this afternoon’s championship finals, and he did it in a variety of ways. He started with a fall in 4:47 in the first round. In the quarterfinals, he used a second-period escape and a third-period rideout to earn a 2-0 win over Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero. Then, in the semifinals, after regulation ended 3-3, Staroccia shot in on a single on Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola and, after long scramble, Starocci came out on top for the winning takedown with four seconds left in the sudden victory period.

Finals matchup: (1) Michael Kemerer, Iowa vs. (3) Starocci

184 pounds: Brooks, the defending champ, had to overcome an unexpected challenge and an injury in the quarterfinals, but he powered through to earn a chance to defend his title. After a first-round bye, he met Iowa’s Nelson Brands. The Hawkeye jumped out to a lead in what was a back-and-forth match. Twice Brooks emerge from a flurry limping. The second time, in the second period, he had his ankle taped over his shoe. Eventually, Brooks locked up Brands in a bear hug and took him to his back for six points in a 14-8 win. He had no such difficulties in his semifinal win over Rutgers’ John Poznanski using four takedowns to fashion a 10-2 major decision.

Finals matchup: (1) Brooks vs. (6) Taylor Venz, Nebraska.

197 pounds: Beard went 3-1 on the day, earning him a consolation semifinal matchup with Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey and a trip to nationals. Beard can finish as high as third and no worse than sixth. Beard recorded a 7-3 win to start the day before falling to Michigan finalist Myles Amine, 8-6, in the quarterfinals. He bounced back with 6-2 and 6-5 wins.

Finals matchup: (1) Eric Schultz, Nebraska vs. (2) Myles Amine, Michigan

285 pounds: In his Big Ten tournament debut, Kerkvliet both impressed and learned what life is life among the nation’s elite heavyweights. After a 16-5 first-round win, he tangled with Michigan’s Mason Parris and was dominated, 12-2, in a quarterfinal loss. He bounced back with 16-5 and 7-3 wins to advance to the consolation semifinals against Nebraska’s Christian Lance. He can finish as high as third and no worse than sixth.

Finals matchup: (1) Gable Steveson, Minnesota vs. (2) Mason Parris, Michigan.

The tournament resumes at noon with consolation semifinal and seventh-place bouts. The championship finals, as well as third- and fifth-place bouts start at 4 p.m.

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