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Penn State wrestling closes out strong with back half of lineup, struggles continue at 157 pounds

Penn State Big Ten Wrestling Championship (Lee)

Penn State’s Nick Lee wrestles Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman in the 141-pound at the Big Ten Wrestling Championship on Sunday, March 7, 2021 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. Lee lost 6-5 by decision and placed second overall at 141 pounds.

Penn State started the season 3-0 after beating Army 32-7, as the back half of the lineup dominated its opponents once again to pull away at the end of the meet.

The last five wrestlers in the lineup: Creighton Edsell, Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks, Max Dean and Greg Kerkvliet, are all undefeated and have played a crucial role in pulling away from opponents.

The No. 2 Nittany Lions were only leading by four points, a score of 11-7, halfway through the dual meet as their struggles at 157 pounds continued.

Army wrestlers would not score another point for the rest of the night, with the last four Penn State wrestlers recording two tech falls and two major decisions following Edsell’s 4-3 decision at 165.

The back half includes two 2020-21 national champions, a former NCAA runner-up and a former No. 1 overall recruit, making it scary for any opponent to go up against.

“I think our team is better than it's ever been,” Starocci said. “When you walk in that room it's almost kind of like a weird vibe if you're not focused on a goal.”

In a conference that has 10 ranked teams in the top 25, like the Big Ten does, there almost has to be something that a team can rely on.

The last five wrestlers are something this Penn State team can rely on.

Outside of the Army dual meet, the last five wrestlers have racked up tech falls, pins, major decisions and a regular decision, meaning they earn bonus points in virtually every match.

None of the blue and white’s first three opponents have scored in the double digits, mostly because the flow of points is completely halted after the 157-pound class finishes.

The drought of points that teams thus far have experienced after the halfway mark could play a crucial role in the success of the Nittany Lions, especially against teams like Iowa who has several ranked wrestlers of its own.

Penn State Big Ten Wrestling Championship (Starocci)

Penn State’s Carter Starocci wrestles Iowa’s Michael Kemerer in the 174-pound at the Big Ten Wrestling Championship on Sunday, March 7, 2021 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. Starocci lost 7-2 by decision and placed second overall for the 174-pound.

“We’ve got some hammers in there,” Cael Sanderson said. “Everyone giving their best effort and competing with enthusiasm is what we're trying to do.”

On the other side though, it is concerning that duals are so close at the start as it puts pressure on the back half of the lineup to succeed. 

The front half of the Nittany Lions’ lineup includes national champions Roman Bravo-Young at 133 pounds and Nick Lee at 141 pounds.

Baylor Shunk and Beau Bartlett, who’s also undefeated, have also posted winning records after three matches, each dropping a match against Oregon State.

Where the most concern lies though, is at 157 pounds. The Nittany Lions have not won a match in that weight class this season, even losing against Sacred Heart, who’s ranked No. 76 in the country. 

The losses include two major decisions, with the latest happening on Thursday as Terrell Barraclough lost 9-0 against Army’s Markus Hartman.

“I think that just means we have work to do on the first half [of the lineup],” Sanderson said.

The lack of a weight class might not mean a lot so early in the season, evident by the blue and white’s three dual win streak, but against a high caliber team, it can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Big Ten duals are still nearly two months away so there is still time for adjustments at that position, and the prowess that Penn State has shown in the last half of the lineup earns their ranking as No. 2 in the country and as contenders for a national title.

“We’re not planning to get second place,” Lee said.

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