While family and fans were all able to cheer on the four Penn State national champions Saturday evening, some of the most emotional support they received may have come from somewhere else.
While each of the Nittany Lions national champions shared passionate moments with the thousands watching, it was their fellow blue and white wrestlers who truly understood all of the work that was put in to get to that point.
Senior Nick Lee won his first national championship by upsetting the top-seeded Jaydin Eierman out of Iowa at 141 pounds, someone who he had previously fallen to at the Big Ten Tournament.
“Nick Lee, he’s such a great leader,” eventual 184-pound champion Aaron Brooks said. “He's been such a great aspect of this team, and to see him finally get that goal of his — it’s hard not to be emotional.”
Prior to what some may consider the biggest win of his already impressive career, though, Lee said winning his first individual title wasn’t the only thing he had thought about before the final day of the NCAA tournament.
"I visualize myself, but I visualize my teammates a lot as well and I think that's really important,” Lee said. “We already have our goals for next year written down. I'm really proud of my teammates."
Lee was the second Nittany Lion to win a national championship, as Roman Bravo-Young bested the top-ranked Daton Fix at 133 one match prior.
And while Bravo-Young took on Fix in sudden victory, Brooks and fellow eventual champion Carter Starocci had the chance to witness the success of their teammates prior to their own individual bouts.
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Roman Bravo-Young capped off his already impressive junior campaign with a 133-pound nationa…
“For the first two, me and Carter were watching in the bleachers,” Brooks said. “We had to control our breathing. We were getting hyped up and we still had to wrestle.”
The daily grind that each wrestler goes through — not only as an individual, but as a part of the team — is part of what resonated so heavily in each of the wrestlers.
“It’s emotional,” Brooks said. “Me and Carter were almost fighting back tears. We see the work these guys put in everyday. I live with Roman, so I see the work he’s putting in everyday and how dedicated he is.”
Cael Sanderson himself is one of the most highly decorated college wrestlers in NCAA history and is more than aware of just how difficult it is to balance one’s emotions when watching teammates compete on one of the biggest stages the sport has to offer.
“It's a little bit tricky, because you've got to wrestle your own match, and obviously the best thing you can do for the team is control your emotions, use your energy and use every second of that seven minutes,” Sanderson said.
With that being thought in mind, the raw emotion that was felt and shared by the Nittany Lions as a team was undeniable, something that stems from the tight bond and sense of community Sanderson and his coaching staff have ingrained in the wrestling room in Happy Valley.
"You hope that's the case,” Sanderson said. “You want to care about your teammates and their matches. I know after Roman won, the guys were in the back and Nick's coming up on deck, but Carter and Aaron I think both said if they weren't about to wrestle, they would've been crying and were just happy for Roman. It's exciting.”
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