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Lee helps Iowa celebrate NCAA championship; Penn State captures four titles
Photo: Spencer Lee acknowledged that he wrestled this national tournament with an injured knee, but still beat Brandon Courtney of Arizona State at 125 pounds for his third NCAA title. (John Sachs photo)
By Mike Finn
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The University of Iowa had to wait 11 years to capture the school’s 24th all-time national team championship, earlier in the day on Saturday, then had to wait nearly three hours during the finals of the NCAA Division I Championships to finally smile.
That’s because the Hawkeyes saw two of their top-three seeds — Jaydin Eierman (141) and Michael Kemerer (174) — lose earlier in the night before 125-pound Spencer Lee provided a great individual moment for this team. The Hawkeye lightweight — wrestling the final match of the evening — defeated Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney to become his school’s sixth three-time national champ … and provided “joy” for his teammates.
“Spencer healed a lot of hearts tonight,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands, one of those previous three-time champs in Iowa history, who has now led the Hawkeyes to four team titles in his 15 years … and the first since 2010.
The Hawkeyes ended up with 129 points to out-pace second place Penn State (113.5). But it should be noted that the Nittany Lions — which had won eight the last night national tournaments prior to the cancelled 2020 NCAAs — saw all four finalists win. That included a pair of Nittany Lions — senior Nick Lee (141) and redshirt freshman Carter Starocci (165) — who avenged Big Ten finals losses to Eierman and Kemerer. The other two championships came from Roman Bravo- Young, who defeated Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix, and sophomore Aaron Brooks (184) who was just one of three No. 1 seeds to capture titles.
The other two top-ranked wrestlers to prevail Saturday night were Lee and Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson, who are expected to be the top contenders to win the 2021 Dan Hodge Trophy, which will be voted on this next week.
The wrestler who was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler was Stanford sophomore Shane Griffith, who captured the 165-pound championship, which will be just the second and last NCAA title won by a Cardinal in Stanford history. The Pac-12 school from California announced before the season that this would be the Cardinal’s last year as a varsity wrestling program.
Other champions were North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor (149), who captured the Tar Heels’ first title since 1996, Iowa State’s David Carr (157), who joined his father (Nate Carr) and NCAA champions, and Oklahoma State’s A.J. Ferrari (197), who became his school’s third true freshman to claim a championship.
Next year’s NCAA Division I Championships will be held in Detroit, Mich. This marked the ninth time that the event was held in St. Louis, where fans were limited in attending because of the COVID pandemic. The total attendance for all seven sessions, over three days, of the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships was 19,751.
Final Top-10 Team Standings
#1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. #3 Brandon Courtney (Arizona State), 7-0 — After a scoreless first period, Lee became just the sixth three-time national champion when he scored his first takedown, 24 seconds into the second period, and then added a third-period takedown and a 1:47 riding time advantage.
#2 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) dec. #1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) 4-2 sv — The Nittany Lion caught the Cowboy with a low double with 20 seconds in the match to clinch his first national championship. Bravo-Young rode out Fix the entire second period for a riding time advantage and also picked up escape to start the third. A pair of stalling penalty points against the Nittany Lion with 40 seconds left gave Fix a 2-1 before RBY’s 1:58 riding time advantage forced OT.
#2 Nick Lee (Penn State) dec. #1 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa), 4-2 sv — The Nittany Lion senior captured his first NCAA title when he countered an inside takedown by the Hawkeye for his second takedown of the mat. Down 1-0 entering the third period, Lee chose neutral and scored his first takedown before Eierman tallied an escape with 1:23 left. Lee also almost had another takedown in the final five seconds before regulation time ran out.
#2 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) dec. #1 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) 3-2 — The Tar Heel captured his school’s first national championship since 1995 when he scored the bout’s only takedown with 39 seconds left. The Buckeye nearly rallied with a single leg in the closing seconds but was not awarded the points. OSU challenged that there should have been a takedown but video did not uphold the challenge. Sasso held a 1:02 riding time advantage in the third period after a strong second-period ride.
#3 David Carr (Iowa State) dec. #4 Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider) 4-0 — The son of Nate Carr, the former three-time Iowa State NCAA champion, collected his first national title by scoring the bout’s only takedown with 44 seconds left in the second period, then rode out the Bronco the entire third frame for a 2:04 riding time advantage.
#8 Shane Griffith (Stanford) dec. #3 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) , 4-1— The Cardinal clinched his school’s second … and last … NCAA championship when he battled and eventually scored on a low leg attack with 1:04 left and an eventually added a two-point nearfall. While officials ruled on a challenge, fans in the arena started chanting, “Keep Stanford Wrestling.” Griffith had scored a takedown with 1:53 left in the first before Wentzel eventually tied the bout with two escapes.
#3 Carter Starocci (Penn State) dec. #1 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) 3-1 sv — Similar to the 141-pound final, this Nittany Lion avenged a Big Ten loss to the top-ranked Hawkeye by scoring on a double leg with 46 seconds left in sudden victory. The PSU redshirt freshman had two other good shot attempts that Kemerer fought off, including as the second period ended.
#1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) dec. #2 Trent Hidlay (NC State), 3-2 — The sophomore made it a 4-for-4 night for the Nittany Lions, powered first by a reversal to open the second period and later earned a stalling point against the Wolfpack wrestler.
#4 A.J. Ferrari (Oklahoma State) dec. #6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt), 3-2 — The young Cowboy became the third all-time true freshman to win a national title for Oklahoma State as he opened with a low single takedown early in the bout and eventually enjoyed a 2:51 riding time advantage over the Panther.
#1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) dec. #2 Mason Parris (Michigan), 8-4 — In a rematch of the Big Ten finals, the Gopher junior scored four takedowns, two in the final period, to claim his first national championship … and then performed a gymnastics backflip in celebration.