Roberts, much older & wiser, meets Hafizov again in Final X
Photo: Dalton Roberts (left) beat Ildar Hafizov at the 2023 U.S. Open...
Photo: In one of two rematches from the 2021 NCAA final, defending champion Nick Lee (left) of Penn State defeated Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman in sudden victory after the Hawkeye forced overtime with a late takedown in regulation. (Tony Rotundo/WrestliersAreWarriors.com)
By Mike Finn
There is no such thing as a finish line in college wrestling. But the wrestlers who showed they could “finish strong” proved to have the biggest impact on No. 1-ranked Penn State’s 19-16 victory over No. 2 Iowa, Friday night in Iowa City.
Of the six victories that the Nittany Lions earned in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, four were decided in the final portion regulation or in overtime as Penn State beat Iowa in the teams’ first dual meeting since January of 2020.
At 133 pounds, defending national champion Roman Bravo-Young edged No. 3-ranked Austin DeSanto, 3-2, thanks in part because of his defense as the Nittany Lion fought off six legitimate takedown attempts by the Hawkeye, including several at the end. Bravo-Young’s second-period takedown came when he countered one of DeSanto’s shots.
At 141, in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA final between the top-two ranked wrestlers, defending champ Nick Lee defeated Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman, 6-4, in sudden victory; shortly after the Hawkeye forced overtime by scoring a late takedown in the final period that also erased Lee’s riding-time advantage.
At 174 pounds, in another rematch from the 2021 NCAA finals, defending champ and No. 1-ranked Carter Starocci edged Iowa’s No. 2 Michael Kemerer in a 2-1 tiebreaker after the Nittany Lion sophomore rode out the Hawkeye senior the final 30 seconds of the first set of tiebreakers. A video replay also erased a Kemerer takedown at the end of regulation after it showed that time had run out after the official awarded the match-winning takedown to a thunderous ovation from the home fans.
And finally at 197, Penn State’s Max Dean clinched the dual when he overcame a 3-1 deficit in the final period to beat Jacob Warner, 8-3, and clinch the team win for the visiting Lions in front of 14,905 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Dean, an All-American transfer from Cornell, did a similar thing one week earlier against Michigan’s Pat Brucki, when Penn State also beat the No. 3 Wolverines on Jan. 21 in Ann Arbor.
“The last two weeks have been good,” said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, but added that he was “not really happy with our performance tonight. I’m sure Iowa’s not either.”
The dual had several official reviews of scoring situations and calls.
“That’s a tough match to officiate,” said Sanderson. “There were a lot of tough calls to make and a lot of great wrestling. These (wrestlers) have seen each other multiple times and it just tightens up things even more.”
Penn State raised its dual record to 14-0 and are the favorites on paper to win both a Big Ten and NCAA title in March as the calendar turns to February.
Iowa coach Tom Brands reminded the media of that when questioned about some of the close matches the Hawks lost in critical bouts between highly-ranked wrestlers.
“We are getting close to the end and have to do a better job. We know little things make a big difference,” said Brands, who saw his team fall to 11-1 and suffer his program’s first dual loss after 28 straight wins. “We’re going to have opportunities in the future and we have to get better finishing. We have to be a little bit sharper on our finishes.”
Iowa, wrestling without an injured Drake Ayala at 125 pounds, did show some resilience after the team fell behind, 10-0. The Hawkeyes won three straight bouts, including a 10-2 major decision by Alex Marinelli over Brady Berge at 165 pounds to tie the dual.
“I scored bonus points but I could have scored more,” said Marinelli, a senior All-American who was coming off a loss to Ohio State’s Carson Kharchla one week earlier in Columbus, Ohio. “It felt good to have a couple days to avenge a loss. I’m moving on from that loss other than it fired me up.”
Iowa also got a big win at heavyweight, after the dual was decided, when Anthony Cassioppi defeated Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet, 7-2, after the Nittany Lion came off a victory over Michigan’s second-ranked Mason Parris one week earlier.
“I just wrestled my match in my positions,” said the Hawkeye junior who trailed 2-0 after giving up a takedown in the first period. Cassioppi clinched the match when he caught Kerkvliet in a body lock and scored a late takedown. “I made the adjustments. That was important to me. I need to be ready.”
Both Hawkeyes admitted being able to score late was important.
“It’s composure,” said Marinelli. “The will to win, fight. Sometimes, you don’t come out on top but stay in good position the whole time.”
“You have to wrestle the whole seven minutes,” said Cassioppi. “Nothing changes.”
Marinelli fought back personal emotions, speaking to the media, after seeing his teammate Kemerer lose in overtime.
“I’m getting emotional thinking about Michael Kemerer and how bad he wants that,” said Marinelli. “I love him like a brother.”
And Marinelli said he reminded Kemerer there will be brighter days ahead before the postseason begins with the 2022 Big Tens, March 5-6, in Lincoln, Neb.
“We’ve got the Big Tens and got (Penn State) again at the Big Tens,” Marinelli said.
#1 PENN STATE 19 defeated #2 IOWA 13
125 – Drew Hildebrandt (PSU) major dec. Jesse Ybarra (IA), 9-0; 4-0
133 – Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) dec. Austin DeSanto (IA), 3-2; 7-0
141 – Nick Lee (PSU) dec. Jaydin Eierman (IA), 6-4 SV1; 10-0
149 – Max Murin (IA) dec. Beau Bartlett (PSU), 4-1; 10-3
157 – Kaleb Young (IA) dec. Terrell Barraclough (PSU), 2-0; 10-6
165 – Alex Marinelli (IA) major dec. Brady Berge (PSU), 10-2; 10-10
174 – Carter Starocci (PSU) dec. Michael Kemerer (IA), 2-1 TB1; 13-10
184 – Aaron Brooks (PSU) dec. Abe Assad dec. (IA), 8-3; 16-10
197 – Max Dean (PSU) dec. Jacob Warner (IA), 8-3; 19-10
285 – Tony Cassioppi (IA) dec. Greg Kerkvliet (PSU); 7-2 19-13