In the first six bouts of Friday’s night dual between No. 1 Penn State and No. 12 Wisconsin, the Badgers did everything they could to keep the score close. They racked up an early tech fall at 125, they won a big ranked bout at 149 and they earned bonus points at 165 pounds. They were in this match, at least through the first half. But, in the end, the Nittany Lions did what they have done so many times: they took over in the upper weights.
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Headlined by Aaron Brooks' technical fall over Tyler Dow, Penn State rolled out four of the five most dominant wrestlers in its lineup in the second half of the dual and pulled away for a definitive victory 28-11 against the Badgers. Here’s what we learned about the statement performance from the Blue and White in Madison.
Bonus points defined Friday night’s performances
Between Wisconsin and Penn State, Friday night’s starters put up a total of 169 points across the ten matches, with the Nittany Lions outsourcing their opponents 105-64.
Wisconsin’s Eric Barnett and Penn State’s Aaron Brooks earned the only two technical falls of the night, as Barnett’s win surged the Badgers to an early 5-0 lead over the Nittany Lions and Brooks’ tech nearly sealed the win for Penn State. The Nittany Lions, however, also picked up bonus point wins from Roman Bravo Young, Levi Haines, Carter Starocci and Max Dean by way of major decisions while Greg Kerkvliet added a decision in one of only two weight classes not to end in bonus points. This combination of victories ultimately put them out of reach for the Badgers.
Replay of RBY's two second period takedowns!#PSUwr pic.twitter.com/8GVvevFNPV— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) January 7, 2023
Bravo-Young’s speed and style set the tone for the kind of savviness that this Penn State team would show, as the two-time champ scrambled and scrapped his way to a 14-5 win over Wisconsin All-American Taylor LaMont. The win marked Bravo-Young’s seventh of the season, all of which have come by bonus.
Up at 141, Bravo-Young’s teammate Beau Bartlett put on a similarly electrifying show, scoring a 12-3 win over Felix Lettini. Bartlett remains undefeated on the year as well with a 12-0 record, his best career start yet, and his 50% bonus rate is notable as well. His ability to score points for Penn State at this weight class is crucial, and he’s on track to compete for All-American honors this year after ending his season in 2022 with a 1-2 record at the national tournament up a weight. Bartlett’s next big test will be on January 27 when the Nittany Lions take on the No. 2 Hawkeyes, potentially pitting Bartlett against No. 2 Real Woods in Bartlett’s first top-five matchup down at 141 pounds.
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Wisconsin notched a ranked win at 149 pounds as All-American Austin Gomez topped Penn State’s Shayne Van Ness, but the Nittany Lions rebounded at 157 pounds when they rolled out a new face, a true freshman who made a name for himself in this bout and quickly became the story of the dual.
Penn State’s been known for its consistent upperweight power for the last few years, but they’ve yet to find a replacement for 2019 graduate Jason Nolf, who dominated the 157 pound weight class in his last three seasons. Levi Haines, the newest Nittany Lion in the lineup and the one who spurred Penn State’s second-half surge in this dual at 157, would no doubt love to be that type of champion for his team.
Levi Haines adds firepower for the Nittany Lions at 157 pounds
In his first varsity match as an attached member of the Nittany Lion lineup this semester, Levi Haines wrestled like a veteran. The Pennsylvania native showed no signs of fear or timidness as he took down NCAA qualifier Garrett Model multiple times in the first period and raced out to an 8-2 lead after the first three minutes. The second period brought much of the same, as Haines added four more points to his total and kept himself in major decision territory.
Model, wrestling in front of his home crowd, rallied slightly in the third period to take down Haines, but the Penn State freshman held tough, even as he started to fade. He finished with a 16-6 performance that left the wrestling world buzzing with excitement. Levi Haines is ready to make his mark on Big Ten wrestling.
Haines will have a tough test next on January 20 against NCAA semifinalist Will Lewan, but his performance against Model, a proven wrestler, showed what he can do. There’s an intensity to Haines' style that is fun to watch, and Nittany Lions fans will no doubt enjoy tracking this young star in the years to come.
Redshirt freshman Alex Facundo, another beneficial addition to the Nittany Lion lineup this year, did not compete at 165 pounds on Friday night, making him the only starter to sit out this bout.
No sophomore slump here – only swagger! ☝️— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) January 5, 2023
@BadgerWrestling's @HamitiDean has his own specific style that is quickly turning heads.
This is Dean Hamiti’s story: 𝗢𝗻 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗠𝗮𝘁 pic.twitter.com/z02CxLEEc1
Instead of Facundo, Penn State sent out Matt Lee, who, to his credit, battled Wisconsin All-American Dean Hamiti tough before ultimately dropped a major decision to the Badger.
Penn State national champs dominate
While Haines adds great depth to the Nittany Lion lineup, Penn State’s biggest weapons are its four returning national champions — the four guys that head coach Cael Sanderson knows have the potential to win these big matches and carry the team forward. All four of those champs, including Roman Bravo-Young, Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks and Max Dean, won on Friday night and won big, with the most notable result of those matches being Dean’s 11-2 major decision over Braxton Amos.
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Dean, a transfer from Cornell who won his first national title for the Nittany Lions last year, came into this dual with a 10-2 record after losses to Ethan Laird and Michael Beard. Against Amos though, Dean was forceful and strong, riding Amos hard and looking for back points with his trademark bow and arrow. Amos held tough, staying with Dean through the first period and second period. Wisconsin’s Amos trailed by just 4-2 heading into the final two minutes, but it was in that last period that Dean went to work. He rolled Amos to his back several times, lighting up the scoreboard as the seconds ticked away. With less than 20 seconds to go in the match, Dean led 6-2, but he never stopped fighting for the major. When he finally let Amos up, he had earned four more back points and a riding time point, giving him the solid 11-2 victory.
Max Dean showing off his archery skills! 🏹#NCAAWrestling x 🎥 @pennstateWREST pic.twitter.com/eBiQhkxu4C— NCAA Wrestling (@NCAAWrestling) January 7, 2023
This win marked Penn State’s third major decision of the night from a former champ, as Bravo-Young handled Wisconsin All-American Taylor LaMont in his aforementioned 14-5 major and Carter Starocci topped Josh Otto 22-8 in a match where he fought for the technical fall from the opening whistle. Aaron Brooks added his tech fall at 184 pounds, furthering the Nittany Lion lead.
The dual between Penn State and Wisconsin just proved one thing: It is hard to stop a Penn State team with this much firepower.