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Two Nittany Lions secure 4th NCAA wrestling titles

طوبیٰ Tooba 4 months ago 0 2

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The only thing slowing down Carter Starocci’s pursuit of wrestling glory was an ailing knee and some blood on his opponent’s face, and he left Aaron Brooks no choice but to follow his Penn State teammate into the history books.

Starocci won his fourth NCAA title on Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over Rocco Welsh of Ohio State, while Brooks claimed his fourth a bit later by beating longtime rival Trent Hidlay of NC State. In doing so, they joined an exclusive club of five other four-time champs, among them Iowa State star-turned-Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson.

“I wouldn’t say I do this for any titles or anything like that. For me, what gets me out of bed is to be able to take everybody on,” Starocci said. “That’s kind of what’s scratching my ego a little bit, is knowing that there’s no one that can beat me.”

Sanderson had a busy night with a school-record six Nittany Lions going for championships, though their third straight team title had long been assured; Penn State finished with a record 172.5 points, a full 100 ahead of second-place Cornell.

Questions had been swirling about Starocci’s right knee, which he hurt in Penn State’s final dual meet. He forfeited out of the Big Ten championships — dropping him to the No. 9 seed at 174 pounds at nationals — and wrestled with a bulky black brace on the knee.

It may have affected his offense, but it hardly hurt his defense. Starocci pitched shutouts in his last three matches, including the final, which was interrupted several times so that blood could be wiped from Welsh’s face.

“It really starts with the coaches,” Starocci said. “This morning I was a little heavy and a little more than I wanted to be. And Coach Cael was right there riding the bike with me. Just looking around, all the other guys warming up, their coaches are on their phones. I’m like, this dude is in the foxhole with us. I think that means more than anything.”

Greg Kerkvliet got things going for Penn State at 285 pounds against Michigan’s Lucas Davison. The unbeaten Kerkvliet scored two first-period takedowns, extended his lead to 9-3 after the second and cruised to a 13-4 victory and the national title.

Levi Haines delivered Penn State’s next title at 157, where he had lost in the final a year ago. Haines took advantage of a stall call on Arizona State’s Jacori Teemer, then a takedown in the third period on his way to the 5-0 victory.

Things didn’t go quite so well for Penn State at 141 and 165 pounds.

In the 141-pound final, Beau Bartlett met Ohio State’s Jesse Mendez for a rubber match after splitting this season. The match was tied 1-all in the final seconds when a scramble ensued and Mendez was credited with a takedown, giving him the win.

Then at 165, Mitchell Mesenbrink was trying to finish off a dream freshman season against Iowa State’s David Carr, rallying from a 7-2 hole to make it 8-8 by the end of the third period. But Carr, who had defeated two-time defending champion Keegan O’Toole on the way to the final, had built up enough riding time to get the point he needed for the victory.

“I just kept telling myself, just focus in. Keep wrestling hard,” said Carr, who won the 157-pound title in 2021 and finished third and second the past two years. “And it feels awesome. It feels amazing to end my career on top.”

Earlier in the night, eighth-seeded Richard Figueroa of Arizona State completed his surprising run to the final with a 7-2 victory over Drake Ayala, who had kept alive Iowa’s streak of at least one finalist every year since 1990.

There was no drama at 184, where Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen rolled past Oklahoma State’s Dustin Plott. Keckeisen took a 15-4 major decision, giving him a bonus-point win in every match of the tournament.

In the highly anticipated 133-pound final, where Oklahoma State teammate Daton Fix was chasing his elusive national title, it was Vito Arujau of Cornell who denied him one more time. Fix jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Arujau, who beat him in the semis last year, answered with an escape and stalling point before a late takedown gave him the 5-3 victory.

Fix finished his career a four-time silver medalist and perhaps the best wrestler never to win the title.

“He’s been on the stage, relevant, for how many years now, right? So I was very nervous. Then the whistle blew and I started wrestling and I forgot everything,” Arujau said. “I have nothing but admiration for Daton and respect. I bet he understands as well that it was a dogfight because we both wanted to win.”

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