With Sunday’s win, the Nittany Lions secured the 2023 Big Ten Regular Season title, the ninth in program history.
Cael Sanderson’s squad will end the regular season with one final non-conference dual next week before the Big Ten Championships begins in March.
As usual this year, the Lions struggled out of the gates at 125 but never looked back. Gary Steen lost by a 1-0 decision to Maryland’s Braxton Brown for the Nittany Lions’ only defeat of the day.
Despite that loss, it was a dominant day for Penn State’s wrestlers. Penn State won the remaining nine bouts, including seven with bonus points. Three Lions – Levi Haines, Alex Facundo, and Seth Nevills – won via falls. Both Haines and Nevills took down their opponents in under two minutes.
Roman Bravo-Young and Shayne Van Ness claimed technical falls, winning by margins of 29-13 and 19-4, respectively. Carter Starocci also secured a decisive 14-6 major decision.
We Are the Champions (Again)
Penn State has now won or shared nine Big Ten Regular Season Championships. All have been since 2012, and all have been under Cael Sanderson.
This regular season also marks the eighth time the Nittany Lions have finished conference play without a loss or tie, including seven under Sanderson.
Further still, Sunday’s win also gave Penn State its third consecutive season with an undefeated Big Ten dual meet record.
If you were still wondering how good of a program Cael Sanderson has built at Penn State, the answer is really, really good.
What’s Next for Penn State Wrestling?
Penn State wrestling will conclude its regular season next Sunday at Rec Hall with a dual meet against Clarion (11-3, 8-1 MAC). I’m not a betting man, but the Nittany Lions should finish with their third undefeated regular season in a row.
The Lions are in an excellent position to win their first Big Ten Championship since 2019. There are several teams to keep an eye on as possible contenders in the conference championships, however.
The biggest challenger will be Iowa, who finished right behind Penn State in the Big Ten rankings. The Hawkeyes gave Cael Sanderson’s group their best test of the season when the two squads faced off in an electric dual at the BJC. Despite trailing with only three matches remaining, the Nittany Lions still went on to win handily, 23-14.
I’ll also be curious to see how Michigan performs. Although the Wolverines haven’t experienced the best finish to the season, they were ranked in the top five at one point this year. Penn State crushed Michigan earlier this year, but heavyweight Mason Paris is the only wrestler to defeat Greg Kerkvliet this season. In addition, the Big Ten Championships are being held in Ann Arbor, which could benefit the Wolverines’ wrestlers.
Finally, there is potential for the unknown with Nebraska. Currently 6-1 in conference duals, the Huskers’ only loss in the Big Ten this year came to Iowa. The Nittany Lions defeated Nebraska when they met last year, but the two teams didn’t face off this season.
You can expect Penn State’s trio of top-ranked wrestlers – Bravo-Young, Starocci, and Brooks – to handle business in the Big Ten Championships. Kerkvliet and Max Dean should also be considered strong contenders at their respective weight classes.
But I’ll be interested to see how the Nittany Lions do at the lighter weight classes. In all honesty, 125 is Iowa’s Spencer Lee’s title to lose. Beau Bartlett has had a strong season but struggled against Real Woods of Iowa.
Most of all, I’m excited to see how Levi Haines will perform. Haines has been on a tear in his freshman season, forcing Cael Sanderson to burn his redshirt. However, this will be a new experience for him, and there’s always the chance of an adjustment period.
At any rate, March is the time of year that Penn State wrestling fans live for, and you can expect Basic Blues Nation to follow the Lions every step of the way.
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