ST. LOUIS — While Iowa finished on top of the team standings at the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, it was Penn State that stole the show Saturday night at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
The Nittany Lions went a perfect 4-for-4 in the finals. Winning national titles for Penn State were Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184).
“Our guys just did a really nice job,” said Penn State head wrestling coach Cael Sanderson. “I think they just believed and they found a way. I think we had three overtimes and a tight match there at 84. It’s just great to see the toughness out of the guys. I think that’s where that belief really kicks in.”
Iowa’s Spencer Lee, who was wrestling with a torn ACL, claimed his third NCAA title at 125 pounds with a 7-0 victory over Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney.
Courtney, the No. 3 seed, battled Lee tough early as the match was scoreless heading into the second period. Lee began to pull away in the second period, getting an escape, takedown and point off a third caution to lead 4-0 after two periods. He would add a takedown and riding time point in the final period to win by seven.
Lee, a 2020 Dan Hodge Trophy winner, became Iowa’s seventh three-time NCAA champion. He was the lone Hawkeye to win a national title, as his teammates Jaydin Eierman (141) and Michael Kemerer (174) fell in the finals. Iowa won the team title with 129 points, 15.5 points ahead of Penn State, and finished with seven All-American, including three NCAA finalists.
“It’s been 11 years since a real important trophy has been in Iowa City,” said Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands.
Lee talked about how it took a team effort to win the team title.
“You can’t win a team title with just one guy,” Lee said. “Even if I pinned every single opponent the most I can score is 30 points, and I’m pretty sure the second and third place teams were above 100. You can’t win it with one guy. You have to win it with a team. That’s all that matters. It takes a team effort.”
Lee paid tribute to last year’s seniors who lost an opportunity to compete for a national title in 2020 after the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were canceled due to the pandemic.
“I didn’t just do this for me,” said Lee. “I did this for the seniors that lost out last year. I’m getting kind of emotional. I wanted them to win with us. They didn’t get that opportunity. I don’t even care about this trophy right now. I want to give it to my one brother who wasn’t able to compete here last year.”
The night started with Penn State’s Bravo-Young picking up a 4-2 win in sudden victory over Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix at 133 pounds.
After a scoreless first period, Fix chose the down position and RBY rode him out the entire period but picked up a stall warning. Fix cut Bravo-Young loose to start the third period. Fix continued to press forward and with 35 seconds remaining RBY was called for stalling, giving Fix a point … and a short time later, RBY was hit for stalling again, which eventually sent the match to sudden victory. In sudden victory, Bravo-Young countered an attack and secured a match-winning takedown.
“I knew I was going to wrestle hard in every position,” said Bravo-Young. “I wanted that match. A lot of pressure, but man it feels good. I’m happy right now. Grateful.”
Nick Lee followed up at 141 pounds with a 4-2 win in sudden victory over Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman, avenging his only loss of the season two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships.
After 0-0 first period, Eierman escaped early in the second period to go up 1-0. The score stayed that way the rest of the period. Lee chose neutral to start the third period and picked up an early takedown to grab a 2-1 lead. Eierman escaped a short time later to even the score at 2-2. Eierman nearly scored a takedown in the closing moments of regulation, but Lee fought it off, which sent it to sudden victory. In sudden victory, Lee used an inside trip to get a takedown and win the national title.
Starocci, like his teammate Nick Lee, avenged a loss from the Big Ten finals against an Iowa wrestler, beating No. 1 Michael Kemerer 3-1 in sudden victory. The two wrestlers traded escapes in the second and third period and regulation ended 1-1. In overtime, Starocci countered with a double leg powered through for a takedown. Kemerer entered the tournament seeded No. 1 and undefeated.
Brooks used a second-period reversal to help him earn a hard-fought 3-2 win over NC State’s Trent Hidlay in the finals at 184 pounds. Hidlay nearly had a takedown with 20 seconds left in the match (call was challenged by NC State and upheld), but Brooks fought it off and earned the victory, becoming Penn State’s 48th national champion.
Eighth-seeded Shane Griffith brought the fans to their feet by winning a national championship for Stanford in the program’s final season of competition. He topped Pitt’s Jake Wentzel 7-2 in the finals at 165 pounds. He was named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.
Stanford’s Shane Griffith has become a national champion after the school made the decision to cut its wrestling program.
Griffith and teammates wore black singlets in the NCAA championships in response to the program being dropped.
�” ESPN (@espn) March 21, 2021
Griffith, wearing an all-black singlet with no school logo, scored a takedown in the opening period off a merkle. The third-seeded Wentzel escaped to cut the deficit to 2-1 after one. In the second period, Wentzel evened the score with another escape. With the score tied at 2-2, Griffith chose neutral to start the third period. He converted a takedown with just over a minute remaining and then picked up late nearfall points to win by five. After Griffith’s win, the crowd began chanting “Bring back Stanford!” He becomes the school’s second national champion ever and first since Matt Gentry won a title in 2014.
“We all had goals coming into the season before this pandemic and the [school’s] decision came out,” said Griffith. “Its a little fuel to the tank, just try to prove them wrong.”
Griffith said the fight remains to keep the Stanford wrestling program.
“Just keep fighting the fight,” said Griffith. “Whether it’s a weeklong battle, yearlong … 10 years … who knows … I know we’re going to keep fighting the fight.
“There is nothing more that we are trying to do than to keep this program at Stanford. The way things are rolling right now I think we have a good shot.”
Iowa State’s David Carr added to the Carr family legacy by claiming his first NCAA title at 157 pounds, 40 years after his father Nate won his first NCAA title as a Cyclone. Carr shut out Rider’s Jesse Dellavecchia 4-0 in the championship match. The match was scoreless after the first period. In the second period, Carr escaped to go up 1-0 before getting a takedown off a double leg to build his led to 3-0. Dellavecchia chose the down position to start the third period and was ridden out the entire period, giving Carr an additional point for riding time.
A.J. Ferrari became only third true freshman for Oklahoma State to win a national title and first since Pat Smith in 1990. He defeated Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi 4-2 in the finals at 197 pounds.
The ultra-confident Ferrari picked up a takedown less than a minute into the first period. Bonaccorsi escaped to make it 2-1 after the first period. Ferrari rode Bonaccorsi for most of the second period before the Pitt wrestled escaped to even the score at 2-2. Ferrari retook the lead in the third period with an escape and added a riding time point to win by two.
“I thank God for allowing me to show my gifts, allow me to do it in this manner and have this platform to show it off,” said Ferrari.
Oklahoma State head coach John Smith had high praise for his freshman standout.
“He’s a young guy who has a lot of spirit about himself and he just won an NCAA championship,” said Smith, who guided the Cowboys to a third-place finish in St. Louis. “He talks a big game and he shows a big game.”
Austin O’Connor became North Carolina’s first NCAA champion since 1995. The Illinois native edged top-seeded Sammy Sasso of Ohio State 3-2 in the finals at 149 pounds. After a 0-0 opening period, Sasso rode O’Connor for over a minute to start the second period before the UNC wrestler escaped to make it 1-0. The score remained that way until early in the second period when Sasso scored an early escape while preserving his riding time. With 40 seconds left, O’Connor scored a takedown using a merkle to go up 3-1 before eliminating O’Connor’s riding time point. Sasso nearly scored a takedown as time expired, but O’Connor fought it up … and the call was upheld after an unsuccessful challenge from Ohio State.
“I’ve been waiting on this moment for a long time. It got canceled last year, so it had me waiting even longer,” said O’Connor. “This was just the next step in my journey.”
O’Connor praised his coaches after winning the title.
“Our coaching staff is amazing,” said O’Connor. “That’s a huge reason why I went there. I knew they were changing the program around, ever since they started recruiting me.”
Minnesota’s Gable Steveson capped off an undefeated season with an 8-4 win over Michigan’s Mason Parris at 285 pounds. Steveson scored a takedown in the first period and took a 3-1 lead into the third. He would add two more takedowns and a stalling point in the third period. The Gopher big man becomes the first Minnesota wrestler to win a national title since Tony Nelson won back-to-back titles in 2012-13.
“It had been a very long time coming for me,” said Steveson. “A lot of doubters. A lot of people who changed on me. I’m so happy to be here.”
Steveson, a three-time age-group world champion in freestyle, will now shift his focus to freestyle as he attempts to make the U.S. Olympic freestyle team in two weeks.
“I expect hard matches with all the guys,” said Steveson, who is among the favorites at 125 kilograms. “There’s going to be great opponents in Texas at the Olympic Trials.
“I’m just happy to compete in this time. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that I get.”
Final Team Standings (Top 10)
1. Iowa 129
2. Penn State 113.5
3. Oklahoma State 99.5
4. Arizona State 74
5. Michigan 69
6. NC State 68
7. Minnesota 64
7. Missouri 64
9. Ohio State 46.5
10. Northwestern 45
Medal Match Results
1st No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) dec. No. 3 Brandon Courtney (Arizona State), 7-0
3rd: No. 15 Patrick McKee (Minnesota) dec. No. 4 Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan), 5-3
5th: No. 7 Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley) dec. No. 2 Sam Latona (Virginia Tech), 4-1
7th: No. 17 Killian Cardinale (West Virginia) dec. No. 19 Eric Barnett (Wisconsin), 12-7
1st: No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) dec. No. 1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), 4-2 SV1
3rd: No. 4 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) dec. No. 3 Korbin Myers (Virginia Tech), 10-6
5th: No. 7 Lucas Byrd (Illinois) pinned No. 9 Michael McGee (Arizona State), 6:17
7th: No. 8 Chris Cannon (Northwestern) maj. dec. No. 10 Louie Hayes (Virginia), 11-3
1st: No. 2 Nick Lee (Penn State) dec. No. 1 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa), 4-2 SV1
3rd: No. 4 Tariq Wilson (NC State) maj. dec. No. 3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers), 15-5
5th: No. 14 Dylan Duncan (Illinois) dec. No. 8 Chad Red (Nebraska), 3-0
7th: No. 10 Zachary Sherman (North Carolina) dec. No. 15 Clay Carlson (South Dakota State), 11-4
1st: No. 2 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) dec. No. 1 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), 2-1
3rd: No. 25 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern) dec. No. 4 Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State), 5-3
5th: No. 3 Brock Mauller (Missouri) dec. No. 17 Kyle Parco (Fresno State), 8-5
7th: No. 8 Jaden Abas (Stanford) dec. No. 7 Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State), 5-3
1st: No. 3 David Carr (Iowa State) dec. No. 4 Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider), 4-0
3rd: No. 1 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) dec. No. 11 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State), 1-0
5th: No. 2 Hayden Hidlay (NC State) maj. dec. No. 6 Brayton Lee (Minnesota), 11-2
7th: No. 5 Kaleb Young (Iowa) dec. No. 33 Wyatt Sheets (Oklahoma State), 3-2
1st: No. 8 Shane Griffith (Stanford) dec. No. 3 Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh), 7-2
3rd: No. 6 Keegan O`Toole (Missouri) dec. No. 10 Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State), 4-3
5th: No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) dec. No. 5 Zach Hartman (Bucknell), 7-5 SV1
7th: No. 11 Cameron Amine (Michigan) by medical forfeit over No. 2 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State)
1st: No. 3 Carter Starocci (Penn State) dec. No. 1 Michael Kemerer (Iowa), 3-1 SV1
3rd: No. 4 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) dec. No. 12 Bernie Truax (Cal Poly), 8-3
5th: No. 5 Logan Massa (Michigan) by medical forfeit over No. 2 Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley)
7th: No. 8 Daniel Bullard (NC State) by medical forfeit over No. 26 Jackson Turley (Rutgers)
1st: No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) dec. No. 2 Trent Hidlay (NC State), 3-2
3rd: No. 4 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) dec. No. 6 John Poznanski (Rutgers), 5-4
5th: No. 11 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 7 Brit Wilson (Northern Illinois), 6-0
7th: No. 5 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech) dec. No. 3 Lou Deprez (Binghamton), 6-3
1st: No. 4 AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh), 4-2
3rd: No. 1 Myles Amine (Michigan) dec. No. 5 Jacob Warner (Iowa), 5-3
5th: No. 7 Rocky Elam (Missouri) dec. No. 26 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), 9-3
7th: No. 15 Michael Beard (Penn State) dec. No. 8 Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming), 10-8 SV1
1st: No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) dec. No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan), 8-4
3rd: No. 5 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) dec. No. 4 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State), 5-0
5th: No. 6 Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State) dec. No. 14 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), 4-0
7th: No. 9 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) maj. dec. No. 21 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State), 13-1