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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Five Takeaways from Penn State's Win over Iowa

    Michael Kemerer (left) and Carter Starocci (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The meeting between the top-two teams in the country took place last night and lived up to the hype as top-ranked Penn State held off #2 Iowa, 19-13. The dual had everything you would hope to see in a match. Top competitors squaring off, matches decided in extra time, some controversy, an upset, all in front of a huge, partisan crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After watching the action and digesting some of the fallout, we have five takeaways from Penn State versus Iowa:

    1) Rumors of Jaydin Eierman's demise have been greatly exaggerated

    He had to mount a crazy rally to beat Dresden Simon. He was pinned by Ryan Jack. His bonus point rate is at the lowest point in his career.

    These were all some of the whispers surrounding Jaydin Eierman lately. Coupled with the dominance of Big Ten rivals Nick Lee and Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers), some people may have written off the four-time All-American as a legit title contender. After last night we conclude that such a sentiment is way too premature.

    Eierman fell in sudden victory to Lee Friday. That being said, the takeaway is that he's right there with a returning NCAA champion that is a Hodge Trophy contender and had only wrestled one match closer than seven points heading into Carver-Hawkeye. Now, add to this that Lee earned his first takedown on an ill-advised home run attempt by Eierman. Jaydin didn't throw in the towel and picked up a late takedown and erased riding time during the final seconds of regulation.

    So basically, Eierman gave away two points to the returning champ, didn't look great offensively, but still was a hair away from defeating Lee? While there may be "some" cause for concern, the sky isn't falling. Eierman is the only wrestler since the 2020 Big Ten Championships to defeat the Nittany Lion and should be neck-and-neck with Lee, when or if, they clash in the postseason.

    2) Iowa might have problems at 125 lbs

    The announcement from Spencer Lee on New Year's Day that he would not compete for the remainder of the 2021-22 season due to his preexisting knee injuries, led to Iowa falling from title favorites to number two behind Penn State wasn't good. The silver lining in the situation was that the Hawkeyes had blue-chip true freshman Drake Ayala in the fold. At the same time, Lee's news was made public, Ayala was sewing up a third-place finish in one of the tougher weights at the Southern Scuffle.

    Iowa's staff pulled Ayala's redshirt for their next dual meet against Minnesota. Since then, Ayala has notched wins against two-time conference runner-up Devin Schroder (Purdue), 2020 1st Team AA Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern), and MatMen Open champion Justin Cardani (Illinois). He's currently ranked 11th in the nation and is a realistic podium threat. While Iowa can't count on the type of bonus points and NCAA Championships they've grown accustomed to with Lee at 125, they still have a contender in Ayala.

    Earlier this week, there were some rumblings that Ayala was dealing with an injury of his own. While the severity isn't necessarily public knowledge, those whispers proved to have some validity as Ayala did not go for the Hawkeyes against Penn State. Jesse Ybarra got the call and surrendered near-fall points in the final seconds of the bout and gave up a major decision to Drew Hildebrandt.

    So if Ayala is limited for the postseason (or doesn't go), it would be a huge setback for Iowa. Aside from him, the conference has nine ranked 125 lbers, seven of which are in the top-16 nationally. Getting Ybarra through to nationals would be difficult. But, before any talks like that move any further, we're not sure of Ayala's status. In the post-match presser, Tom Brands said, "Medical, coaches and more important, Drake Ayala will be the one that makes that call," referring to Ayala's status. Definitely cryptic and par for the course when it comes to wrestling coaches talking injuries, but it doesn't sound great.

    3) Seeding at 285 lbs could get messy

    With Greg Kerkvliet's dominant win over Mason Parris last week, it shook up the rankings, but they also seemed easy to interpret. Unbeaten Cohlton Schultz, the wrestler with a decisive win over Kerkvliet at last year's national tournament went to #2, while Kerkvliet was #3 and Parris slid to #4.

    Well, Tony Cassioppi had other ideas and turned in his most impressive performance of the year when he downed Kerkvliet, 7-2. So Cassioppi defeated Kerkvliet, who handed Parris. Though results from past years aren't supposed to count, you have Parris, who is 2-0 career against Cassioppi (with two falls), while Cassioppi defeated Schultz twice at the 2021 NCAA Championships.

    Now the elephant in the room in this whole seeding talk is Gable Steveson at #1. I'm sure none of these coaches would say it publicly, but they don't want their guys as the #4/#5 seed on the same side of the bracket as Steveson.

    Sometimes these types of things work themselves out. Looking at Cassioppi's schedule, he'll face #11 Trent Hillger and #12 Christian Lance, both of whom are capable, but a combined 0-6 against the big man from Iowa. Parris faces Lance along with old rival Matt Stencel. While a loss to Stencel wouldn't impact conference seeding, it would play a major factor for NCAA's. It should be noted that Parris hasn't fallen to Stencel since his 2018-19 true freshman season.

    4) Max Dean's rebound

    Last Sunday, Max Dean suffered his first loss in a Penn State singlet was he was knocked off by Michigan State's Cam Caffey. That came just two days after Dean was pushed to the brink by Patrick Brucki during Penn State's dual with Michigan. Based on the inconsistency of the weight class, we didn't dock Dean rankings-wise and he maintained his spot at #2.

    Friday, Dean had another significant test from #4 Jacob Warner. The two-time All-American had an early takedown in the first period and looked like he may cruise and hand Dean a second consecutive loss. However, in the third stanza, Dean broke the match open with a bow-and-arrow from the top position. He violently turned Warner for four points and would end up winning 8-3.

    A win over Warner, coupled with his existing resume, will help solidify Dean's #2 overall ranking. That's important because of the uncertainly at the top of the 197 lb weight class. Returning NCAA champion, AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State), was involved in a scary auto accident on Monday evening and will be out this weekend. His long-term status is unknown at this point. If Ferrari cannot wrestle or is severely limited, someone like Dean could be the beneficiary.

    5) Heading into the postseason, Penn State is the clear favorite, but not a lock

    With four returning NCAA champions in the lineup, the Nittany Lions are taylor-made for large tournaments. Additionally, Drew Hildebrandt, Max Dean, and Greg Kerkvliet appear to be capable of high All-American finishes. Those seven will be key to Cael Sanderson's title hopes.

    At the beginning of the year, we were unsure of what the 149-165 lbers could contribute to Penn State's title hopes. After a loss to Max Murin, Beau Bartlett still looks slightly undersized at 149 and has difficulty scoring, though his defense is typically stout. No one has emerged as the bonafide starter at 157 lbs, while Terrell Barraclough has gotten the call lately. 165 lbs saw Brady Berge return from a coaching gig at South Dakota State to finish his eligibility and help out his teammates. Berge picked up a win last week against All-American Cam Amine (Michigan), but was bullied by the Bull, Alex Marinelli, last night during a 10-2 loss. With 165 lbs being such a deep weight, it's hard to pencil in any NCAA points for Berge just yet.

    Now looking at Penn State's big guns, Roman Bravo-Young repeatedly had to fend off takedown attempts from Austin DeSanto, before prevailing, 3-2. Could another match with DeSanto go the Hawkeye's way? Or an NCAA finals rematch with Daton Fix (Oklahoma State)?

    At 141 lbs, Eierman is responsible for Nick Lee's only loss of the last year and a half (in the 2021 Big Ten finals). Could he pull it off again? You also have Sebastian Rivera and others in the mix.

    We saw how close Carter Starocci and Michael Kemerer are last night. Kemerer is obviously capable of replicating his 2021 Big Ten performance against Starocci. Outside of the conference, past national finalists like Hayden Hidlay (NC State) and Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) are lurking, too.

    As we alluded to earlier, 197 is pretty unpredictable and 285 could get hairy if you're on the wrong side of the bracket.

    All of this is to say, there are plenty of potential hurdles standing in the way of a Big Ten and NCAA title for the Nittany Lions. Are they significant enough to stop Sanderson's team from winning? Maybe not. And for all of the potential setbacks we mentioned, Penn State tends to outperform seeds at nationals, so perhaps they are the ones pulling upsets.

    However it all unfolds, Lincoln and Detroit will be a ton of fun!

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