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  • Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    NLWC on Rokfin 3 Preview & Predictions

    David Taylor at the Pan American Qualifier (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The best that the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club have to offer will be back in action for the third NLWC show on Rokfin. This time world champion David Taylor will take on former NCAA champion Gabe Dean, international stars Franklin Gomez and Boris Novachkov face off and Bo Nickal and Nate Jackson continue their rivalry. The following is a match-by-match preview of the event.

    Max Dean vs. C.J. Brucki

    Dean took an Olympic redshirt last season after a pair of All-American finishes during his freshman and sophomore years. In his second year, he made a surprising run through the NCAA tournament including an upset over Myles Martin before finishing second. Last year he won both the Edinboro Open and the National Collegiate Open in his only folkstyle action of the year. Through the two events, he won 10 matches with seven by fall. Dean recently entered Senior Nationals at 86 kilograms where he went 3-2 and picked up a key win over Michael Labriola.

    Brucki was a two-time NCAA qualifier for Central Michigan. He holds the distinction of handing Penn State national champion Mark Hall his first defeat back in the 2016-2017 season. As a senior, he finished second in the MAC and picked up wins over the likes of Sheldon Wright, Devin Skatzka, Hunter Bolen and Johnny Sebastian. At the recent Senior Nationals, Brucki worked his way to an eighth-place finish and scored an impressive victory over Andrew Morgan.

    These two hit in the consolation bracket of the 2019 edition of Senior Nationals. In that bout, Brucki got extended on a shot attempt. Dean turned it into his own leg attack and finished after shelving the leg. Brucki appeared to try to reverse a gut wrench attempt from Dean and ended up flat on his back. Dean's length should give Brucki trouble in all three phases of this match. It might not end by fall this time, but Dean should have the advantage in this bout.

    Prediction: Dean VSU1 over Brucki

    Gabe Dean vs. David Taylor

    Dean returned this year from an extensive layoff and surprisingly won Senior Nationals. He went on quite a run through the field. In order to take the title, Dean defeated Taylor Lujan, Trent Hidlay and Nate Jackson. With that momentum, he entered Flo's 8-Man Challenge tournament. In his first match, he had an early lead on Lujan before getting caught on his back off an ill-fated gut wrench attempt. During his college days at Cornell, Dean was a four-time NCAA All-American, three-time finalist and two-time champion.

    Taylor finally broke through in 2018. He not only made his way onto the world team, but he also brought home the gold medal. After adding another gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Championships, Taylor suffered a knee injury at the 2019 edition of Beat The Streets. After an extensive layoff, he returned at the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament. Taylor both won and qualified 86 kilograms for the upcoming Olympic Games. Back in July, the former Penn State national champion scored a dominant match-termination victory over Myles Martin on the undercard of Flo's Dake vs. Chamizo event.

    Dean showed at Senior Nationals that he is still a very strong defensive wrestler. However, there are very few people in the world who have the defense to hold up against Taylor. Even if Dean is successful at stopping Taylor's leg attacks early, the pace will eventually win the day. Look for Taylor to have yet another dominant performance here.

    Prediction: Taylor VSU over Dean

    Joe Lee vs. Zach Hartman

    Lee joined his brother Nick on the Penn State roster this past season. He redshirted his first campaign and put together a 14-2 record. In the first semester, Lee won both the Clarion Open and the Wilkes Open. His biggest challenge came at the Southern Scuffle. Lee managed to pull out a fifth-place finish and picked up victories over the likes of Jake Wentzel, Ebed Jarrell and Connor Flynn.

    Hartman has already qualified twice for the NCAA tournament, and he still has two years of eligibility left at Bucknell. For his sophomore season, he went 27-8 and picked up signature wins over Phil Conigliaro, Kennedy Monday, Jake Allar and Chase Straw. Following the season, the NWCA awarded Hartman with third-team All-American honors.

    This match might be a preview of an NCAA contest next season. Both are expected to compete at 165 pounds. After some early season struggles, Hartman seemed to figure it out. While he took some more losses, those really only came against some of the best competitors at the weight. Lee has a good pace and a variety of scoring options. However, Hartman might be a step ahead at this point.

    Prediction: Hartman VPO1 over Lee

    Franklin Gomez vs. Boris Novachkov

    Gomez was a three-time All-American and one-time champion for Michigan State. Since graduating, he has been competing internationally for Puerto Rico. He has won three medals at the Pan American Games, including a gold medal at the 2011 edition of the games. That same year, Gomez had his best finish on the world level as he won a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships. Earlier this year, Gomez qualified 74 kilograms for Puerto Rico through the Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament.

    Novachkov was a three-time All-American for Cal Poly with his final year of eligibility coming in 2012. Since college, he has competed internationally for his native Bulgaria. Novachkov has won a pair of medals at the European Championships with a bronze coming in 2014 and a silver in 2017. After his silver in 2017, Novachkov took a hiatus from competitive wrestling. During his time away, he tried his hand at MMA. He made his professional debut at Bellator 220 in 2019 and dropped a split decision against Chris Inocencio. Novachkov returned to wrestling earlier this year at the Yasar Dogu and finished ninth.

    Gomez has been the more consistent performer over the last few seasons. Novachkov can clearly win this one, but look for Gomez to control the pace of the match and score when necessary.

    Prediction: Gomez VPO1 over Novachkov

    Carter Starocci vs. Chance Marsteller

    Starocci had a strong redshirt season last year for Penn State. He went 19-0 and won all four of the tournaments he entered including the Southern Scuffle. At the Scuffle, he picked up key victories over Neal Richards and Gregg Harvey. Starocci returned to action on the second NLWC show. He faced off against Devin Skatzka and pinned the former All-American.

    After transferring to Lock Haven prior to his junior season, Marsteller went 72-7 and finished as an All-American twice. In his senior season in 2019, he finished third at the NCAAs and along the way he defeated the likes of Evan Wick, Josh Shields, Te'Shan Campbell and Alex Marinelli. Marsteller's last action in freestyle came at the 2019 Senior Nationals. He went 2-2 with wins coming over Jake Sueflohn and Tyler Berger as well as losses coming against Mekhi Lewis and Joey Lavallee.

    If the Skatzka match was a test, Starocci passed it with flying colors. He takes another step forward here against Marsteller. His wrestling style translates very well to folkstyle, and he does a very good job attacking in spurts. Look for Starocci to show that he belongs, but Marsteller will be able to do just enough to pull out the victory here.

    Prediction: Marsteller VPO1 over Starocci

    Thomas Gilman vs. Frank Perrelli

    Gilman returned to action on the first NLWC card. He faced off against collegiate rival Darian Cruz and took home a 14-4 victory. Cruz had his moments early, but Gilman never stopped coming and scored the victory by superiority. During his collegiate days at Iowa, Gilman was a three-time All-American. Immediately following his school days, he transitioned to the freestyle circuit with a silver medal performance at the 2017 World Championships.

    Perrelli finished fourth at the 2012 NCAA tournament to become an All-American from Cornell. On the freestyle circuit he has collected bronze medals from the Cerro Pelado and Henri Deglane tournaments. At the recent Senior Nationals, Perrelli finished fifth with wins coming over Sam Latona, Shelton Mack, Brody Teske, Antonio Saldate and Jackson Henson.

    Gilman and Perrelli wrestled at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge tournament. Perrelli managed to make it to the second period, but Gilman was in control throughout and scored the 10-0 victory. Look for this match to play out in much the same way.

    Prediction: Gilman VSU over Perrelli

    Nick Lee vs. Brandon Wright

    Lee was set to wrestle on the second NLWC show, but he pulled out of a match against Brock Zacherl due to injury. He is apparently healed up and ready to go here. Lee has already put together three All-American seasons, and he has one year of eligibility left. This past season, he was clearly one of the favorites to bring home an NCAA title as he went 20-1 with his only loss coming at the Big Ten tournament to Luke Pletcher. Lee did not wrestle at Senior Nationals last month, but he did compete at the 2019 edition where he finished third with victories over the likes of Frank Molinaro, Jaydin Eierman and Yianni Diakomihalis.

    Wright was a two-time NAIA national champion for Grand View with his senior season coming in 2015. His best year on the freestyle circuit came in 2017. That year he finished second at the both the U.S. Open and World Team Trials. His most recent action came at the 2019 U.S. Open where he went 1-2 and failed to place.

    If Lee is fully recovered from his injury, he should be able to dominate this match. Wright can certainly hang, but Lee has defeated tougher opposition earlier this year. His ability to continually get to legs and finish without allowing counters puts him in the driver's seat for this match.

    Prediction: Lee VSU over Wright

    Michael Beard vs. Nate Jackson

    Beard redshirted and went 13-3 during his first year at Penn State. He won the Mat Town Open and the Wilkes Open, but his biggest challenge came at the Southern Scuffle. Beard ended up finishing fourth at the tournament with impressive wins coming over Jordan Pagano, Nick Reenan and Dakota Geer. He returned to freestyle on the second NLWC show where he scored a 10-9 win over former Clarion wrestler Greg Bulsak.

    Jackson finished his career at Indiana as a two-time All-American. As a senior in 2017, he finished eighth and picked up victories over the likes of Emery Parker, Mitch Bowman and Nick Gravina. Jackson recently had a very strong performance at 2020 Nationals. He made it all the way to the finals at 86 kilograms before coming up short on criteria against Gabe Dean. Jackson scored wins over Drew Foster, Nick Heflin, Rocky Elam and Peter Keckeisen. The former Indiana wrestler then entered the 8-Man Challenge where he scored wins over Keith Gavin and Sammy Brooks.

    Beard has shown that he can hang with basically anyone. However, in his last match against Bulsak, his offense was mostly generated off wild leg attacks from his opponent. In this match, he will need to score off his own leg attacks. Jackson's defense has only gotten better since he started focusing solely on freestyle, and he should be the clear favorite here.

    Prediction: Jackson VPO1 over Beard

    Zain Retherford vs. Reece Humphrey

    Retherford was a three-time NCAA champion for Penn State who went undefeated during his last three years of college. He won a spot on the 2019 World team after an extensive rivalry with Yianni Diakomihalis, but he failed to place. Retherford was also the representative sent to the Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament, but he came up short and finished third. He recently got back on track with a victory over Alec Pantaleo on the first NLWC show.

    Humphrey left Ohio State in 2010 as a two-time All-American. Since then he has won the U.S. open three times and represented the U.S. at both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. Humphrey returned to action earlier this year at the Cerro Pelado tournament after an extensive layoff and brought home a silver medal.

    Even though Humphrey is getting up there in age and has not been particularly active, he is still a threat due to his throwing ability. Retherford is clearly the favorite in this one, but a few four-point moves could change the course of the match. Retherford is still improving his freestyle ground work, and this might be a good opportunity to show that against a veteran opponent.

    Prediction: Retherford VPO1 over Humphrey

    Nick Nevills vs. Mauro Correnti

    Nevills was a two-time All-American for Penn State before serving as Anthony Cassar's backup as a senior. 2019 was a strong year for Nevills on the freestyle circuit. He finished fourth at both the Bill Farrell and Senior Nationals. Along the way, he scored victories over the likes of Tanner Hall, Youssif Hemida, and Garrett Ryan. Nevills returned to action on the first NLWC show. He built an early lead against All-American Jordan Wood but ultimately dropped the match by a 6-4 score.

    Correnti was a three-year starter for Rider. He qualified for the NCAA tournament as a sophomore in 2016. As a senior in 2018, he failed to qualify through the EWL tournament, but he finished with a 13-12 record and defeated Gary Traub.

    These two met during the 2015 season at the Nittany Lion Open. Nevills had the advantage throughout and scored the fall in the first period. Nevills needs to get back on track after a close loss against Wood, and he should get it here.

    Prediction: Nevills VSU over Correnti

    Jen Page vs. Lauren Mason

    Page returned from injuries in 2019. She finished fifth at the 2019 Senior Nationals before facing off against Desiree Zavala on the first NLWC show. That turned out to be a wild match that Page ended up winning 14-10. She then returned to form at the 2020 Senior Nationals where she won first place. In the finals, she defeated Macey Kilty, who had defeated her at the 2019 edition of the tournament.

    Mason is a senior at Simon Fraser. Last season she finished third at the 2020 Cliff Keen WCWC Women's National Championship. Mason also recently competed at the U23 Nationals and finished fourth. She dropped a 3-2 match against Alexia Ward in the third-place bout.

    Page's performance at Senior Nationals shows that she has recovered from her injuries and is making improvements on the job. Mason has been in some high scoring matches, so this might turn into another exciting bout. However, Page is the clear favorite here.

    Prediction: Page VPO1 over Mason

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