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  • Photo: Photo/Kadir Caliskan

    Photo: Photo/Kadir Caliskan

    NLWC on Rokfin 4 Preview & Predictions

    Bajrang Punia defeated Zain Retherford at the Matteo Pellicone (Photo/Kadir Caliskan, United World Wrestling)

    The Nittany Lion Wrestling Club (NLWC) returns with its fourth event on Rokfin. The card features some very interesting individual matches, including Roman Bravo-Young against UFC contender Aljamain Sterling, Kyle Snyder returning from injury against Ty Walz and multiple-time world medalist Bajrang Punia taking on multiple-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford.

    The event also features a series of matches between competitors for the NLWC and the Wolfpack WC. The following is a match-by-match preview of the top matches from the event.

    Roman Bravo-Young vs. Aljamain Sterling

    This match reportedly started with a troll tweet. Sterling responded to an open challenge of sorts from Bravo-Young, and now the match is actually happening. Sterling has been a professional MMA fighter since making his debut in 2011, and he is currently one of the top contenders in the UFC's bantamweight division. He joined the promotion in 2014 and has built an 11-3 record with the company, and he is currently riding a five-fight winning streak.

    Like many domestic MMA fighters, Sterling comes from a wrestling background. After starting his college career at Morrisville State, he transferred to Cortland for his final three years of eligibility. While there, he was one of the top competitors at the Division III level and finished his career as a two-time All-American with a record of 87-27.

    Bravo-Young has started for Penn State since joining the program for the 2019 season. After finishing eighth and becoming an All-American as a true freshman, he made improvements for his second year. As a sophomore, he went 20-2 with his only two losses coming against Seth Gross and Sebastian Rivera. He appears to be a contender at 133 pounds for the upcoming season. This year Bravo-Young has picked up an 8-1 victory over Jack Mueller on the undercard of the Dake vs. Chamizo show and a quick 10-0 victory over Shelton Mack on the second NLWC show.

    So far this year we have seen both current MMA fighters Darrion Caldwell and Bubba Jenkins return to their roots for freestyle matches. Caldwell lost 9-2 against Luke Pletcher, while Jenkins dropped a 10-0 match against Jason Nolf. It is clearly hard to bounce between sports, and Sterling's credentials are not as impressive as Caldwell or Jenkins. Bravo-Young has clearly improved since coming to Penn State, and his dynamic offense should be enough to carry him to a quick victory here.

    Prediction: Bravo-Young VSU over Sterling

    Per Bravo-Young's Twitter, the two will follow the wrestling match with a three-minute Brazilian Jiu Jitsu match. The full ruleset has not been announced, but one would have to assume that a submission grappling match would favor Sterling. Of his 19 professional MMA victories, eight have come via submission. However, it is hard to see him scoring a submission inside three minutes.

    BJJ Match Prediction: Draw

    Xochitl Mota-Pettis (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)

    Jane Valencia vs. Xochitl Mota-Pettis

    In March, Valencia punched her ticket to the upcoming Olympic Games by winning the Pan American Olympic Qualification Tournament at 57 kilograms. Since then she has competed in a pair of matches hosted by the NLWC where she trains. On the debut NLWC show, she picked up a somewhat surprising 6-6 criteria victory over Julia Salata. Valencia returned on the second show and dominated Vayle-Rae Baker on the way to a 13-2 match-termination victory.

    Mota-Pettis burst onto the scene at the 2020 Senior Nationals. In the quarterfinals, she scored an upset with a fall over world silver medalist Alli Ragan in the quarterfinals. Mota-Pettis kept that momentum going all the way to the finals where she came up short against Lauren Louive. One month later, she returned for both the U23 and Junior Nationals. Mota-Pettis picked up the tournament title in the U23 tournament and finished second in the junior division.

    Valencia seems to have gotten better every time she has wrestled since joining the NLWC. However, she is facing off against another competitor on an upward trajectory. Mota-Pettis is still refining her game, but she can score from any position and should be able win enough scrambles to take this match.

    Prediction: Mota-Pettis VPO1 over Valencia

    Zain Retherford vs. Bajrang Punia

    Retherford's year got off to a tough start as he failed to qualify the 65-kilogram weight through the Pan American Olympic Qualification tournament. However, the three-time NCAA champion has gotten back on track on NLWC shows. On the club's first show, he scored a 3-2 victory over Alec Pantaleo. Retherford returned on the third NLWC show and scored a dominant 10-0 victory over returning veteran Reece Humphrey.

    Bajrang is a three-time world medalist for his native India. He made the trip to the U.S. to enter FloWrestling's 150-pound 8-Man Challenge. Bajrang won the tournament with wins coming over Pat Lugo, Anthony Ashnault and James Green. He allowed his first two opponents to score only one point combined before scoring an 8-4 win over Green in the finals. Previously this year, Bajrang won the Matteo Pellicone tournament and took a silver medal at the Asian Championships.

    This will be a big step up in competition for Retherford. His opponents on the first two NLWC shows have been solid, but Bajrang is a true world title contender. Retherford showed in his series against Yianni Diakomihalis last year that he can get to his shots and defend against scrambling. He will certainly need that here against Bajrang. However, the world medalist simply has too many ways to score and should take this one.

    Prediction: Bajrang VPO1 over Retherford

    Kyle Snyder (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

    Kyle Snyder vs. Ty Walz

    Snyder got off to a strong start to the year with a gold-medal performance at the Pan American Championships. He defeated his four opponents by a combined 46-8 score. The three-time world/Olympic gold medalist then returned to action in September on an NLWC show. On that card, he scored a quick 12-0 victory over Michael Macchiavello. Snyder then entered the 2020 Senior Nationals. Snyder started off dominantly with three quick wins, but he then fell behind Kyven Gadson by a 5-0 score and bowed out with an injury.

    Walz placed seventh at the 2020 Senior Nationals with wins over Joseph Reimers, Lucas Davison and Nick Reenan. The former three-time All-American for Virginia Tech then joined the unified SERTC/NJRTC team for the inaugural RTC Cup. At the event, Walz picked up a pair of victories over Jacob Cardenas and also defeated Tim Dudley.

    Snyder and Walz wrestled at the 2019 Dan Kolov tournament, and Snyder dominated on the way to a 12-1 victory. It is hard to see how this match will be any different, but it should be a good gauge to see where Snyder is on his return from injury.

    Prediction: Snyder VSU1 over Walz

    Jen Page vs. Emma Bruntil

    Page has also been a regular on these NLWC shows. On the debut show, she scored a 14-10 victory over Desiree Zavala in what was a wild match. Page returned in November for the third NLWC show and bested Laura Mason by a 10-4 score. Outside of that, the NLWC competitor also entered the 2020 Senior Nationals where she brought home a gold medal. Page dominated her way through the bracket until the finals. There she scored a 4-3 victory over prodigy Macey Kilty.

    As a freshman at McKendree this past season, Bruntil won a national title at the Cliff Keen WCWC Women's National Championships. A few months prior, she won the 2019 Senior Nationals at 62 kilograms. She recently faced off against Kilty on the debut Tar Heel Wrestling Open show. Despite previously holding a victory over Kilty, Bruntil allowed her opponent to control the match. Kilty ultimately took the bout by a 3-0 score.

    Bruntil's best results usually come when she is able to slow down the pace of a match and edge out her opponents. That likely will not be an option here against Page. Her ability to score from all positions has only gotten better recently. Look for her to score throughout this contest on the way to a solid victory.

    Prediction: Page VPO over Bruntil

    NLWC vs. Wolfpack WC Matches

    Nick Lee vs. Tariq Wilson

    As a junior at Penn State, Lee went 20-1 with his only loss coming against Luke Pletcher at the Big Ten tournament. He likely would have been a favorite to at least make the NCAA tournament if it occurred. During the season, Lee took a break to enter the 2019 Senior Nationals where he placed third with victories over Ethan Lizak, Jaydin Eierman and Frank Molinaro. Lee wrestled on the third NLWC show and scored a dominant 10-0 victory over veteran Brandon Wright.

    After making a surprising run to a third-place finish at the NCAA tournament as a redshirt freshman, Wilson is still looking to return to those heights. This past year, he went 24-6 as a junior and qualified for the NCAA tournament through the ACC. Following the season, the NWCA awarded him with honorable mention All-American status. Wilson recently returned to action at the RTC Cup. At the event, he represented the SERTC/NJTRC and dropped matches against Yianni Diakomihalis and Alec Pantaleo.

    This could be a high-paced match with a lot of scoring. Both wrestlers are at their best when they are moving forward and getting to legs. Lee is the clear favorite, and he should be able to finish cleanly.

    Prediction: Lee VSU1 over Wilson

    Brady Berge vs. Hayden Hidlay

    Berge has dealt with injuries throughout his time at Penn State. In his three seasons, he only wrestled more than 10 matches once. As a redshirt freshman, he went 20-5 and qualified for the NCAA tournament. However, last year he wrestled only two matches. Prior to last season, Berge won a spot on the U23 world team. Berge also represented the U.S. at the 2018 Junior World Championships and brought home a bronze medal.

    Hidlay went 28-1 last year at NC State with his only loss coming against Ryan Deakin. It was his third-straight All-American season, and he will be looking for an NCAA title as a senior. At the 2020 Senior Nationals, Hidlay finished third and picked up victories over the likes of Rick Durso, David Carr and Evan Wick. He then joined the Wolfpack Wrestling Club for the RTC Cup where he split a pair of matches. He scored a victory over Jevon Balfour but dropped a match against Logan Massa.

    Berge has shown promise throughout his career when he is healthy. However, he will really be up against it here. Look for Hidlay to control this match from start to finish.

    Prediction: Hidlay VSU1 over Berge

    Carter Starocci vs. Daniel Bullard

    After a strong redshirt season last year, Starocci is expected to join the Penn State starting lineup this year. In that season, he went 19-0 and won all four of the tournaments he entered including the Southern Scuffle. On these NLWC shows, he has been matched against former collegiate All-Americans and looked great. First, Starocci pinned Devin Skatzka. He then returned to action and upset Chance Marsteller.

    Bullard went 24-6 for NC State last season. Following the season, the NWCA awarded him with honorable mention All-American honors. During the year, he scored signature victories over the likes of Brandon Womack, Clay Lautt, Cody Hughes and Neal Richards. Bullard is expected to start once again for NC State at 174 pounds.

    Starocci has run through his opposition so far, and there is little reason to expect that momentum to stop here. Look for the Penn State wrestler to get to his attacks out of the ties and dominate this match. Bullard usually does a good job of controlling pace and space in his matches, but that will be tough here.

    Prediction: Starocci VPO over Bullard

    Michael Beard vs. Nick Reenan

    This will be Beard's third appearance on an NLWC show. He faced off against former Clarion wrestler Greg Bulsak on the second NLWC show and scored a 10-9 come-from-behind victory. Beard then filled in as a late replacement for Bo Nickal against Nate Jackson and dropped a 7-0 match. Last year at Penn State, Beard redshirted and went 11-3. He scored impressive victories over Dakota Geer and Jordan Pagano.

    Reenan is a two-time NCAA qualifier for NC State, but he has been derailed by injuries. Last year he wrestled only 10 matches and finished with a 5-5 record. Despite the injuries, Reenan has had some impressive results on the freestyle side of things. In 2018 he won the 2018 World Team Trials Challenge tournament with victories over Ryan McWatters, Joe Rau and Richard Perry. He then challenged David Taylor at Final X and came up short in his bid for the world team.

    If he is all the way back from injuries, Reenan would be the favorite in this match. Beard has had some solid results, but this would be one of his biggest victories to date. Look for this one to get off to a slow start with Reenan pulling out some late offense and taking the win.

    Prediction: Reenan over Beard

    Greg Kerkvliet vs. Deonte Wilson

    After an extensive recruitment and transfer process, Kerkvliet has finally found his home at Penn State. During his redshirt year last year, he placed fifth at the U23 World Championships and third at the 2019 Senior Nationals. Kerkvliet has really shined on these NLWC shows. He has been entirely dominant as he scored 10-0 match-termination victories over both Youssif Hemida and Demetrius Thomas.

    Wilson qualified for the NCAA tournament in his second year as a starter. He went 19-9 for NC State last year and picked up key wins over John Borst, Andrew Gunning and Quinn Miller.

    Kerkvliet is the clear favorite in this match. He has dominated his competition so far this offseason, and he might be able to challenge Mason Parris and Gable Steveson for heavyweight supremacy on the collegiate level this year.

    Prediction: Kerkvliet VSU over Wilson

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