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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Penn State Puts Six in the NCAA Semifinals and Extends Lead to 36 Points

    After a relatively tame first day, in terms of updates, at the 2024 NCAA Championships you had to know things were going to go sideways Friday morning in quarterfinals. That proved to be the case immediately as the 125 lb bracket blew up. If you’ve followed the collegiate scene this year, that shouldn’t surprise you as the unexpected has been the norm at the weight. 

    The 125 lb semifinals will feature only one of the top-four seeds. #3 Drake Ayala (Iowa) was the only one that held up. There was plenty of suspense along with parity as three of the four quarterfinal matches needed extra time to decide a victory. 

    The only 125 lb quarterfinal that did not need overtime saw the first number one seed lose when eighth-seeded Richie Figueroa (Arizona State) held off Braeden Davis (Penn State) 3-2 to advance. He’ll meet #12 Anthony Noto (Lock Haven). In battle of wrestlers who held the number one ranking, at one point during the regular season, it was Noto who prevailed with a sudden victory takedown. The bottom half of the bracket features a Big Ten clash between Ayala and #10 Eric Barnett (Wisconsin). For the second time this year, Ayala needed additional time to down #6 Troy Spratley (Oklahoma State). Barnett prevailed in a marathon match that went to tiebreakers over #15 Caleb Smith (Nebraska). Barnett got an escape during his portion of the rideout and then managed to ride Smith for the entire second series; despite a near loss of control and a challenge for locking hands. 

    This round featured one of the most anticipated bouts of the tournament as a pair of former national champions met in the 174 lb quarterfinals. Ninth seeded Carter Starocci (Penn State) showed with a pair of wins on Thursday that his injured knee was an issue, but not something that would prevent him from winning his fourth national title. That sentiment was even more evident with his 4-0 win over Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech).

    Starocci struck in the first period with a takedown that proved to be the difference-maker. After Starocci built up about :40 seconds of riding time, Lewis had to choose neutral in the third period. The Hokie was not able to get close to a takedown and was blanked. He’ll have to win a match in the Round of 12 to earn All-American honors for the fourth time. 

    Starocci is one of six NCAA semifinalists for Penn State who opened up a likely insurmountable 36 point lead on the field. Second place Michigan trails the Nittany Lions 86.5 to 50.5. 

    In addition to Starocci, Beau Bartlett (141), Levi Haines (157), Mitchell Mesenbrink (165), Aaron Brooks (197), and Greg Kerkvliet (285) are headed to the semis. 

    The surprise in the team race came from Arizona State. After day one, the Sun Devils sat just outside of the top ten. With a 4-0 performance in the quarterfinals, they’ve leaped to third place. 

    While all attention was on the 174  lb weight class in the quarterfinals, the semis will have a strong focus on the top half of the 165 lb bracket. For the fifth time in the last two seasons, national champions #1 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri) and #4 David Carr (Iowa State) will clash. O’Toole crushed #8 Antrell Taylor (Nebraska) before securing a second period fall. Carr pitched his second shutout of the year over #5 the typically offensive-minded Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin). 

    Other semifinals of note take place at 133 lbs with #2 Ryan Crookham (Lehigh) and #3 Vito Arujau (Cornell), 141 lbs with former Wyoming Seminary teammates #2 Beau Bartlett (Penn State) and #6 Lachlan McNeil (North Carolina), Starocci and 2021 national champion Shane Griffith (Michigan) at 174, and #2 Trent Hidlay (NC State) and #3 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State) at 197. 

    Team Scores after Session III

    1. Penn State 86.5

    2. Michigan  50.5

    3. Arizona State  44.5

    4. Iowa State  42

    5. Iowa  41.5

    6. Ohio State  36

    7. Virginia Tech  35

    8. NC State  33.5

    9. Missouri  33

    10. Oklahoma State 33

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