Penn State wrestling faced its toughest test of the season Friday night in a match that pitted four ranked wrestler against each other — yet still came away with a dominating 41-3 victory.
With two upsets over ranked wrestlers — including No. 2 Mark Hall over No. 1 Vahid Valencia — the Nittany Lions will head into the semester break on a high note.
Here are five things we learned from Friday’s match:
Bravo-Young has a chance to be an All-American
One of several big revelations (see: Cassar, Anthony) for the Nittany Lions this year has been true freshman Roman-Bravo Young.
His style, quickness and ESPN “Top 10 Play”-earning acrobatics have Penn State fans high on the Tucson, Ariz., native. Pretty much since his first pin, in his debut against Kent State, the Penn State faithful have been harassing media organization to rank Bravo-Young, some even penciling him into the NCAA finals.
However, the freshman happens to be in one of the toughest weight classes in the country at 133 pounds and had yet to face ranked competition.
He finally got that chance Friday night, when Arizona State bumped up its No. 7-ranked 125-pounder, Ryan Millhof, to give Bravo-Young his first real test.
Not knowing exactly who he might face Friday evening didn’t seem to faze the true freshman, as he proved early to be the aggressor, getting his first takedown at the edge of the mat just 32 seconds into the bout. He then continued to dominate, racking up three more takedowns and showing his toughness on top with two near-fall points and 3 minutes and 16 seconds in riding time.
“Roman wrestled well, he wrestled smart against a tough opponent with a lot of experience,” coach Cael Sanderson said.
Even though Bravo-Young finally knocked off a ranked opponent, it might not be enough to enter the top 20, depending on the poll, as his opponent was ranked at 125, not 133.
But for those anxious to see Bravo-Young enter the ranking, the Southern Scuffle will come soon enough — and his Friday night performance showed that a potential matchup with Oklahoma State’s No. 5 Daton Fix will be a real battle.
That will be fun.
Hall vs. Valencia could shake out to be one of the best recent rivalries
Penn State wrestlers have provided some of the better rivalries in recent college wrestling history — Vincenzo Joseph vs. Isaiah Martinez, Bo Nickal vs. Myles Martin, David Taylor vs. Kyle Dake — but Hall’s battle with Valencia could ultimately prove to be the best.
Hall now leads the series 2-1 . Each of those three battles has been different, with this time Hall not letting Valencia get to his legs and riding the fellow junior for the entire third period.
Hall showed an evolution, making tactical improvements from their past matchups — which he wouldn’t disclose to reporters — to dominate the Sun Devil, which some had thought started to pull away from Hall after his dominating NCAA final win.
It’s that sort of evolution and changing of the gameplan that makes rivalries between wrestlers so captivating to watch.
Luckily for wrestling fans, this series is far from over.
Joseph silences doubters — for now
Even though he’s a two-time national champ as a junior, Vincenzo Joseph each year has to prove that he belongs on the top at 165 pounds.
Even with Martinez gone, some in the national media still have doubted Joseph’s ability to be dominant in the weight class.
Though with his first matchup of the season with a top-5-ranked opponent, Joseph left little doubt.
Joseph scored a takedown and four near-fall points on his former Young Guns teammate in the first period, then tacked on a takedown late in the third to get the 11-2 major decision.
That final takedown, though, Joseph said, wasn’t about adding a exclamation point at the end of a tough match,
“I feel like I should have attempted more shots throughout the match. I think I wrestled well, but I feel I could have done better,” he said. “I could have upped my attack rate. I think I wrestled hard but I would have liked to get more opportunities in the match.”
With his perfect bonus rate intact, and the points-scoring mentality, Joseph should be ready for his next chance to put the doubters to rest — when he faces Wisconsin’s No. 2 Evan Wick on Jan. 13.
Wrestling in Rec Hall is not fun for opponents
The atmosphere and excitement level the crowd brings a Rec Hall is no secret — and often talked about by Nittany Lions and their opponents alike.
As Arizona State’s coach Zeke Jones would tell it, the crowd of 6,676 — the 48th straight sellout at Rec Hall — certainly played a factor in the Sun Devils’ performance.
“You’re wrestling a hostile environment. You’ve got to know that it’s a fight. You are fighting a lot of factors. In reality, it’s two arms, two legs and one head,” Jones said. “You’re wrestling out there. You’re not wrestling anything else. You’ve got to withstand or block out or use them to your advantage — external factors.”
From the introduction ahead of the match, the crowd showed it was there for Hall. The noise level erupted and people rose to their feet as his name was called to shake hands with Valencia.
The crowd maintained its boisterous support of Hall throughout his match, starting off with rhythmic clapping and erupting when he got his takedown in the second period. By then end, not a single person was sitting.
Hall said the crowd helped — as wrestling in Rec Hall can be tough for anybody — but the real key to his match was the effort he gave.
But as his coach said, the crowd certainly doesn’t hurt.
“We love Rec Hall and our fans. They do an awesome job,” Sanderson said. “They come here to watch good wrestling. As long as we can give them that, they’ll keep coming back, so we appreciate it.”
Schnupp is not giving up
With all the talk about Gavin Teasdale possibly returning to Penn State and Brody Teske maybe competing in an open this weekend, sophomore 125-pounder Devin Schnupp showed Friday he’s not ready to give up his starting position.
Though he fell short of the win, Schnupp put up a fight against the Junior Pan-Am’s bronze medalist Brandon Courtney, holding him to just a decision and getting the crowd fired up for what had the potential to be a close dual.
Similarly to when a Carson Kuhn headlock and throw of Nate Tomasello into the the scorer’s table ignited the crowd against Ohio State last season, Schnupp’s reversal with two seconds left to keep the loss to a decision brought the crowd to its feet and the noise level up a decibel — from which it never came down.
Getting that late reversal exemplified the improvement Schnupp has shown since the season opener against Kent State, where the match seemed like it was in his hands, but he then lost steam after the first period and couldn’t capitalize on the win.
This time, it was Courtney who lost steam.
The redshirt freshman came out on fire, racking up four takedowns in the first period, making it look like the match would end early. However, he lost some of that steam in the second, and Schnupp kept pushing the action, forcing a stall warning from his opponent. Although he wasn’t able to score a takedown, Schnupp showed major improvements in his conditioning, allowing for that seconds-left reversal.
Even though Schnupp has previously indicated to reporters that he knows his starting time may be limited in the future, he showed he’s ready to put up a fight.