Here’s a bout-by-bout breakdown of No. 1 Penn State wrestling’s dual vs. No. 2 Iowa

·19 min read

The top two college wrestling programs in the country will face off Friday night in Iowa City when the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. The dual between the two elite Big Ten programs will feature as many as 19 ranked wrestlers, 12 of whom are in the top five and four of whom that are ranked No. 1 in their weight class.

Let’s take a look at how we think Friday’s dual will play out as we go bout by bout.

Note: Penn State’s wrestler is listed first in all matchups.

125 pounds: No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt vs. No. 11 Drake Ayala/Jesse Ybarra

Lauren Muthler: The 125-pound match on Friday will pit a promising true freshman pulled out of his redshirt in Ayala against a proven grad transfer pulled out of retirement in Hildebrandt. Ayala (13-4) has so far had his ups and downs in his effort to fill the enormous shoes of Spencer Lee, who’s recovering from double ACL surgery. On the other hand, Hildebrant (4-1) has added some much-needed stability to the weight class for the Nittany Lions in his short time with the team.

Ayala is coming off an upset loss last weekend to Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman, while Hildebrandt went 1-1, with an 8-0 major decision over Michigan State’s Tristan Lujan and 2-1 loss to Michigan’s top-ranked Nick Suriano. While this bout could easily go either way, Fort Dodge native Ayala will have the advantage of having his home crowd behind him.

Prediction: Ayala by decision

Jon Sauber: Despite being one of the only three matches that doesn’t include a top-five wrestler at the weight class, this could be one of the better matchups of the dual. Assuming Ayala goes, it’s a classic face-off between a high-level veteran and a freshman that has the upside to be the best in the weight class. Hildebrandt has been the steadier of the two this month — after beginning to wrestle for Penn State at the turn of the calendar — and will be in position to get another win for the Nittany Lions Friday night.

Ayala is more likely to finish this matchup by getting bonus points, but it’s the steady Hildebrandt that has the higher probability of earning a victory. He’ll be crucial for Penn State when the NCAA Wrestling Championships roll around in March and this is a good opportunity to show how he will fare in that setting.

Prediction: Hildebrandt by decision

133 pounds: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young vs. No. 3 Austin Desanto/Cullan Schriever

Muthler: After defeating DeSanto 5-2 in last year’s Big Ten semifinals, Bravo-Young now owns the series against the Hawkeye, 3-2. But while RBY won the last two matchups, this bout is by no means a sure thing. In fact, there aren’t many matches in this dual meet that are. RBY has been able to make major adjustments to his game since dropping his first two bouts with DeSanto. Most notably, he wrestles with his left hand behind his back to neutralize DeSanto’s near-arm-far-leg attack.

RBY has also learned to keep some space between himself and DeSanto, and how to take away his lead arm. DeSanto has not scored a takedown on RBY since 2019. For his part, DeSanto is coming off a 19-4 technical fall over Ohio State’s Dylan Kuntz, which could give him a boost of confidence heading into Friday. But as long as RBY is dialed in and focused, he should be able to put DeSanto away.

Prediction: Bravo-Young by decision

Sauber: Desanto took the mat for Iowa its last time out against Ohio State after missing the previous dual against Illinois, when Schriever had his redshirt pulled to wrestle. He figures to get the nod against Bravo-Young but it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion. If he does go, this is one of the matchups with the highest potential for fireworks. Desanto is one of the most unique 133-pounders in the country, with the willingness to do whatever it takes to earn a victory.

Of course, he also puts himself in position to get caught by his opponents from time to time, and Bravo-Young could take advantage. The Nittany Lion is a takedown machine and has won two of his last three matchups with Desanto. He should be favored in the matchup and could open the night with a 2-0 start for Penn State.

Prediction: Bravo-Young by decision

Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young defeated Arizona State’s Michael McGee, 6-2, on Dec. 21, 2021, at the Collegiate Duals in Niceville, Florida.
Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young defeated Arizona State’s Michael McGee, 6-2, on Dec. 21, 2021, at the Collegiate Duals in Niceville, Florida.

141 pounds: No. 1 Nick Lee vs. No. 2 Jaydin Eierman

Muthler: After Lee’s 4-2 sudden-victory defeat of Eierman in the last year’s NCAA finals, the safe bet seemed to be that any matchup between the two would be a coin flip. However, with the way the 2021-22 season has gone so far for each wrestler, the momentum appears to be tipping in Lee’s favor. While, yes, Eierman is still undefeated, it took some work to get to his 12-0 record. The Hawkeye had to dig himself out of big holes twice at the Collegiate Duals in Florida at the end of December, rallying back from an 11-2 deficit to defeat Central Michigan’s Dresden Simon 13-12, then coming back from down 5-2 to beat North Carolina State’s Ryan Jack 7-6. If Eierman finds himself in another hole on Friday, though, it won’t be as easy to come back. Lee’s 10-0 record this season includes four major decisions, two technical falls and a pin. Expect Lee to keep the points rolling on Friday.

Prediction: Lee by decision

Sauber: Eierman and Lee have had excellent matchups in the past and Friday night should be no different. Both are undefeated and Eierman is looking for revenge for his loss at NCAAs last year, while Lee is looking to prove the victory over the veteran Hawkeye wasn’t a fluke. The Nittany Lion has been rolling this season but that could come to a halt against the wrestler he’s likely to see two more times — and Big Tens and nationals.

Lee has been able to get bonus points more often than not in his 10 wins, but the task will be taller than usual going up against Eierman. The senior has only given up bonus points three times in his career and all three of those came in his second college season — all the way back in 2017. He’ll be tough to rack up points on, but a win should suffice for the undefeated Lee.

Prediction: Lee by decision

149 pounds: No. 19 Beau Bartlett vs. No. 10 Max Murin

Muthler: In a dual that looks like it could come down to criteria, you’ve got to think the Penn State coaching staff has its eyes on 149 pounds as a bout the Nittany Lions can steal. However, it won’t be easy. Murin hasn’t had an outstanding season. He’s 6-2 with losses to Ohio State’s No. 2 Sammy Sasso and Lehigh’s unranked Manzona Bryant. But Murin’s performance in his 3-2 loss to last season’s NCAA runner-up Sasso on Friday was a far cry from the 7-5 upset loss in December. Bartlett has yet to really open up the scoring on any of his opponents yet this season, winning — and losing — most of his bouts by one or two points.

He seemed poised to flip that script last Friday against Michigan, hitting a 6-point move on Cole Mattin in the opening 13 seconds of the bout. Mattin, however, was injured in the process, and had to medically default. If Bartlett wants a chance to win against Murin, he’ll have to come out with that same aggression.

Prediction: Murin by decision

Sauber: Bartlett has been wrestling a weight higher than he likely should be because of Lee’s presence in the lineup, but he’s still been able to battle and earn himself a ranking at the class. He’s suffered only three losses on the season, one of which was to the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the class, Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. Friday night will be another test for him against Murin, who is coming off a tight loss to Sasso.

This is one of the many matchups that could decide the dual and it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see it go in either direction. It would be a surprise, however, to see either side generate bonus points in the matchup because of how tight it should be. Murin should be able to eke this one out and get the Hawkeyes on the board.

Prediction: Murin by decision

157 pounds: Terrell Barraclough/Tony Negron vs. No. 12 Kaleb Young

Muthler: The Nittany Lions have yet to win an official dual meet match all season at 157 pounds, so don’t look for their luck to change Friday. While the middle weights are where Iowa is the most vulnerable, they also happen to be the weaker weights for Penn State. And as things stand now, it appears Iowa has the advantage there.

While Young has had somewhat of a rocky season, at 10-5 with two bonus-point losses, he has the experience and the skill set to handle Barraclough, Tony Negron, or whoever the Nittany Lions might throw out on the mat. Young, however, doesn’t often get bonus points. Penn State should be able to keep this loss to a regular decision.

Prediction: Young by decision

Sauber: This outcome might be the clearest one in the dual, it’s just a matter of how much either Barraclough or Negron can do to limit the points scored by Young. Young is not prone to getting bonus points — he’s only done so in two duals this season — but should be able to soundly defeat either Penn State wrestler that takes the mat. The most likely outcome is that Young wins by either decision or major decision and the Nittany Lions know it.

This should be the rare bout where a Penn State wrestler isn’t trying to win or score bonus points. Instead whoever goes should be doing whatever they have to in order to keep the outcome to a decision to prevent Iowa from getting bonus points. It’s decently likely that happens, but Young should be able to do just enough to earn an extra point for Iowa.

Prediction: Young by major decision

Penn State’s Tony Negron controls Maryland’s Lucas Cordio in their 157-pound bout during the Nittany Lions’ 46-0 win on Jan. 7.
Penn State’s Tony Negron controls Maryland’s Lucas Cordio in their 157-pound bout during the Nittany Lions’ 46-0 win on Jan. 7.

165 pounds: No. 11 Brady Berge/Creighton Edsell vs. No. 5 Alex Marinelli

Muthler: Berge is riding a little bit of momentum heading into this match, after defeating Michigan’s then-No. 10 Cam Amine, 3-1, for his first big win since rejoining the Nittany Lions after medically retiring at the end of last season. On the other hand, Marinelli is coming off his first loss of the season, 3-2 to Ohio State freshman Carson Kharchla, and the loss of his No. 1 ranking. While Berge has a perfect 2-0 career record against Iowa wrestlers, this matchup will be a challenge.

Not only has Marinelli only ever lost once at Carver-Hawkeye, he’s also likely fired up after his loss. There are still a lot of question marks — fitness level, health, etc. — surrounding Berge since his return to competition from coaching. Marinelli is the smart pick at this point, but this bout should reveal a lot about Berge’s potential heading into the postseason.

Prediction: Marinelli by decision

Sauber: Berge’s ranking doesn’t do him justice here. He’s closer to a top-five wrestler in the class than fringe top-10, but his recent addition to the roster means it’ll take a little bit more time to climb up those rankings. Friday night would be a good start against Marinelli, who is coming off a loss in his last matchup against Ohio State’s Carson Kharchla, his first defeat of the season. Berge is 3-0 on the year, including a 3-1 win over No. 12 Cameron Amine of Michigan, who Marinelli defeated 2-0.

This is a close matchup that is unlikely to feature much scoring. However, Berge has had just enough time to ramp up and be ready for the matchup against Marinelli, giving him a good chance at the upset.

Prediction: Berge by decision

174 pounds: No. 1 Carter Starocci vs. No. 2 Michael Kemerer

Muthler: While there’s going to be no shortage of exciting matchups on Friday, it’s going to be hard to beat this one. The pair are 1-1 against each other, with Starocci winning the last matchup, 3-1, in sudden victory for the national championship. Prior to that, Kemerer took the bout 7-2 in the Big Ten championship. While Kemerer missed the first portion of the season, he’s wasted no time letting the wrestling world know he’s back and gunning for a national title in his final year of eligibility, racking up two pins and a technical fall in his five matches.

Starocci has had plenty of success as well this season, earning bonus points in 10 of his 13 bouts. While this match could easily go either way, it’s difficult to erase the memory of Kemerer’s upset win over Penn State’s Mark Hall in 2020 at Carver-Hawkeye, which essentially won the dual for the Hawkeyes. This will likely be the first of three times these two meet this season. It’s difficult to imagine that the same person will win all three.

Prediction: Kemerer by decision

Sauber: This should be the first of three matchups between Starocci and Kemerer this season. They’re the clear top two at 174 pounds and should see each other again in the Big Ten finals and for a national title in March. Both are undefeated this season with Starocci earning 13 wins and Kemerer earning five. Both have had a recent test, with the former defeating Logan Massa of Michigan, 3-2, and the latter defeating Ohio State’s Ethan Smith, 6-3.

They faced off twice last season, splitting the Big Ten title (Kemerer) and the national title (Starocci). This is as much of a toss-up as there is with the winner establishing himself as the leader at the weight class heading into the postseason. For now, the edge goes to the veteran.

Prediction: Kemerer by decision

184 pounds: No. 1 Aaron Brooks vs. No. 17 Abe Assad

Muthler: Out of all of Friday’s matches, this is the one Penn State fans should be the most confident in. Brooks has been nothing short of dominant this season. While he had two close bouts over the weekend, the way Brooks was able to use heavy hips to defend what looked to be almost a sure takedown attempt from Michigan’s No. 2 Myles Amine last Friday and turn that into a takedown of his own for the 3-1 win shows the Nittany Lion won’t easily be defeated — including by an Olympic bronze medalist.

After watching Brooks get himself out of that bind, it’s difficult to see him losing — possibly ever again in college. Assad has stepped into the lineup midseason to replace initial starter Nelson Brands, who is now out with injury. While Assad may have technically been the backup this year, he’s no slouch, having racked up a 31-10 career record. With the dual likely to still be in flux at this point, look for Brooks to shoot for bonus points.

Prediction: Brooks by major decision

Sauber: This is going to be the best chance for either team to get bonus points, so Brooks should be trying to score early and often against the young Assad. Unfortunately for him and the Nittany Lions, nobody has managed to score bonus points on the Hawkeye this season. He was competitive in all of his matchups at Big Tens last year and has proven to be difficult to score on consistently this season.

Brooks is as good as there is at 184 pounds in the country and if anyone is going to break that streak of non-bonus losses, it’ll be him. However, the crowd behind him and the friendly whistle at Carver-Hawkeye Arena could allow him to avoid stall calls and prevent Brooks from scoring.

Prediction: Brooks by decision

Penn State’s Aaron Brooks grabs his opponent’s leg during a wrestling dual between Penn State and Rutgers on Jan. 16 at Rec Hall.
Penn State’s Aaron Brooks grabs his opponent’s leg during a wrestling dual between Penn State and Rutgers on Jan. 16 at Rec Hall.

197 pounds: No. 2 Max Dean vs. No. 4 Jacob Warner

Muthler: This bout could end up being one of the more important of the dual, as it could end up being a must-win for either team. And at this point, there isn’t a clear favorite. Dean should have a little bit of an edge, based upon his past results and performances. However, he’s still a bit of a smaller 197, having spent the offseason bulking up from 184 pounds.

Warner, on the other hand, is every bit a 197. Because of that size difference, Dean might not be able to rely as heavily on his top game as he has been. The first takedown will likely win it in what seems almost certain to be a one-or two-point matchup.

Prediction: Dean by decision

Sauber: Another tight matchup with just two bouts left, Penn State should be able to seal the deal with a win in the upper weights. The problem is, there’s no guarantee after Brooks takes on Assad. Dean and Warner both have one loss on the season, with Dean’s coming Sunday afternoon against No. 10 Cameron Caffey of Michigan State.

Dean was unable to score late in the bout to earn the win, but coming off the loss should add fuel to the fire for him against Iowa. Warner defeated Caffey when he faced him, but suffered a loss to Iowa State’s No. 16 Yonger Bastida in early December. He hasn’t lost since, however, and that could continue against Dean.

Prediction: Warner by decision

Hwt: No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet vs. No. 5 Tony Cassioppi

Muthler: After defeating Michigan’s Mason Parris, 8-5, last week, Kerkvliet has another opportunity to avenge a loss from last season when he takes on Cassioppi. The Hawkeye wrestler left little doubt last season when he defeated Kerkvliet, 9-0. However, this year presents a different set of circumstances. Kerkvliet’s story last season is well-known. He was medically unable to wrestle last season until the final dual, then jumped right into the postseason. Now, Kerkvliet is healthy, and has had a full season to train and compete. The other change is that Cassioppi has slimmed down and dropped weight, taking away that size advantage he had last year. It might seem crazy to pick someone who lost by major decision in their last bout, but with the changed set of circumstances and the way Kerkvliet wrestled last weekend against Parris, it’d be almost crazy not to pick the Nittany Lion.

Prediction: Kerkvliet by decision

Sauber: Kerkvliet has been on a roll all season and looks like a much different wrestler than the one who took the mat last season for Penn State. He looks bigger, stronger and faster and the results have come with those changes. Kerkvliet is 11-0 with bonus points coming in all but two matches, both of which came against ranked opponents. One of his most recent victories was his most impressive. He defeated Michigan’s Mason Parris, who was ranked second at heavyweight at the time, by a score of 8-5.

Parris was widely seen as one of the favorites at the weight class, along with Minnesota’s Gable Steveson. Kerkvliet has thrust himself into that conversation and should be able to handle Cassioppi to earn the dual victory for Penn State Friday night.

Prediction: Kerkvliet by decision

Final score

Muthler: While there’s a few bouts here that could easily be swapped, it’s hard not to imagine this dual ending with five wins for each team. Bonus points are likely also going to be hard to come by for either team. If the dual is tied, the first criteria would be match points. For Penn State to win this dual, it will be important for guys such as Bravo-Young, Lee and Brooks to not just wrestle to win, but wrestle to score points and win big.

Prediction: Penn State 16, Iowa 15

Sauber: It would be a major surprise if this dual didn’t come down to the final few bouts and fortunately for Penn State, that’s where the strength of its roster lies. Brooks, Dean and Kerkvliet should be able to win two of their three bouts to take home the victory, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Iowa to take two of them. This is a true toss-up and it wouldn’t be a surprise if either the Hawkeyes or Nittany Lions

Prediction: Penn State 18, Iowa 13

Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson and Penn State assistant coach Cody Sanderson yell during a wrestling dual between Penn State and Rutgers on Jan. 16 at Rec Hall.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson and Penn State assistant coach Cody Sanderson yell during a wrestling dual between Penn State and Rutgers on Jan. 16 at Rec Hall.

No. 1 Penn State (13-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at No. 2 Iowa (11-0, 5-0)

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa

Radio: WRSC (93.3 FM) or WQWK (103.7 FM)

Online: Radio, Lionvision at; TV, Big Ten Network

Twitter: @byncobler, @pennstatewrest

Nittany Lions



125: No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt (4-1)


No. 11 Drake Ayala (13-4) OR Jesse Ybarra (2-2)

133: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (10-0)


No. 3 Austin DeSanto (12-0) OR Cullan Schriever (15-5)

141: No. 1 Nick Lee (10-0)


No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (12-0)

149: No. 19 Beau Bartlett (10-3)


No. 10 Max Murin (6-2)

157: Tony Negron (1-5) OR Terrell Barraclough (6-6)


No. 12 Kaleb Young (10-5)

165: No. 11 Brady Berge (3-0) OR Creighton Edsell (7-3)


No. 5 Alex Marinelli (14-1)

174: No. 1 Carter Starocci (13-0)


No. 2 Michael Kemerer (5-0)

184: No. 1 Aaron Brooks (11-0)


No. 17 Abe Assad (9-3)

197: No. 2 Max Dean (12-1)


No. 4 Jacob Warner (11-1)

285: No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet (11-0)


No. 5 Tony Cassioppi (10-2)

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