UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-0 B1G), ranked No. 2 in the latest InterMat Tournament Power Index, won the last four bouts against No. 24 Illinois (3-2, 0-1 B1G) to pick up a victory in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Penn State won six of ten bouts including the last for to notch a 22-16 win in front of yet another Rec Hall sellout crowd.
With line-up changes brought on by the recent announcement that top-ranked heavyweight Anthony Cassar and All-American 197-pounder Kyle Conel were lost for the season and three other Lion starters out, Penn State roared back from a halftime deficit thanks to wins from two seniors and two true freshmen. A crowd of 6,202 watched Penn State beat the Illini, Penn State's 51st straight sellout in Rec Hall and the 56th of 58 at home (including five of seven in the Bryce Jordan Center).
The dual began at 125 where freshman Brandon Meredith (Limerick, Pa.) lost a tough 6-0 decision to Justin Cardani. With sophomore Roman Bravo-Young (Tucson, Ariz.), ranked No. 3 nationally at 133 out of the line-up, sophomore Austin Clabuagh (York Springs, Pa.) made his Penn State debut and took on No. 7 Travis Piotrowski. Piotrowski got the fall at the 6:54 mark to give Illinois an early 9-0 lead. Junior Nick Lee (Evansville, Ind.), ranked No. 2 at 141, got Penn State on the board with a big win at 141. Lee dominated No. 16 Dylan Duncan for 7:00 and used a last second takedown to pick up bonus points with a 13-5 major.
Sophomore Jarod Verkleeren (Greensburg, Pa.) took to the mat at 149 and got Penn State even closer with a 6-2 victory over Illinois' Mousa Jodeh. Verkleeren used two early takedowns to secure the victory and cut the Illini lead to 9-7. No. 4 Brady Berge (Mantorville, Minn.) did not compete at 157 and Bo Pipher (Paonia, Colo.) dropped a hard-fought 5-2 decision to Illini senior Eric Barone. The Nittany Lions trailed 12-7 at the dual's midway point.
With senior Vincenzo Joseph (Pittsburgh, Pa.), ranked No. 1 nationally out of the line-up as well, redshirt freshman Konner Kraeszig (Louisville, Ky.) made his Penn State dual debut at 165. Kraeszig took on No. 15 Danny Braunagel and lost a 12-3 major decision. Braunagel's win put Illinois up 16-7 with four bouts remaining in the dual. Senior Mark Hall (Apple Valley, Minn.), ranked No. 1 at 174, then put on an offensive show in taking care of No. 8 Joey Gunther. Hall's constant offensive pressure forced Gunther into a flurry of stalls in the final period. With Hall leading 17-6 late in the third period, Gunther took one final stall and was disqualified. Hall's DQ win at the 6:40 mark cut the Illinois lead to 16-13. True freshman Aaron Brooks (Hagerstown, Md.), ranked No. 8 at 184, used a takedown each period to post a hard-fought 9-4 win over Zach Braunagel and the Nittany Lions were tied 16-16.
Senior Shakur Rasheed (Coram, N.Y.) made his season debut for the Lions at 197 and came up big for the Nittany Lions. Rasheed, shaking off the rust from missing the first half of the season, used an escape and a late takedown to post a 3-0 win over Matt Wroblewski. Rasheed's season debut win gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the dual, 19-16. True freshman Seth Nevills (Clovis, Calif.) made his Penn State dual debut at 285, taking on Illinois' Luke Luffman at 285. Nevills used takedowns in the first and third periods to post the big 6-3 win and clinch the 22-16 dual meet victory for Penn State.
Penn State owned a 19-11 takedown edge in the dual. The Nittany Lions picked up four bonus points off one major (Lee) and the DQ win from Hall.
Penn State is now 4-1, 1-0 in the Big Ten. Illinois falls to 3-2, 0-1 Big Ten. The Nittany Lions return to action in two days when they host Northwestern in Rec Hall on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.