Penn State Wrestling: Match Grades, Best Match, and MVP from this past weekend

Penn State Wrestling
Levi Haines of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

No. 1 Penn State Wrestling was firing on all cylinders this past weekend in dual meet action against both Iowa and Rutgers.

The Nittany Lions started off by clobbering No. 3 Iowa 29-6 in Iowa City, and then they electrified the Bryce Jordan Center crowd with a 35-3 beatdown of No. 14 Rutgers.

And while the scores in both duals were lopsided, you better believe each had their fair share of amazing matchups on the mat. From first-time losses to upsets to dominance and everything in between.

So let’s break down some of the matches, hand out some grades, relive the best match(es) of a couple of days ago, and award Nittany Central’s MVP from the weekend.

And as with the previous match grades and MVP articles, if I leave a match out just assume it got straight A’s.

Penn State wrestling Match Grades from Iowa, Rutgers

Braeden Davis

No. 7 Drake Ayala (IOWA) dec. over No. 2 Braeden Davis (PSU) 4-2

No. 2 Braeden Davis (PSU) dec. over No. 19 Dean Peterson 4-1 SV

I’m going to include both of Davis’ matches from last week as I believe we are starting to see a bit of a recurring trend. Which is the fact that at this point in the season, opposing coaches have film on Braeden and they are starting to take away his go-to shot.

I believe this started in his match against Vinny Kilkeary in the Ohio State dual and you could clearly see it in his match against both Drake Ayala and Dean Peterson. Wrestlers are not going to allow Davis to attack their right leg. And in the case of Ayala, they took it away completely by sitting on that knee the entire time both guys were in neutral.

Do you think Cael Sanderson and Casey Cunningham have worked and are currently working with Braeden for a counter to this? Of course they are! But I also think they don’t want to tip their hand this late in the season.

Which means in both of Braeden’s matches against Ayala and Peterson, he knew what they would going to do, he knew what he needed to do to counter it, yet he held back and didn’t spring the trap. At least not yet.

And because of this, Davis was essentially wrestling with one hand tied behind his back and he still pulled out a 1-1 record against two talented and ranked opponents. But with him being a true freshman, he still doesn’t possess the knowledge and expertise to pull out both matches.

Grade: A-

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Mitchell Mesenbrink

No. 7 Mitchell Mesenbrink (PSU) dec. over No. 6 Mikey Caliendo (IOWA) 12-6

Even Mitchell Mesenbrink’s relentless energy on the mat has its limits.

Mesenbrink had jumped out to a commanding 11-3 lead early into the third period following an escape. And Penn State fans have already seen this script this year, in almost every other case like this, Mitchell would smother his counterpart and get one or two more takedowns to walk away with a major decision or a technical fall. But Mikey Caliendo isn’t like most of Mesenbrink’s opponents.

And when he stifled Mitchell’s offense midway through the third period and started to be the aggressor, you could feel the tide turning slightly.

Caliendo was able to secure a takedown following a stalemate with less than 30 seconds left in the match. Which again, proved how good Mikey Caliendo is.

Mitchell hasn’t really been pushed so far this year, but that changed after Friday night. And while I’m taking up a good portion of this section talking about how good Mikey Caliendo is, Mesenbrink still won the match 12-6 and he tacked on over a minute of riding time.

Adding a technical fall against Anthony White in the Rutgers dual to his commanding win against Caliendo, Mesenbrink was also named the USA Wrestling Athlete of the Week this week.

Not only did Mitchell wrestle a fantastic match and get the “W”, he’s starting to see what it’s like going up against some of the best of the best in the Big Ten week after week. And come tournament-time, steel sharpens steel and only best rise to the top.

And the rest of the group at 165 pounds is about to find out how good Mitchell Mesenbrink can truly be.

Grade: A+

Aaron Nagao

No. 10 Dylan Shawver (RU) dec. over No. 6 Aaron Nagao (PSU) 9-6 SV

None of us have any clue what Aaron Nagao is going through in term of his health and how his knee is doing from the preseason injury.

The only thing I know is this, Nagao is very strong from the top position and he scrambles as well as anyone in the country. But squared up and on his feet? He’s been a little shaky against good competition.

And this was evident Monday night against Shawver.

The common denominator I’ve seen in Nagao’s losses to No. 1 Ryan Crookham (LEH), No. 10 Nic Bouzakis (OSU), and No. 9 Dylan Shawver (RU) is that when all three guys took a committed shot, they got in deep on Aaron’s defenses. When Shawver hit home, he had Nagao’s entire leg in his grasp and the takedown was completely inevitable.

Same with Crookham and Bouzakis.

Conversely, when Nagao got in on Shawver a couple of times, he snagged the end of his shoe and had to work hard to get in a position for a takedown. In the end Nagao only landed one takedown against Shawver.

My point in explaining all of this is that Nagao can score on anyone and he can control pretty much anyone from the top. But his defense is lacking from his feet against competitive guys and this will need to be quickly corrected as the Big Ten’s and NCAA’s are right around the corner.

Grade: B-

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Tyler Kasak

No. 12 Caleb Rathjen (IOWA) dec. over No. 10 Tyler Kasak (PSU) 11-8 SV

I’m going to chalk this loss up as an “Educational Session presented by Caleb Rathjen”.

And the lesson was this, if you blink or lose focus for even a split second in the Big Ten, then you’re going to be down on the match before you know it. Because Rathjen put on a counter-attack exhibition in this match.

Kasak took a good, high shot on Rathjen late in the first period, but Caleb countered and was able to work his way into a takedown and ride out as the first period expired.

Tyler escaped early in the second period and he took another committed shot on Rathjen, and yet again Caleb fought it off and quickly countered for his second takedown of the match. And following Rathjen’s escape early in the final period, he held a seemingly commanding 8-2 lead on Kasak.

But to Tyler’s credit he fought hard and ended up catching Caleb two times in the final 1:10 of the match to tie the score at 8-8. And in sudden victory Kasak kept applying pressure with his offense.

However Rathjen lied in wait just like he had earlier in the match. And after a shot from Kasak, Rathjen saw his opening and quickly ducked under Tyler to secure the takedown and the win.

As I said, this match was a learning experience for Tyler Kasak. He knows what needs to happen so this doesn’t play out again in the future.

But more importantly, myself and Nittany Nation just hope Tyler is okay following his 7-5 win against No. 26 Michael Cetta on Monday. From all accounts it looked like Kasak’s head hit the mat pretty hard and you could clearly see he wasn’t the same guy for the rest of the match.

The Penn State coaching staff is the best and they will certainly make sure Tyler is 100% before he takes to the mat again.

Grade: B+

Carter Starocci

No. 1 Carter Starocci (PSU) major dec. over No. 7 Patrick Kennedy (IOWA) 13-5

Carter Starocci has been battling illness for the past two weeks, however that hasn’t kept him off of the mat. And it hasn’t prevented him from dusting some dudes in the process.

Patrick Kennedy is no slouch. He walked over Nebraska’s Bubba Wilson (9-5) and Illinois’ Edmond Ruth (5-1) just a couple of weeks ago.

But wrestling someone like Carter Starocci is a different animal altogether. Even when Starocci is far from 100%.

You could see in Carter’s wins against Rocco Welsh and Patrick Kennedy that he was struggling to get a full breath in. I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about wrestling, but I’m pretty sure “breathing” is something that’s vital.

And in the end, with Carter’s labored breathing, he still breezed past Kennedy with a major decision.

Grade: A+

Bernie Truax

No. 6 Bernie Truax (PSU) major dec. over Aiden Riggins (IOWA) 8-0

No. 6 Bernie Truax (PSU) dec. over Shane Cartagena-Walsh (RU) 7-0

I will also admit that I’m going to nitpick both of Truax‘s matches from this past weekend.

Yes, Bernie did win a combined 15-0 and he was never really in danger of giving up a takedown or an escape. But this was against two guys with a combined record of 15-15.

The only reason I don’t give Truax an “A” in both matches is that he still has difficulty powering through his shots. He has the technique and the quickness to get penetration, however he’s not always able to secure the takedown against lower ranked guys.

Again, I realize it’s a total nitpick, so please don’t hurt me, Bernie.

Grade: A-

Penn State Wrestling Best Matches

I couldn’t just pick one…

Beau Bartlett

No. 1 Beau Bartlett (PSU) vs. No. 2 Real Woods (IOWA)

There isn’t a more improved wrestler on the Penn State Wrestling team than Beau Bartlett.

In three of his losses last season, Bartlett was never in a position to win. But that’s changed completely this year. And nothing was more evident of that than his win against OSU’s Jesse Mendez and then his win over Iowa’s Real Woods.

Beau was the aggressor of the two in Friday night’s action and he took control of the match late in the first period by snagging a takedown.

Leading 4-2 after an escape midway through the third period, this is usually where Penn State fans have seen Bartlett go into a bit of a shell. Not this year’s version of Beau Bartlett!

Beau continued to pour on the offense and he converted a low shot late in the final round to secure his second takedown and rolled to the 7-2 win over the No. 2 wrestler in the nation.

Result: No. 1 Beau Bartlett (PSU) dec. over No. 2 Real Woods (IOWA) 7-2

Terrell Barraclough

Terrell Barraclough (PSU) vs. No. 13 Jackson Turley (RU)

This is Terrell Barraclough’s second appearance in the “Best Match” category for my “Match Grades/MVP” articles.

The first time was when he almost took No. 3 Shane Griffith to the brink in a 2-1 decision loss in Penn State’s dual against Michigan.

However this time Barraclough was man with his hand raised at the center of the mat.

In weigh-ins, Terrell clocked in around 160.3 and Jackson Turley was 173.4. I realize a 13 pound difference doesn’t seem that significant, but trust me, in collegiate wrestling Barraclough was essentially wrestling up two weight classes. And against a former All-American.

Turley got the action started with an early takedown in the opening period. Barraclough then worked free for the escape and the period ended with Jackson leading 3-1.

Terrell chose bottom for the second period and he expertly got to his feet while controlling Turley’s left foot. Using his leverage and control, Barraclough spun and was able to land the reversal to tie the match 3-3.

This was the last time Jackson Turley was on his feet for the remainder of the match.

Terrell Barraclough was giving up 13 pounds to a ranked All-American and he proceeded to ride him for a full three minutes and thirty seconds.

It was a stunning win and you could hear it in Jeff Byer’s call on the radio. It’s also yet another example of what makes Penn State Wrestling so great. 

Result: Terrell Barraclough (PSU) dec. over No. 13 Jackson Turley (RU) 4-3

Lucas Cochran

Lucas Cochran (PSU) vs. No. 8 Yara Slavikouski (RU)

Back in the Michigan State dual on January 21st, Lucas Cochran was forced into emergency heavyweight duties as Greg Kerkvliet was unable to go. And as I mentioned in the dual recap, wrestlers like Cochran look at events like this, not as challenges, but opportunities.

Granted, Cochran was going up against a Spartan heavyweight who was middle of the pack.

However that was not the case Monday night.

Across from the mat stood 243 pounds of the No. 8 ranked wrestler, Yara Slavikouski. And prior to his match against Cochran, Slavikouski had only lost two matches on the year (No. 6 Lucas Davison 4-0 and No. 7 Nick Feldman 4-2).

Because there was a possibility Aaron Brooks would be unable to go at 197, Lucas needed to make sure he could make weight for that match. And at weight in, Cochran tipped the scales at just shy of 197 pounds. Which meant he was giving up roughly 45 pounds to the No. 8 ranked wrestler in the country.

That’s the equivalent of a 125-pounder facing Mitchell Mesenbrink. How do you think that would turn out?

I knew Lucas would give everything he had, but I thought for sure the match wouldn’t be close. And it wasn’t.

The only thing was that it wasn’t even close for Slavikouski, not Cochran.

Both grapplers were feeling each other out for the first minute and Lucas struck first with an sweet ankle pick. The undersized Nittany Lion was then able use this position to gather the other leg and he powered through to the mat for a takedown. Yara quickly escape and the match was 3-1 in favor of Cochran going into the second period.

Lucas broke free and escaped only a few seconds into the second period and he was on the prowl again.

Cochran almost go his second takedown but the referee stopped the action due to a potentially dangerous position. Both guys finished the period on their feet with Lucas still leading 4-1.

Slavikouski escaped early in the third and he knew the only thing standing between him and a win was a takedown. And there was a takedown in final period, but it wasn’t by Yara.

Cochran countered a shot by Slavikouski and got the big man down to the mat for a second time in the match. Not did Lucas get the takedown, but he proceeded to ride the heavyweight to the point he built up his riding time to over a minute.

With less than a minute remaining in the bout Yara finally broke free. But he could not penetrate Cochran’s defense and with the 8-3 decision win the Nittany Lion sophomore secured one of the biggest upsets in D1 wrestling this season.

Result: Lucas Cochran (PSU) dec. over No. 8 Yara Slavikouski (RU) 7-3

MVP of the Weekend

Levi Haines

No. 1 Levi Haines (PSU) major dec. over No. 5 Jared Franek (IOWA) 12-0

No. 1 Levi Haines (PSU) fall over Dylan Weaver (RU) 1:31

Levi Haines appears to be fully hitting his stride as the season is nearing to a close. And that’s great news for Penn State fans and terrible news for everyone else.

“Haines 57 Sauce” completely and utterly dominated Jared Franek in the dual meet against Iowa. The guy finished fourth in the nation last year at 157 pounds and there was simply nothing he could do that Levi didn’t have an answer for.

And in the Rutgers dual in the BJC, it didn’t matter who the Scarlet Knights threw out onto the mat, Haines was going to crush everyone.

I realize Levi looked a little off early in the dual meet season, but the dude is fully locked in right now and it’s amazing to watch him every time he takes the floor.

MORE: PSU Wrestling’s Top-5 Moments at The Bryce Jordan Center

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Chris Snyder
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Chris Snyder

Expertise: College Wrestling, College Football, Lays Chips Education: Penn State University Location: State College, PA Even though he had no prior journalism experience, Chris has now covered Penn State Wrestling and Penn State Football for the past three years, including as the Penn State Wrestling Beat Writer for VictoryBellRings.com, part of the FanSided network. And it's clear he also likes constant torture as he's been a PSU Basketball fan for way too long. Several years back, Chris made the seamless transition from PGA Professional to computer programmer and thoroughly enjoys following and writing about all things related to Penn State sports during his spare time.