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Penn State's Starocci, Brooks begin pursuit of 4th NCAA wrestling titles with easy wins

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Carter Starocci thought it a little odd that the selection committee gave him the No. 9 seed for the NCAA wrestling championships.

So did most people. After all, Penn State's star at 174 pounds has won three straight national championships.

Now, after advancing to the quarterfinals Thursday night with a 5-2 victory over Jackson Turley of Rutgers, that seeding has become a very big deal: Starocci will face top-seeded Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, the four-time ACC champion and a former 165-pound national champ, far sooner than he might have otherwise on Friday at T-Mobile Center.

“I think this is more fun this way. And I guess the committee — as far as that, I honestly couldn't care less,” said Starocci, whose seed was bumped down because of a knee injury sustained in the Nittany Lions' final dual meet, which caused him to injury default at the Big Ten championships. “I think they seeded it a little weird, but again, it doesn't really matter.”

Whomever advances to the semifinals at 174 won't be done. Second-seeded Cade DeVos of San Diego State and third-seeded Ed Ruth of Illinois also got through to the quarterfinal round, and those two also could be on a collision-course Friday night.

Two-time defending team champion Penn State once more looked dominant with eight of its wrestlers still alive for a national title. It had 34.5 points while Iowa and Iowa State were tied for second at 24.5 points.

The Nittany Lions' Braeden Davis, the top seed at 125, needed to squeak out a 2-1 decision over Cornell's Brett Ungar at a weight class where the No. 2 seed, Luke Stanich of Lehigh, was bounced from the championship bracket by No. 15 seed Caleb Smith in sudden victory.

Second-seeded Beau Bartlett pinned Mitch Moore of Rutgers to advance to the quarterfinals for Penn State in the loaded 141 pound class. No. 1 seed Jesse Mendez of Ohio State advanced by fall along with third-seeded Real Woods of Iowa, the NCAA runner-up a year ago.

Others advancing for Penn State were top-seeded Levi Haines at 157 pounds, second-seeded Mitchell Mesenbrink at 165, No. 6 seed Bernie Truax at 184, three-time champion and No. 1 seed Aaron Brooks at 197 and unbeaten top seed Greg Kerkvliet at 285 pounds.

Brooks, who has lost just three times in his five-year NCAA career, seems fated to face Trent Hidlay in the finals after the second-seeded North Carolina State standout advanced to the quarterfinals with a pair of technical falls Thursday. Brooks has defeated the four-time ACC champion all three times they have met in a rivalry that dates all the way back to their high school years.

Keegan O'Toole of Missouri, the two-time defending 165-pound champion from Missouri, won both of his matches by fall Thursday before what amounted to a hometown crowd in Kansas City. But O'Toole's path to another title is a brutal one: He faces Nebraska's Antrell Taylor on Friday before a potential semifinal matchup with Iowa State's David Carr, whom he beat for the championship last year.

If O'Toole can get to the finals, Messenbrink or third-seeded Julian Ramirez of Cornell could be there waiting for him.

“Anytime you have someone that good in your weight class, they're going to push you to get better in the areas you're weak at,” O'Toole said. “This weight class has a lot of good wrestlers. It wasn't just (Carr) that pushed me this year. I've had many battles, many wars.”

Daton Fix of Oklahoma State remains on track at 133 pounds to win the championship that has so long eluded him.

The three-time finalist and two-time runner-up — to say nothing of being a record five-time Big 12 champ — won his first match by technical fall Thursday before needing an escape in the third period to squeak out a 5-4 victory over Nic Bouzakis of Ohio State.

Sixth-seeded Vito Arujau of Cornell, who beat Fix on the way to the title last year, outscored his first two opponents 28-5 in advancing to the quarterfinals. The world freestyle champion has a tough path back to the championship with third-seeded Kai Orine of North Carolina State awaiting Friday before a potential semifinal matchup with unbeaten Lehigh star Ryan Crookham.

At 285 pounds, a pair of unbeatens remained on track to meet in the finals.

Kerkvliet outscored his first two opponents 28-4 to advance for Penn State, and Iowa State's Yonger Bastida needed just 1:50 to win his opening match by fall before dispatching Lewis Fernandez of Cornell by technical fall to head into the quarterfinals.

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