Some would argue that the Big 10 Wrestling Championships, which Penn State won this past weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, don’t matter.
Carter Starocci and his teammates wouldn’t take it that far.
”I wouldn’t say that we don’t care about the Big 10 title, which we kind of do,” Starocci told reporters not long winning the individual championship at 174 pounds.
There’s something to be said for winning the tournament of the America’s top wrestling conference, and naturally, it’s better to win than to not win.
But regardless of what Penn State wrestling did this past weekend, its season is going to be remembered for what happens in Tulsa, Oklahoma, March 16-18, not Ann Arbor.
Penn State is to college wrestling what Alabama is to college football, UConn is to women’s college basketball and Joey Chestunt is to hot dog eating.
The team has won nine national titles in the past 11 tries.
Cael Sanderson’s program is the best there is, which means anything short of winning at national championship would mean that the season is viewed as a failure.
It’s not that going 16-0 in regular-season dual meets wasn’t impressive.
It’s not that winning the toughest wrestling conference tournament there is isn’t something to be proud of.
But at No. 1 Penn State, the individual and team trophies that matter most are obvious: national titles
“(Winning Big 10s) feels good,” Starocci said, “but in 10 days, or whatever it is, that’s what we really care about.”Oo
Starocci found out Penn State had clinched the team championship— which it won by 12.5 points over No. 2 Iowa— while talking with media.
“Oh, we locked it up?” he asked. “Nice.”
”It feels good. Like I just said, it’s always ‘win or die,’ so it’s always good to get a team title, too.”
Starocci loves his team and is always happy when it can get recognized.
”It is special to get this team title because I believe that this is a really special team,” Starocci said. “A lot of killers on there.
Penn State coaches, wrestlers and fans remember that the team didn’t win the Big Ten last season.
But they don’t care, because they won a national championships later that month.
If the opposite happens in 2023, the Big Ten win will serve as a cruel reminder of what might have been.
Starocci doesn’t feel Penn State gained momentum from winning the conference title.
“We get in a parking lot in 10 days, five days, two days right now,” he said. “So there’s always momentum no matter what. So this tournament doesn’t have a big impact on what’s going on in 10 days.”
But Penn State knows how much of a challenge winning a Big 10 championship is.
”It’s a different tournament,” Sanderson said. “Sometimes it’s tough to wrestle great two weekends in a row like this.”
Starocci and teammate Roman Bravo-Young (133 pound weight class) have won two straight national titles.
RBY competed one three-peat this past weekend, and the more important three peat awaits.
Starocci’s quotes indicate that Penn State won despite looking ahead to nationals, and that’s probably true in a way.
But Bravo-Young telling the Big Ten Network afterword that Penn State will worry about nationals when the time comes indicate that the team doesn’t look ahead to anything.
Every day brings its challenges, and Sanderson’s program does its best to be winners all the time even when there isn’t a meet or tournament to compete in.
Sanderson was asked after the championships how this team compares with the great squads he’s had in the past.
He doesn’t feel he can answer that question yet.
”I really can’t compare the teams. We still have the biggest event of the year. But this is a great tournament, right? We’re back and forth. Iowa was right there the whole time and Nebraska was right there. Our guys just won some big matches. We lost some big matches. That’s part of a team event. But we’re happy and healthy, and that’s the big thing. We have nine wrestlers through to nationals. That’s first and foremost so we’re happy with it.”
He’ll have a better idea in less than two weeks.
“We’ve always kind of focused on the nationals,” he said. “That’s been our focus this year also. So we’ll be ready to roll in Tulsa.”