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Penn State Wrestling

Stine: Nagao Addition Makes Penn State Wrestling Clear Favorite Again

Penn State wrestling is looking to win another national championship
Photo by Penn State Athletics: Cael Sanderson

The two main objectives of the offseason for Penn State wrestling were to find replacements for Roman Bravo-Young at 133 pounds and Max Dean at 197 pounds. Penn State seemingly filled the 197-pound spot last week when three-time All-American Bernie Truax out of Cal Poly committed to Penn State. Now, Penn State has served the other objective.

On Tuesday night, Minnesota’s Aaron Nagao announced his intentions to come to State College.

Nagao was brilliant last year as a redshirt freshman with the Golden Gophers. He went 23-6 for the season and came along towards the end of the year with a fifth-place finish at nationals. He gave Bravo-Young everything he could handle, not once but twice in the postseason.

Bravo-Young bested Nagao 5-2 in the Big Ten championship match. Two weeks later, at nationals, the two met again in the quarterfinals, with RBY winning 5-1. That was impressive, considering Bravo-Young beat opponents by at least a major decision for most of the season.

Nagao will have three seasons of eligibility left, and you can probably count on it that he will be high on the podium at nationals in Kansas City next year. 

Maybe even the very top. 

After all, it’s usually the case that already talented wrestlers come to State College and get even better under coach Cael Sanderson’s leadership.

Penn State was likely to be favorites to win a title again next year, whether they were going to fill 133 and 197 internally or through the transfer portal. But adding Nagao to the roster probably makes the odds even smaller for Penn State and more significant for everybody else. 

Penn State wrestling bested Iowa by 55 points at this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships. That dominant performance happened despite Penn State going 2-3 in championship matches.

There’s still plenty to improve on, as well. Penn State didn’t qualify a 125-pounder for nationals last year, and assuming Robbie Howard will be the starter there next year, there’s reason to believe he’d qualify and possibly add some points to the mix for PSU.

Nagao would be at 133 and may bring fewer points than Bravo-Young did, but he’d come close, and there’s also reason to believe Truax would get more points than Dean did this past season. Dean netted himself a national title in 2022 but struggled at times in his final season of eligibility this year. He still earned himself a seventh-place finish last month.

Three-time national champions Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184) return to Penn State, and Greg Kerkvliet (285) and Levi Haines (157) may even take the next step on top of the podium. In that case, the margin may be even bigger between first and second place next year.

That’s without even mentioning the likes of Beau Bartlett emerging as one of the better wrestlers at 141 pounds in the nation or Shayne Van Ness and Alex Facundo improving on already strong starts to their careers.

Nagao coming to Penn State is a classic case of the rich getting richer, and you can bet that it won’t be the last time we hear that as long as Sanderson stays in State College.

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