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Penn State Wrestling

Penn State Wrestling: Preseason Ranking has All 10 Projected Starters Ranked, 4 at No. 1

Carter Starocci, Penn State Wrestling
Photo by NCAA: Carter Starocci

The College Wrestling Report released its individual rankings for the 2023-24 season, and Penn State is well represented.

Penn State wrestling had representatives in all 10 weight classes. 

Here’s a breakdown. 

NO. 1: LEVI HAINES (157), CARTER STAROCCI (174), AARON BROOKS (197) AND GREG KERKVLIET (HEAVYWEIGHT)

Haines was the national runner-up as a true freshman last season at 157, and with North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor gone, he seems to be the favored to take it home in Year 2. 

Haines won the Big Ten Championship by defeating Nebraska’s Peyton Robb in the 157-pound class. 

He ended the year with a 25-2 record and finished second in the NCAA wrestling finals.

Haines fell one match short of the national title, falling to O’Connor, a sixth-year senior, in a 6-2 decision. 

In the NCAA tournament, Haines pinned Virginia’s Bryce Andonian in the third period after trailing 6-0 and defeated Robb for the second time in the NCAA national semifinals.

If Starocci is coming back to Penn State wrestling– he’s hinted at leaving school to focus on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris– he’s the obvious choice to be ranked No. 1 at 174 pounds. He’s won three national championships, has a 61-2 overall record and has a 52-match win streak. Almost two weeks after Starocci’s national title win, he sent a series of tweets. In one of them, he wrote that he’s considering returning to Penn State to pursue a fourth national title, something only five wrestlers at any weight class have accomplished. 

https://twitter.com/carterstarocci/status/1641959626223542276?s=20

The thread’s first tweet reads as a follow-up to Starocci’s post-national title interview.

“After 3 of them thangs (national championships),” Starocci tweeted, “I am extremely grateful for the plan and opportunities Hid has given me thus far. I enjoy being with the Penn State family and dominating with the best program in the world. However, the Olympics is around the corner and that’s what I want.”

But in the thread’s second tweet, Starocci said he’s still weighing his decision. 

“There’s options on the table,” he wrote. I will talk with the people I trust and make a decision on either finishing my college career early, train strictly for my Olympic strap and then go right into MMA, or run down the college scene one last time for my 4th Natty Daddy, then head to Paris.”

Like Starocci, Brooks is a three-time national champion. Brooks ended last season 17-1 and has a 67-3 overall record.

Brooks places a large part of his strength in his faith and said after beating Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen for his third national title in March that placing God above wrestling allowed him to compete at a much higher level.

“It’s all from the glory of God,” Brooks said. “Back when I just worshipped wrestling, I burned out. Now I’m doing it for him. I don’t do it to win a trophy in these things. It’s to preach to people. That’s what motivates me. That’s what’s on my mind all the time because everything else comes and goes. People are winning and losing; it’s all vanity. Once this is over, they’re talking about what’s going on next year. That’s how the world works. When I’m out there, what lives can I change with the holy spirit in me because that goes for eternity.”

It must be said that all of Brooks’s national titles came at the 184-pound class. More on his possible move to 197 later. 

Kerkvliet’s boggyman last season is gone, and now, he’s the favorite to become a national champion. Michigan’s Mason Parris finished 33-0 last season, won the national championship and beat Kerkvliet in the finals. 

Now, Parris is gone, and Kerkvliet is the man, at least in the preseason, and with good reason. He’s been an All-American in each of his two full college seasons and finished in the final four at the NCAA championships each year. He also competed at the 2021 NCAA Championships finishing seventh in a season that didn’t begin until Penn State’s last regular-season dual meet. 

NO. 2: SHAYNE VAN NESS (149), BERNIE TRUAX (184) 

Van Ness had a breakout season in Year 2 last year, going 24-7 and taking fourth place in the national championships, falling to four-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell in the semifinals. Diakomihalis is gone this season, which makes 149 much more wide-open. The only wrestler ranked ahead of Van Ness is another Big Ten stud in Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett, who was a national runner-up in 2022 but took a redshirt last season. It’s not clear if Penn State and Nebraska will meet in the regular season this year, but if Van Ness and Lovett live up to expectations, it’s a good bet that they’ll meet in at least one of the Big Ten or national championships, if not both. 

Truax, a three-time All-American from Cal Poly, committed to Penn State in April. 

https://twitter.com/truaxbernie/status/1648809915312664577?s=21&t=GYlpg8yNlNTpnbE-iTBpRg

He’s ranked behind only Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen– who fell to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks in last season’s national title match. 

Also in that tournament, Truax beat Penn State’s Max Dean in the consolation bracket, grinding out an 8-6 overtime win. Interestingly enough, Dean also transferred to Penn State after two All-American seasons (Cornell) and proceeded to win a national title in 2022. That’s certainly a goal that’s in reach for Truax.

Dean also could be the guy Truax succeeds at 197.

The main reason it’s a “could be” is that it’s still unclear where Sanderson will put Truax in the lineup. In his five wrestling seasons— the first being as a redshirt in 2018-19–, Truax has wrestled everywhere from 149 pounds to 197, with his All-America finishes being at 174, 184 and 197 pounds. On Twitter, The Wrestling Room (Pat Mineo) predicted that Truax would wrestle at 184 pounds for Penn State while 3-time national champion Brooks would move from 184 to 197.

NO. 3: AARON NAGAO (133), BEAU BARTLETT (141)

Nagaobehind only defending national champion Vito Arujau (Cornell) and Oklahoma State star Daton Fixx.

 In late April, the former Minnesota wrestler and 133-lb All-American Nagao announced on the Baschamania podcast that he has committed to Penn State. He chose Penn State over returning to Minnesota, Iowa and Cornell.

He entered the portal after finishing in fifth place at the NCAA tournament in March. He’s the second All-American to join the program, following three-time All-American upper weight Bernie Traux IV from Cal Poly. They also added middleweight Mitchell Mesenbrink from Cal Poly.

Nagao went 23-6 during the 2022-2023 season with two of his losses to Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State’s multiple national champion who graduated last season. Both losses occurred in the postseason in the Big Ten 133-pound title bout and the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament.

141: Beais a two-time NCAA qualifier, and last season, he finished third at the national championships. He comes in at No. 3 behind defending national champion Andrew Allerz (Northern Colorado) and defending national runner-up Real Woods (Iowa). So Bartlett’s path to the NCAA finals won’t be easy.

No. 11

165: ALEX FACUNDO

Facundo had his first full season last year after redshirting the 2021-22 campaign. He performed well, going 19-6 and qualifying for nationals. 

NO. 13

125: ROBBIE HOWARD

Howard qualified for nationals as a true freshman in 2021, but redshirted the next year and missed last season with an injury. 125 was Penn State’s biggest weak spot last year, and having Howard back should improve things. 

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