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Penn State Wrestling: A Trio of Stars Have 1 Year of Eligibility Left. Here’s What HC Cael Sanderson had to Say About That.

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

Across college sports, next season will be the last one college athletes can take advantage of an extra year of eligibility that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Penn State wrestling and its fans, that could be a beautiful thing.

From the 2020 recruiting class, Penn State has Beau Bartlett. 

Bartlett is ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds and, from where we sit, is the favorite to win a national championship next month. 

From the 2019 class, Penn State has Carter Starocci (174). It also has Greg Kerkvliet (Heavyweight). Both rank No. 1 in their respective classes. 

 Starocci and Kerkvliet redshirted their freshman season in 2019 and thus could compete next season if they wanted. Of those two, Kerkvliet seems more likely to come back. If he wins an individual national title next month, he’ll have a chance to become a multi-time national champ next season. If doesn’t, he’ll have unfinished business to take care of. 

Starocci, on the other hand, has little, if anything, left to prove at the college level. Plenty expected him to move on from college wrestling after winning his third national title last March. 

If he stayed next year, it’d be shocking, although there’s a good chance he’d have a shot to become the first five-time national champion in the history of the sport. 

Nonetheless, Starocci makes college wrestling look so easy that most feel he’ll want a new challenge, and he did refer to this season as “my fourth and final year, my senior year,” when he announced his return this past October. 

For now, coach Cael Sanderson’s focused on winning another Big Ten tournament championship and, most importantly, Penn State’s 11th national title in 13 years. 

He was asked about wrestlers who have uncertain futures at the college level. Predictably, he didn’t say too much.

“We don’t really know still,” Sanderson told reporters at his weekly media availability Tuesday. “Those are things we try not to think about just because we just want them all to use all of their eligibility, right? So, I’m not really sure who is or who isn’t considered a senior. I mean, this is another year with the group that had the COVID extension. But, yeah, I mean, it’s been a great group of guys and a lot of fun. Great competitors, good people.”

Penn State will have its Senior Day before Sunday’s dual meet against Edinboro. That’s is set to begin Sunday at 2 in Rec Hall.

Although Sanderson will miss wrestlers such as Aaron Brooks, he knows they can’t stay with Penn State wrestling forever.

“So, just like every year, it’s sad to see people move on,” Sanderson said, “but at the same time, they’re not meant to be here. They want to move on with their life, and there will be a new group of kids coming in, so it just keeps rolling.”

For the wrestlers who may or may not be competing in Rec Hall for the last time Sunday, Sanderson said they’ll talk it over once this season’s story wraps up.

“I think unwanted advice doesn’t usually go very far,” he said. “Of course, we want them all back. But that’s something I think we’ll discuss once the season’s over. But, yeah, we’re focused on March right now.”

“Those other things, they’ll get sorted when the time comes.”

Bartlett gave a similar answer when asked about his future the previous Tuesday. 

“I think as life progresses, there’s some extra questions that need to be asked,” he said. “I love wrestling. I love folk-style wrestling. I love freestyle wrestling. There’s just… we’ll see. We’ll see.

“I fully am treating this like my senior year. I’ll do everything I can, and if I do everything right, we’ll see.”

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