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Penn State Wrestling

Penn State Wrestling: 6 Have Byes for Big Ten Tournament

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

To say Penn State wrestling is a heavy favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions would be an understatement.

But Penn State still has to wrestle, and the matchups for this years conference championships, scheduled for this Saturday/Sunday in College Park, Maryland, are out.

Penn State has five No. 1 seeds, and the biggest story line revolves around one of them.

Carter Starocci was injured in the team’s last dual meet late last month, and the wrestling world is wondering if he’ll be able to go and how healthy he’ll be if so.

Here are all of Penn State’s first-round matchups.

125

No. 6 Braeden Davis (Penn State Wrestling) vs. No. 11 Justin Cardini (Illinois)

Coming into this season, it had been a long time since Penn State had a formidable 125-pounder. Although his season was bumpy at times, the true freshman Davis gave them one. Davis finished 16-2 and ranked No. 14 in the country, with his losses coming to Iowa’s Drake Ayala, who’s seeded second at 125, and Nebraska’s Caleb Smith, seeded fifth.

But before Davis can afford to worry about either of those two, he has to take care of Cardini, who comes in with a record of 4-9.

133

No. 5 Aaron Nagao (Penn State Wrestling) vs. No. 12 Andrew Hampton (Michigan State)

Nagao first season at Penn State has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The transfer who was an All-American at Minnesota last season and Big Ten-runner up at 133 has looked brilliant at times this year (tech-falling Iowa’s Cullen Schreiver) and shaky at other times (losing to Rutgers’ Dylan Shawver in an upset). But Nagao had his best wrestling of the season in March last year, and Penn State will get a big boost if he repeats it exceeds that in 2024. The first step will be going against Hampton, who Nagao tech-falled 18-3 in January.

141

No. 1 Beau Bartlett (Penn State Wrestling) vs. No. 8 Jordan Hamdon (Michigan State)/No. 9 Danny Fongaro (Indiana)

Bartlett has a first-round bye, which means he won’t wrestle until the quarterfinal, where he’ll take on either Hamdon or Fongaro. Hamdon hung in there with Bartlett in January, but Bartlett ultimately won, 7-3. Later that month, Fongaro was tied at 1 with Bartlett going in the third period, but Bartlett ultimately pulled away for an 8-1 win. Since then, Bartlett’s picked up wins over wrestlers such as Ohio State’s Jesse Mendez, seeded second, Iowa’s Real Woods, seeded third and Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett, seeded fourth. Bartlett is the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 141, so he’d go a long way toward winning his first national title by taking care of business in College Park.

149

No. 4 Tyler Kasak (Penn State Wrestling) vs. No. 13 Aiden Vandenbush (Northwestern)

Like Davis, this will be Kasak’s first Big Ten tournament. Penn State needed somebody to answer the bell after All-American Shayne Van Ness went down with a season-ending injury before the year began, and Kasak was the man to do it. He went 13-3 with one of his losses being to Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett, who’s No. 1 not only in the Big Ten, but the country at 149. Kasak held his own against Lovett, being tied with him in the third period before falling 7-3. There’s a good chace Kasak will meet Lovett again in the semifinals but before that, he has to beat Vandenbush, who he didn’t wrestle this season due to Northwestern not being on Penn State’s schedule. Vandenbush went 4-15 this season.

 

157

No. 1 Levi Haines (Penn State) vs. No. 8 Joey Blaze (Purdue)/No. 9 Tyler Chumbley (Northwestern)

One could argue that last year’s Big Ten Championships were Haines’ coming out party. The true freshman made it to the finals, where he took on top-ranked Peyton Robb of Nebraska. Despite have four years fewer experience at the college level, Haines surprised everybody and beat Robb in sudden victory. The March magic continued for Haines at the NCAA championships, where he beat Robb again in the semifinals to make it to the title match at 157, where he fell to another veteran in North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor. This year, Haines is expected to win the whole thing at 157.

165

No. 2 Mitchell Mesenbrink (Penn State) vs. No. 7 Stony Buell (Purdue)/ No. 10 Blaine Brenner (Minnesota)

Mesenbrink is one of five Penn State wrestlers with a bye, which is impressive considering he had two college matches under his belt before this season. The redshirt freshman who transferred in from Cal Baptist has won all 19 of his matches at Penn State. What he hasn’t done is wrestle Wisconsin’s Dean Hamiti, who’s the only one seeded above Mesenbrink at Big Tens.

174

No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. No. 8 Donnell Washington (Indiana)/No. 9 Andrew Sparks (Minnesota)

If Starocci’s at his best, he’s almost a certain bet to win the Big Ten tournament for the third straight year. But in case you’ve been living under a rock, Starocci might not be at his best due to the injury he suffered against Edinboro. The fact that Starocci is on the bracket is a good sign that he’ll compete. But it remains to be seen whether he’ll wrestle the full Big Ten gauntlet, or if he’ll pull out early to focus on the NCAAs later this month.

184

No. 3 Bernie Truax (Penn State) vs. No. 14 Chase Mielnik (Maryland)

Truax is a three-time All-American, but this will be his first Big Ten tournament. The Cal Poly transfer is seeded behind Minnesota’s Isaiah Salazar and Nebraska’s Lenny Pinto. Truax hasn’t wrestled top-seeded Salazar yet, but did go against Pinto last month at Rec Hall. Truax competed hard but fell in an 8-6 decision. Before he can take on Pinto or Salazar, Truax will have to go against  Mielnik.

197

No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) vs. No. 8 Evan Bates (Northwestern)/No. 9 Ben Vanadia (Purdue)

Brooks is a three-time national champ. There shouldn’t be anything stopping him from rolling through Big Tens.

HEAVYWEIGHT

No. 1 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) vs. No. 8 Bennett Tabor (Minnesota)/No. 9 Josh Terrill (Maryland)

Kerkvliet hasn’t won a national title yet, but that has a good chance of changing this March. He’s a good bet to win Big Tens, too, perhaps convincingly.

 

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