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Penn State Wrestling: What are Carter Starocci, Others Seeded in NCAA Championships?

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Carter Starocci

Penn State wrestling star Carter Starocci is the best in the country in the 174-pound weight class. 

But the three-time defending national champ is a No. 9 seed in this year’s NCAA Championships, scheduled for March 21-23 in Kansas City.

This has nothing to do with Starocci’s performance. 

He’s undefeated this season and had won his last 64 matches before coach Cael Sanderson made the call to injury default him out of last weekend’s Big Ten championships. As a result, Starocci couldn’t earn an automatic bid and instead had to make the tournament with an at-large. 

He’ll start his quest for a fourth national title Thursday against Minnesota’s Andrew Sparks– who beat him via injury default in the first round of Big Tens. 

Assuming Starocci beats Sparks, he’ll take on No. 1 Mehki Lewis from Virginia Tech, who he majored at an All-Star meet in November. 

All 10 of Penn State’s starters qualified for nationals. Here’s a breakdown of where they landed. 

PENN STATE WRESTLING AT 125

BRAEDEN DAVIS (PENN STATE WRESTLING NO. 1 )

Having competitors seeded No. 1 in their weight classes is hardly anything new for Penn State wrestling.

But Davis hadn’t been there before.

Now, he’s there.

After somewhat of a Cinderella run to the Big Ten championship at 125 as a No. 6 seed, Davis is now the top-ranked wrestler at that weight class per Intermat’s latest rankings, as well as the NCAA Tournament. 

Davis went 4-0 in College Park, Maryland over this weekend, upsetting third-seeded Eric Barnett of Wisconsin in sudden victory during the quarterfinals. In the semis, he held off seventh-seeded Michael DeAugustino of Michigan in sudden victory. Finally, he upset fourth-seeded Patrick McKee of Minnesota in the finals, punctuating an 8-1 win with an emphatic takedown.

Davis will take on either Michigan State’s Tristan Lujan (No. 33) or Brown’s Mike Joyce (No. 32) in the first round Thursday. Davis beat Lujan 7-3 via decision in January. 

133

AARON NAGAO (PENN STATE WRESTLING NO. 10)

This season hasn’t been easy for Nagao. For starters, he had the task of succeeding two-time national champion Roman Bravo-Young as Penn State’s 133-pounder. He’s also battled injury and illness throughout the season and ended up finishing the regular season 11-4. Sanderson hinted in February that Nagao’s best wrestling was coming in March, and so far, it looks like Cael was right. Although Nagao didn’t make a return trip to the Big Ten finals, losing in the semis to top-seeded Dylan Ragusin of Michigan, he won his other three matches— one by tech fall, another by pin— and finished third. Look out for him next week in Kansas City.

Nagao’s first match of the tournament will be against No. 23 Marlon Yarbrough of UVA.

141

BEAU BARTLETT (PENN STATE WRESTLING NO. 2)

When Penn State’s Bartlett and Ohio State’s Jesse Mendez meet on the mat, it could go either way. When the two wrestled last month in the dual meet at Rec Hall, Bartlett won in sudden victory. In the Big Ten finals, it was Mendez’s time, and he won 4-1, finishing it off with a takedown in the final seconds. It’s likely that the Big Ten has the three best 141-pounders in the country with Bartlett, Mendez and Iowa’s Real Woods all in the national title picture. Bartlett has wins over both of those guys, so even with this past weekend’s setback, there’s no reason to think he can’t win his first national title next week.

Bartlett’s journey will begin with No. 31 seed Kai Owen of Colorado. 

149

TYLER KASAK ( PENN STATE WRESTLING NO. 7)

Davis has unquestionably been Penn State’s Rookie of the Year. But at 149, Kasak hasn’t been a slouch, either. His Big Ten tournament started with a pin and ended with a pin. Although Kasak fell to Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett in the semifinals, considering Lovett’s the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 149, there’s no shame in that. Kasak’s performance was impressive enough for InterMat to move him up from No. 9 to No. 7 and for the NCAA to give him a No. 7 seed. He’s had a compelling story, especially considering he wasn’t supposed to factor into Penn State’s lineup. All-American Shayne Van Ness, who started the year ranked No. 2 at 149, was supposed to be the man. But a season-ending injury altered that plan, and Penn State needed somebody to step up. It was between Kasak and Dylan Evans, and Kasak won out. He hasn’t disappointed Sanderson or anyone else.

Kasak’s first NCAA Tournament will begin against Stanford’s Jordan Abas, seeded No. 26

157

LEVI HAINES (PENN STATE WRESTLING NO. 1)

Haines made it all the way to the national championship match as a true freshman last season, falling to North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor. Now, O’Connor’s gone and Haines is the favorite to win his first national title. 

That journey will begin in the first round against Buffalo’s Nick Stampolous (No. 33) or Ohio State’s Isaac Wilcox (No. 32). Haines majored Wilcox, 13-3, when the teams met last month in Rec Hall.

165

MITCHELL MESENBRINK (NO. 2)

The team had already sealed the Big Ten championship.

Then, the most dramatic match of the weekend took place.

Second-seeded Mesenbrink trailed No. 1 and defending Big Ten champion Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin 9-2. He ended up winning 13-11. The Cal-Baptist transfer came into this season with two college matches under his belt. Now, he’s firmly established as one of Penn State’s heavy hitters.

Toward the end of the win, Big Ten Network play-by-play announcer Shane Spark referred to the comeback as “Mesenbrink Magic.”

Mesenbrink has moved from No. 5 to No. 2 in the InterMat rankings and is a two-seed in the tournament. His first match at the NCAA Championships, both this spring and ever, will be against Northwestern’s Maxx Mayfield. Despite being in the same conference, Mesenbrink and Mayfield didn’t wrestle this season since Northwestern wasn’t on Penn State’s dual meet schedule. 

184

BERNIE TRUAX (NO. 6)

Truax had an impressive Big Ten tournament where he avenged a regular-season loss to Nebraska’s Lenny Pinto in the semifinals, then took top-seeded Isaiah Salazar of Minnesota to sudden victory in the championship match before falling. Now, he’s going to the NCAAs, where he’s been an All-American three times. His first match of this year’s championships will be against Clairton’s Cameron Pine, seeded No. 27.

197

AARON BROOKS (NO. 1)

Brooks will go for his fourth national championship, starting Thursday against either Northwestern’s Evan Bates (No. 33) or Florida A&M’s John Crawford (No. 32)

HEAVYWEIGHT

Greg Kerkvliet (NO. 1)

Kerkvliet won his first Big Ten championship over the weekend. He’ll go for his first national title next week, starting against either Ohio’s Jordan Greer (No. 33) or Indians Nick Willham (No. 32) Kerkvliet majored Willham 14-2 when the team met in January at Rec Hall. 

The full bracket can be seen here. 

https://www.ncaa.com/_flysystem/public-s3/images/2024/03/13/2024NCAAd1Wrestlingbrackets.pdf

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