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Penn State Wrestling

Stine: The Word ‘Dynasty’ Doesn’t do Penn State Wrestling Justice

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson has never wanted to talk about whether the 2023-24 team was the best of his storied career.

But the evidence is certainly there to support that it might be the best team not just in Penn State history, but in NCAA wrestling history.

For starters, PSU broke the NCAA Championships record for team points with 172.5, beating the 1997 Iowa Hawkeyes’ record of 170. They also beat second-place Cornell by a total of 100 points.

You read that right. A three-digit number. One hundred. In other words, Cornell could have repeated all the matches they won over the three days, and Penn State still would have won by a comfortable margin.

That’s ridiculous.

All of us could debate if this PSU team was the best team ever until we were as blue in the face as Penn State’s singlets. The first NCAA Championships were held in 1928. None of us were here to know the quality of college wrestling in those early years unless you’re over 100 years old.

What is important is PSU fans enjoy the heck out of this run. Penn State’s at 11 national championships in 13 years under Sanderson, and there’s no reason to believe that it could end any time soon.

Yeah, Penn State will certainly miss four-time national champion Aaron Brooks. He’ll join the likes of David Taylor, Bo Nickal, and all the other fan favorites that have come through in the last decade and a half. Brooks lost a total of three matches in his college career.

Carter Starocci showed just how talented he is, even though he clearly wasn’t 100 percent throughout the weekend. He still has another year of eligibility thanks to the COVID-19 season, but like Brooks, Saturday was his fourth title. What more does Starocci have to prove in a college career?

Heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet just picked up his long-awaited first title. He’s in the same boat as Starocci. He has another year if he wants it. We’ll see what he decides. Runner-up Beau Bartlett is in the same position.

Levi Haines is the only national champion guaranteed to come back. With the way he dominated through nationals, and only dropping one match so far in his first two seasons, there’s a good chance Saturday’s trip to the top of the podium won’t be Haines’ last time at the top.

Freshman Mitchell Mesenbrink came within a point of a national championship Saturday. He still has three seasons of eligibility. Mesenbrink would be a strong candidate to win next season if not the two seasons after that. The kid is too talented not to.

PSU will say goodbye and thank you to Bernie Truax, who transferred in from Cal Poly for his final season as a college wrestler. Truax finished in fifth place Saturday. He talked frequently all season about how coming to State College was the best thing he could have done to finish out his college days.

Tyler Kasak took over for the injured Shayne Van Ness early in the season, and he ended up getting third place this weekend. It will be interesting to see what they decide for Kasak next season. It would be a good bet that he will redshirt, which was probably the original plan for this year.

The only two wrestlers who did not become an All-American this weekend were the two lightweights in true freshman sensation Braeden Davis (125) and Aaron Nagao (133). Nagao was an All-American last season at Minnesota, but him and Davis were one match short of reaching that status this weekend. Both will be back as staples in the lower part of the lineup.

And of course, there will still be Sanderson leading the way. Not only does he recruit the best of the best in the nation, but he and his staff– associate head coach Cody Sanderson, head assistant coach Casey Cunningham assistant Jimmy Kennedy and Director of Operations Adam Lynch– develop better than anybody in college wrestling.

The scary part is Sanderson is only 44 years old. He could be doing this for a while.

Honestly, the word ‘dynasty’ is starting to feel like it isn’t doing Penn State wrestling enough justice to describe this run.

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