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Penn State Wrestling

Smeltzer: My Early Predictions for the 2024-25 Penn State Wrestling Lineup

Penn State Wrestling
Photo by Penn State Wrestling: Cael Sanderson

Penn State wrestling had possibly the best team ever this past season. It set NCAA Championship records for points and margin of victory.

It will be hard to hold next year’s team to that standard. But since Penn State’s won 11 of the past 13 national championships under legendary coach Cael Sanderson, it’s safe to say PSU will be expected to win it all again next season.

This past season has only been over for a few months. So it’s too early to forecast what next year’s lineup will look like. But NSN will do it anyway. Our Andy Stine gave his predictions last week, and I’ll give mine now.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 125

Luke Lilledahl 

Lilledahl is arguably the most anticipated arrival from this year’s recruiting class. There’s good reasons for that. He’s a three-time defending Pennsylvania State Champion. He won at 120 in 2022 and ‘23 and 126 this March. He’s also been a force nationally, winning two national prep championships and finishing third in 2022. These are big reasons  he’s ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by FloWrestling. Penn State had its best 125-pounder in years this past season in Big Ten champion Braeden Davis. But 125 is a hard weight to stay at. I imagine Davis will bulk up and move up a weight. If this happens, the door will be open for Lilledahl to crack the starting lineup right away as a true freshman.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 133

Braeden Davis or Aaron Nagao

It’s hard to imagine either of these guys being left out of the starting lineup, but it might have to be that way. Davis won Big Tens as a true freshman and Nagao was a Big Ten finalist at Minnesota in 2022 and finished fifth at nationals that year. But Nagao had an up-and-down first season at Penn State that ended without All-America honors. For him to make the starting lineup next year, he’ll probably have to go through Davis, and that will be no easy task.

 

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 141

Beau Bartlett

Bartlett could be gone by the start of next season. He’s been at Penn State for four years already. But if he were intending to leave, I think he would have walked on Senior Day, which teammates Carter Starocci and Greg Kerkvliet did. After Senior Day, Bartlett fell in the finals of both the Big Ten and national championships, each time to Ohio State’s Jesse Mendez. Without reading Bartlett’s mind, I doubt those setbacks made him want to walk away from college wrestling. If Bartlett doesn’t come back, Tyler Kasak would be my pick at 141. But I don’t think it will turn out that way. I think Bartlett returns.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 149

Shayne Van Ness or Tyler Kasak

I won’t count Kasak out at 149. Not only did he finish third at nationals last month, he did it as a true freshman who wasn’t supposed to be in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season and did it after losing his first match of the tournament. Kasak had to win seven in a row to finish third, and that’s what he did. So, yeah, this guy is good, and he should only get better after his freshman year. The problem is, the guy who was supposed to be Penn State’s 149-pounder this past season is slated to be back in the fold. Like Kasak, Shayne Van Ness finished third at 149, doing so in 2023. He was thought to be a national title contender heading into this season, being ranked No. 2 but ended up suffering a season-ending injury. It won’t be a walk-in-the park for Van Ness to get his job back, but it’s hard to bet against it.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 157

Mitchell Mesenbrink

Levi Haines has been the man at 157 for Penn State, winning a national title last month and placing second as a true freshman in 2023. But it’s far from a guarantee that Haines can keep that weight. If that’s the case, it’s only logical for Mesenbrink— this year’s national runner-up at 165– to move down a class, and for Haines to move up.

165

Levi Haines

See above.

174

Alex Facundo or Carter Starocci 

Facundo took an Olympic Redshirt this past season. Before that, he was a national qualifier at 165. If Starocci is out of the picture at 174, he’ll be the favorite to fill those shoes. I don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up that Starocci, a four-time national champ, will be back. He hinted after winning that fourth championship that he’s wrestled his last college match. But it’s been a few weeks since nationals, and Starocci hasn’t announced a decision yet, so I’ll at least think of it as a possibility.

184

Josh Barr

Starocci predicted in January that Barr would be a “multi-time national champ.” He didn’t get too many chances this season, with four-time All-American Bernie Truax being Penn State’s starter at 184. But Truax is out of eligibility, which should open the door for Barr in his second year.

197

Connor Mirasola, Lucas Cochran OR Josh Barr

Replacing four-time national champ and 2024 Hodge Trophy winner Aaron Brooks won’t be easy, and as of now, there isn’t an odds-on favorite. Mirasola will be a true freshman, but the man already has a win over former Penn State national champion Max Dean. So, yeah, he could be a problem. Cochran had one of the more impressive performances of this past season, wrestling at heavyweight and beating No. 8 Yaraslau Slavikouski 8-3 in February. There’s also the chance history repeats itself and Penn State gets an established 184-pounder out of the transfer portal— which Truax was last offseason—, which could lead to Barr moving up a class.

HEAVYWEIGHT

Greg Kerkvliet, Cole Mirasola or Lucas Cochran

If Kerkvliet decides to use his last year of eligibility and defend his title, there’s no decision for Cael and company to make. If he doesn’t, well, things get interesting. Connor Mirasola’s twin brother, Cole, is a three-time Wisconsin state champion and the No. 24 overall wrestler in his class according to FloWrestling. As mentioned above, Cochran has shown that he can compete with big-time heavyweights, and if Kerkvliet leaves, he’ll have the chance to compete for a starting job. But with all due respect to Cochran and Mirasola, Penn State surely hopes Kerkvliet stays.

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