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Smeltzer: With Carter Starocci Back, Here are Updated Projections for the 2024-25 Penn State Wrestling Lineup

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Carter Starocci

Not too long ago, it was hard to imagine Carter Starocci returning to Penn State wrestling for the 2024-25 season.

When somebody has done it all, it doesn’t seem like there’s much left for them to do, and Starocci, a four-time national champ, would be in most people’s “done it all” category.

But citing his desire to end his career on his own term after competing through this NCAA Championships with a serious knee injury, Starocci is back with the goal to become the first five-time champion.

I published my initial projections for Penn State’s 2024-25 wrestling lineup early last month, and with Starocci now back in the the fold, it’s time for a revision.

Let’s get into it.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 125

Luke Lilledahl 

No changes here. I initially Lilledahl— the No. 1 ranked wrestler from the Class of 2024– to start for Penn State wrestling at 125, and Lilledahl has only boosted his stock since. Lilledahl has an impressive showing at the Olympic Trials, winning two bouts before falling in the consolation semis. “Lightning Luke” was back in action at the U20 U.S. Open and was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler, becoming the champion at 57KG. In his final match of the weekend, Lilledahl wrestled Ohio State’s Vincent Kilkeary, who was a controversial decision away from beating Penn State’s 125-pound starter from last season, eventual Big Ten champion Braeden Davis. Lilledahl tech-falled Kilkeary.

 

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 133

Aaron Nagao

Here’s my first change. In my previous lineup projection, I had Davis, who was ranked No. 1 at 125 going into the NCAA Championships, moving up to 133. But after doing some thinking, I now see the more experienced Nagao starting.

In Nagao’s first season with Penn State wrestling, which ended with one match short of All-America statues, it constantly felt like he was near breakout status but it just never fully came together. Considering Nagao was an All-American and Big Ten finalist at 133 while he was at Minnesota, it’s safe to say Penn State believes in this guy, and his experience gives him an advantage. Look for Penn State to redshirt Davis to redshirt if doesn’t get the starting job at 133.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 141

Beau Bartlett

Not much explaining needed here. I did my first projections days before Bartlett announced his decision to use his last year of eligibility, and I predicted Bartlett would make that decision. Now that it’s official, there’s no reason to see Penn State starting anybody over the defending national runner-up at 141.

PENN STATE WRESTLING: 149

Shayne Van Ness

Again, nothing’s changed. Van Ness will have some competition from Tyler Kasak, who finished third at NCAAs as a true freshman this past season. But Van Ness finished third the year before and would have likely been in the mix do win it all this last year had he not missed the season with an injury. As long as this competition is close, it’s hard to see Sanderson going against the more experienced SVN.

If my predictions come to fruition, Penn State will redshirt the defending Big Ten champ at 125 and the guy who finished third at 149, each doing so in their true freshman season. Is that not the sign of a loaded program?

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 

Once again, nothing has changed. Since initially projecting Facundo at 174, all he’s done is shut out Haines at the U.S. Olympic Trials and later takedown the great Jordan Burroughs. It will be hard to Facundo to replace what Carter Starocci’s been doing at 174 but Penn State should be in good hands at that weight class nonetheless.

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

Carter Starocci

The four-time national champ is back, in case you haven’t heard. It’s not 100% where he’ll be competing, but Starocci told reporters weeks before announcing his decision that he and Sanderson had talked about bumping up from 174 to 197. So that appears to be where it’s going.

HEAVYWEIGHT

Greg Kerkvliet

Kerkvliet is the one Penn State veteran who hasn’t announced his decision yet. But with Starocci being the least likely to come back and ultimately deciding to do so, there’s no reason to think the defending heavyweight champ won’t follow suit.

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