Penn State Wrestling Ready To Lean On Fast-Rising Carter Starocci
Despite boasting a number of talented seniors and upperclassmen on its roster, Penn State wrestling is expected to debut some fresh faces this season. With all four national champions returning, the Nittany Lions will combine experienced, top-tier talent with freshmen and sophomores who have yet to make their mark.
One of the best wrestlers on the roster is undoubtedly last season’s 174-pound champion, Carter Starocci, who is expected to serve as a backbone for the team in his sophomore season.
Starocci was the No. 3 seed in the 174-pound bracket at last year’s NCAA Championships and made it to the pinnacle of his weight class, completing an upset (and achieving revenge) over No. 1 seed Michael Kemerer of Iowa.
Starocci lost just once all of last year’s regular season en route to a national title. Despite finding success so early in his career, Starocci says he’s as hungry as ever to get out and compete while maintaining his work ethic.
“I see myself as the Olympic champ the day I was born,” Starocci said. “You know, I see myself as a national champion from day one. So, this [championship] doesn’t really add anything.”
As just a sophomore, Starocci is a candidate to be a team leader after finding success. Although he’s still learning the ropes himself in some ways, he’s already got the experience and drive to empower those around him in the locker room.
“I just lead by just kind of putting the work in, you know? I don’t have too much to say. I don’t have all the answers,” Starocci said. “I’m learning every single second every day, and I think we’re all leaders in our own way. It starts with each individual: coaches, our media team, everybody. It’s not just us that’s doing the work.”
Among the young and talented athletes for Penn State is freshman 165-pounder Alex Facundo, who caught Starocci’s eye and quickly earned respect in the wrestling room.
“I think one thing I’ve really noticed about him that he’s just super good at is if you do something to him once, it’s going to be hard to do it again,” Starocci said. “So, he catches on and evolves quickly. I think that’s something that you’re kind of just naturally born with, so he definitely has that.”
Starocci said he’s been excited to work with younger wrestlers, particularly as a mentor who’s “always there for those guys.”
Penn State’s wrestlers aren’t the only ones giddy about Starocci’s sophomore season. Head coach Cael Sanderson says he’s excited to see how Starocci can top an incredible debut season.
“I think we talked about this last year, that we have to convince him to take his foot off the gas as we prepare for competitions,” Sanderson said. “I think he leads by example. He just works really hard, and he’s going to compete. He’s a very confident kid.”
Sanderson said he’s hoping to see some elevated enthusiasm and drive from his team as it embarks on a more traditional season that will include fans and a more regulated schedule. Naturally, he turns to Starocci to find that spark.
“I would say he, and I think all of our guys, have improved and jumped levels this offseason,” Sanderson said. “Of course, it’s up to them then to go out there and take advantage of that and continue to compete freely and with enthusiasm, because it doesn’t really matter how much you’ve improved if you’re not wrestling with enthusiasm.”
College wrestling will undoubtedly feature heavyweight battles across the board considering many top talents have returned to their programs with an additional year of eligibility. Still, Starocci is convinced he can handle any challenge thrown his way.
“I get to make sure there’s not a pulse alive that can that can beat me,” Starocci said. “I’ve got a match that I have to avenge from last year, and it’ll be taken care of.”
Penn State opens its season on Saturday, November 13 in Mannheim, Pa., with duals against Sacred Heart and Oregon State. Although Starocci and his teammates are undoubtedly ready to rock, he’s well aware that this season’s opening duals are just a stepping stone to his ultimate goal: another title.
“No one cares about who Carter Starocci is on November 12,” he said. “It’s who Carter Starocci is when it’s time to go whoop someone’s butt. I just have to make sure that I’m ready on those days, and when those days come — take everybody out.”
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This marks the first time the Nittany Lions are left out of the preseason poll since 2016.