Penn State Wrestling Preview: Nittany Lions Poised For Return To The Top

Penn State wrestling enters the 2021-22 season ranked No. 2 in the nation with several returning national champions. However, Cael Sanderson’s group enters this campaign hungry for a team championship at the season’s end.

This fresh start comes after a shortened 2020-21 season with little to no fans in the stands around the country. Finally, there will be faces at Rec Hall to cheer for one of the most cherished and successful programs at Penn State.

The Nittany Lions will have to wait for their home crowd, however. They’ll start their season this Saturday at the Journeymen Duals, and will face off against Sacred Heart University at 5:30 p.m. and then against Oregon State at 7 p.m. in Manheim, Pennsylvania.

The home opener at Rec Hall will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 18, against Army. Penn State will also make a trip this season to Niceville, Florida to partake in the Collegiate Wrestling Duals on December 20 and 21. Following the Florida trip, the Big Ten schedule will begin with a matchup in College Park, Maryland in a dual against the Terrapins.

Serving as head coach of the program since 2009, Sanderson is excited to change things up and give his wrestling team new experiences this season.

“I don’t know, what they’re calling the tournament. We’re focused on getting our guys to finish their shots quickly — that kind of stuff,” Sanderson said.

“We’re excited to get out there on the mat and just get started. That’s when we start making progress as a team, is when we’re competing, and we’re seeing our kids actually respond…”

The start of a new season often means changes in the lineup, and this season is no exception. The Nittany Lions will have some experienced wrestlers returning in the lineup, most notably the four individual national champions from last season. 133-pound senior Roman Bravo-Young, 141-pound senior Nick Lee, 174-pound sophomore Carter Starocci, and 184-pound junior Aaron Brooks will more than likely be the heart and soul of this team. The rest of the lineup includes many young stars.

At 149 pounds, sophomore Beau Bartlett will get the start this Saturday. Sophomores Terrell Barraclough and Joe Lee will battle for time at 157 pounds. Finally, backing up junior Creighton Edsell at 165 pounds is freshman phenom Alex Facundo.

Facundo is certainly a young wrestler to look out for. There is a lot of talk surrounding his name and it should come as no surprise that he will likely have many opportunities to make the starting lineup in duals this season For Penn State.

Outside of those rising stars, however, even those who have some experience wrestling for Penn State have not seen fans at Rec Hall in a long time.

“This is also an entertainment business, as fans come to watch a good match, so that’s kind of an external force,” Starocci said. “That’s not something that’s going to push you on, but it can add on and help raise the sport, you know what I mean…They get momentum. So I definitely feel it’s an important factor, but it’s not the main factor.”

Individually, Penn State has seven ranked wrestlers heading into the start of its season, according to InterMat Wrestling.

It should be nothing short of an expectation that the four returning national champions are all ranked as top-tier wrestlers in their respective weight classes. Bravo-Young No. is 1 in his class, while Lee is ranked No. 2. Starocci and Brooks are also ranked as the No. 1 wrestlers in their respective classes.

Other ranked Nittany Lions include Lee at No. 24, while Max Dean is No. 4 at 197 pounds. Kerkvliet is also ranked near the top of his class, sitting at No. 5.

One of the most anticipated matches of the season will be on January 28 in Iowa City, when Penn State will go up in dual action with Iowa. The Hawkeyes are the defending team national champions this season, and on paper seem to be the only team that could stand in Penn State’s way.

This is a young Penn State team with minimal, but a very strong leadership presence. Brooks feels that there are several different kinds of leaders on the team that will contribute in a positive way throughout this long campaign.

“So for me as a leader, all four of us are leaders on the team, but we kind of all lead in our own different ways,” Brooks said. “For me, just my actions, you know, just coming in with a smile and being myself — guys like a Nick Lee or Roman [Bravo-Young], he doesn’t really talk at all, but he still leads by example.”

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About the Author

Gabriel Herman

Gabriel Herman is a journalism major at Penn State from Minneapolis, MN. He writes about several sports-related topics. If you want to discuss great moments in Minnesota sports history, you can reach him at [email protected].

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