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Penn State Wrestling ‘Ready To Roll’ Ahead Of NCAA Championships

Fresh off four individual championships and a team title at the Big Ten Championships earlier this month, Penn State wrestling is ready for the next task at hand: the NCAA National Championships.

The 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships are set to begin on Thursday, March 16, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Nittany Lions enter the tournament as the defending champions after winning by a whopping 36.5 points last year in a more-than-dominant showing. After winning nine of the last 11 national titles, Penn State will once again be the team to beat as the postseason winds down.

With veterans like Roman Bravo-Young and Max Dean aiming to add to their trophy case, first-timers like Levi Haines, Shayne Van Ness, and Alex Facundo will get their first taste on the national stage. Young or old, every member of the blue and white shared the same mentality heading into the weekend despite some tough draws in the seeding: just win.

“It’s easy to look at the brackets and just scratch your heads, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. You have to go wrestle,” head coach Cael Sanderson said. “You get who you get and you just have to move on.”

True freshman Haines will enter the championships as a No. 2 seed fresh off Big Ten Freshman of the Year and NCAA Wrestler of the Week honors. Haines picked up the awards following an undefeated Big Ten Tournament and upset over previously undefeated and No. 1-seeded Peyton Robb of Nebraska. With all eyes on the rookie, Haines will compete for a title only 16 true freshmen have achieved before.

“[Haines is] young, but he is incredibly mature… He’s relaxed, grateful, and always ready to go,” said Sanderson. “He’s going to give it his best effort regardless of the time or place… He’s always very consistent, and I think that’s what makes things easy for him.”

It’s hard to ignore the excitement and energy in the wrestling room prior to the team heading to Tulsa. From upbeat music to hefty smiles, the daunting challenge ahead isn’t weighing on the shoulders of those competing.

“It’s a big celebration. Everyone is happy, cracking jokes, telling stories… This is easy for us to get ready for these tournaments,” said 174-pounder Carter Starocci.

The two-time national champion is no stranger to the NCAAs and plans to head into the event channeling the same tenacity and consistency as always.

“I’m feeling good and ready to go. This is the fun part right here. Everyone is excited,” Starocci said. “You don’t look at the postseason and just decide to get ready. You have to be ready and get better every day. I don’t think [the NCAAs] is any different.”

“We’re ready to roll. It’s all about consistency no matter how many times you’ve wrestled the same guy,” Sanderson said. “You go out and give your best effort every day. That’s what we do as a program.”

The first session of the NCAA Championships begins at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 16, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All of the matches are available to stream on BTN+.

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About the Author

Brendan Wagner

Brendan is a Junior majoring in print and media journalism. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Mooresville, North Carolina. As a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, you can find him on Twitter, @brchwags, often complaining about the Pittsburgh Steelers and probably Russell Wilson.

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