News & Notes From Penn State Wrestling’s 2023 Media Day
Penn State wrestling is preparing for another season as the No. 1 Nittany Lions plan to build off their successful 2023 season that culminated in a national championship. Cael Sanderson is entering his 15th season as Penn State’s head coach and has as much depth as he’s ever had in this year’s roster.
Notable wrestlers Roman Bravo-Young and Max Dean left massive shoes to fill in the 133-pound and 197-pound weight classes, respectively. The Nittany Lions welcomed transfers Mitchell Mesenbrink and Bernie Truax while returning back three-time National Champions Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks.
Ahead of the 2023-24 season, Sanderson chatted with the media about NCAA rule changes, how the transfers are adjusting to Happy Valley, and the return of legends ahead of the team’s first duel on Sunday, November 12.
Prior to the 2023-24 season, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel made a few adjustments to the collegiate wrestling rulebook, including the addition of the three-point takedown.
The rule is intended to incentivize offense and risk-taking by increasing the point differential between a takedown and an escape.
“The three-point rule is awesome,” Sanderson said Wednesday.
The three-point rule hasn’t seemed to change the wrestler’s approach. Heavyweight Greg Kerkvleit said it didn’t matter how many points a takedown is because, simply, “wrestling is wrestling.”
Transitions Of Transfers
With two starting wrestlers departing the program, the Nittany Lions filled some spots this offseason by introducing four transfers to compete for starting jobs.
Kurt McHenry only appeared in 18 matches with the Michigan Wolverines over the four seasons. He will compete with Robbie Howard and Gary Steen for the starting spot in the 125-pound weight class. The class was a lackluster part of a dominant Penn State team last season as Gary Steen had a disappointing first year as a starter.
Aaron Nagao joined the Nittany Lions after an All-American stint at Minnesota. Nagao will likely be the wrestler to follow in Bravo-Young’s shoes in the 133-pound class. The former Golden Gopher has a collegiate record of 31-9 coming into his sophomore season at Penn State.
Mesenbrink confirmed that he’ll wrestle at the 165-pound weight class on Wednesday after being listed for both the 165-pound and 157-pound weight classes earlier this year. The redshirt freshman is set to compete with Alex Facundo for the starting job this season. Mesenbrink went 2-0 in his lone year at Cal Baptist.
Truax is set to start for the Nittany Lions in the 184-pound weight class. The transfer out of Cal Poly is a former two-time Pac-12 champion and three-time All-American. The addition allows Brooks to go up to the 197-pound weight class if he avoids any serious weight loss throughout the season.
Brooks & Starocci Aim To Make History
Brooks and Starocci are heavily favored to win their fourth individual national championships this season. This hasn’t happened once in Penn State’s wrestling history, let alone twice in the same season. Sanderson, however, isn’t paying much attention to the hype around his two star wrestlers.
“I don’t think about that stuff too much,” Sanderson said. “My focus is just trying to help each individual wrestle great.”
Sanderson also said he hasn’t talked with the two wrestlers about the possible accomplishment yet.
“It’s hard to win when you’re worried about winning,” Sanderson added.
Starocci and Brooks have both had magnificent careers with the Nittany Lions so far and both have their sights set on Olympic glory after their time in Happy Valley.
“This is what we love to do. I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else right now,” Starocci said.
2023 NWCA All-Star Classic
The 2023 NWCA All-Star Classic is coming to Rec Hall on Tuesday, November 21, and six Nittany Lions will compete in the highly competitive exhibition.
“We’re well represented, so it’s exciting,” Sanderson said.
Penn State will have Shayne Van Ness (149 pounds), Levi Haines (157 pounds), Starocci (174 pounds), Truax (184 pounds), Brooks (197 pounds), and Kerkvliet (285 pounds) competing in the exhibition.
Sanderson explained that the athletes are sent invitations and that it’s up to the athletes themselves to decide if they want to compete against other highly-ranked wrestlers on home turf.
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