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Predicting Penn State Wrestling’s 2023-24 Starting Lineup

Penn State’s most dominant sports dynasty is finally back.

In last year’s culmination of the 2022-23 college wrestling season, the Nittany Lions took home their 11th national title in program history, their 10th in the past 12 years.

This season, Penn State will return eight wrestlers from last season’s prominent starting roster, including two 2023 individual national champions Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci.

Additionally, the Nittany Lions brought in three key transfers: Aaron Nagao, Bernie Truax, and Mitchell Mesenbrink. With the inclusion of big-name transfers and potentially key wrestlers returning from injury, Penn State wrestling’s starting lineup will likely see some new faces.

125 Pounds — Robbie Howard

Over the past few years, the 125-pound slot for the Nittany Lions has been a consistent weak spot in the lineup. Last year, redshirt freshman Gary Steen wrestled in the 125 slot for a healthy majority of Penn State’s duels, however, he finished the season 6-15 without earning a national tournament appearance.

This season, Howard will serve his second redshirt season due to an injury. It’s been three years since Howard’s last bout in a Nittany Lion singlet, and he went 7-6 in his true freshman season on his way to qualifying for the national tournament.

Additionally, Howard is ranked No. 20 in the country in the 125-pound weight class according to InterMat, while Steen is unranked.

Despite his two years away from the lights of Rec Hall, expect Howard to step onto the mat to open up the duels for Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions as they hope to turn around their past performances at the 125-pound weight class.

133 Pounds — Aaron Nagao

It will take some getting used to not seeing two-time National Champion Roman Bravo-Young stepping out at 133 pounds for the Nittany Lions. Nagao is one of the three major transfers coming into the program during the offseason, and he will join the blue and white for his sophomore campaign.

Last year, Nagao wrestled for Minnesota, where he finished his season going 22-6 with four majors, one tech, and one pin. Nagao would finish runner-up at 133 pounds during the Big Ten Tournament to none other than Brovo-Young. Nagao would continue to the national tournament finishing fifth with All-American status.

Nagao is ranked No. 3 in the InterMat rankings for his weight class with two seniors ranked above him, including Cornell 2023 National Champion Vito Arujau, who defeated Bravo-Young in the national championship.

Despite some high expectations and big shoes to fill, Nagao’s wrestling style will fit right in at Rec Hall, leading to another likely dominant season at 133 pound.

141 Pounds — Beau Bartlett

To many Penn State fans, Beau Bartlett will be a familiar face in this year’s presumed lineup. The senior will head into his fourth year of competition in a blue and white singlet, carrying nothing but redemption on his mind.

Last season, Bartlett finished at an impressive 27-3, including three pins and six major decisions. The highlight of his junior season featured third-place finishes in both the Big Ten and the national tournament, earning his first All-American honor.

According to InterMat, Bartlett is ranked No. 2 behind national champion runner-up Real Woods.

With a major hammer out of the 141-pound group, expect Bartlett to wrestle toward another fabulous year with many back-and-forth bouts against Iowa’s Woods.

149 Pounds — Shayne Van Ness

Shayne Van Ness proved to be a much-welcomed addition to the Nittany Lion wrestling team last year, wrestling his first complete season after his two-match redshirt freshman year. Now a redshirt sophomore, Van Ness will continue to prove his doubters wrong as he continues to climb the ranks in the 149-pound weight division.

This past season, Van Ness finished with a record of 24-7, including seven major decisions, two techs, and five pins. Van Ness underperformed at the Big Ten Tournament and finished fourth after a loss to Max Murin of Iowa. Van Ness bounced back in the national tournament, finishing third with All-American status after starting the tournament as a No. 12 seed.

Van Ness is ranked No. 2 in the 149-pound weight class according to InterMat. This year’s rankings are notably missing four-time National Champion Yianni Diakomihalis, the wrestler who stopped Van Ness’ championship run last year.

With a relatively young division in front of him, don’t be surprised if you find Van Ness at the top holding some hardware as the season comes to a close.

157 Pounds — Levi Haines

This guy is going to be special, folks.

Similar to Van Ness, Levi Haines was one of the most prominent new faces in last year’s starting lineup. Haines came onto the scene as a true freshman, and after some thought from Sanderson, forwent a redshirt season.

In his true freshman season, Haines finished 25-2 with four majors and three pins. Haines moved on to defeat former No. 1 Peyton Robb of Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship to hoist a conference title at 157 pounds. Riding this momentum into the NCAA Tournament, Haines finished as the runner-up to then-No. 1 Austin O’Connor of North Carolina.

After the departure of both Robb and O’Connor, Haines is atop InterMat’s 157-pound rankings as one of only two underclassmen in the top 10.

After a year of growth and training in the offseason for the young wrestler, expect Haines to continue his domination of the 157-pound division.

165 Pounds — Alex Facundo & Mitchell Mesenbrink

This is one of the only weight classes that could see some changes throughout the year with two strong wrestlers competing for the same spot.

As last year’s 165-pound starter, Alex Facundo posted a 19-6 record in his redshirt freshman season, tallying five majors, a tech, and a pin. Despite heading into the postseason with a 16-2 record, disappointing appearances in both the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament led him to a seventh-place finish in the conference and a winless outing in the national tournament.

Facundo is currently ranked No. 13 in InterMats rankings.

However, Facundo will have some steep competition this season if he wants to remain in the starting lineup. Over the offseason, Penn State landed Cal Baptist transfer Mitchell Mesenbrink. Mesenbrink only wrestled in two matches for Cal Baptist to retain his redshirt, both of which he won by fall. Despite having only two matches in collegiate competition, Mesenbrink is an incredibly accomplished wrestler on the world circuit.

Mesenbrink is a back-to-back medalist at the World U20 Wrestling Championship, winning silver at 70 kilograms in 2022 and gold at 76 kilograms earlier this year.

The Cal Baptist transfer is unranked in InterMat’s rankings at 165 pounds.

With two stacked resumes in favor of each wrestler, it is still uncertain who Sanderson will opt for on opening night.

174 Pounds — Carter Starocci

After announcing his return to Penn State for his final year, Carter Starocci will move into a veteran role as one of two former national champions on the roster.

Starocci went perfect 24-0 in his junior campaign, his second undefeated outing in two years. The three-time national champion will aim to be only the sixth wrestler in history to win four championships in four years.

To no one’s surprise, Starocci is currently ranked No. 1 in InterMat rankings and one of five Big Ten wrestlers in the top 10.

The Penn State wrestler will plan to make history in his final season donning the blue and white.

184 Pounds — Bernie Truax

After the departure of Max Dean, transfer Bernie Truax will fit right into the shifting lineup on the heavier side of the scale.

In his senior season at Cal Poly, Truax finished 18-3 with his third All-American distinction. He won the Pac-12 title for the second time in his career, continuing on to finish 4th in the national tournament for the third time in a row.

Traux wrestled at four different weight classes so far in his college career, competing at 197 pounds last year. With defending National Champion Aaron Brooks moving up a weight class to replace Max Dean, Truax will slide right into 184 pounds for the second time in his career.

According to InterMat, Truax is ranked No. 2 in the 184-pound division.

As the third major transfer wrestling for the Nittany Lions this year, Truax will be under immense pressure to continue Penn State’s winning ways.

197 Pounds — Aaron Brooks

One veteran will replace another at 197 pounds this year for the Nittany Lions. This time, defending National Champion Aaron Brooks will put on a few pounds to replace Dean.

Last year, Brooks went 17-1 with four majors, five techs, and three pins. The four-time All-American won his third straight national title, tying himself with Starocci. Brooks highlighted the season as a finalist for the Hodge Trophy which is granted to the best collegiate wrestler in the country.

Brooks will start the season ranked No. 1 in InterMat rankings.

Heavyweight — Greg Kerkvliet

Rounding off the lineup for the Nittany Lions is long-time heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet. While he has yet to win any serious hardware, Kerkvliet continues to record stellar seasons.

Last season, Kerkvliet went 19-3 with four majors, six techs, and three pins. The senior and three-time All-American made it to the national tournament every year in his college career, finishing as low as seventh his freshman year and as high as runner-up this past season.

This year, however, Kervliet starts the season ranked No. 1 in InterMat heavyweight rankings.

With longtime rival Mason Parris finally graduating, the chances for Kerkvleit to finally win a trophy dramatically increased.

Penn State wrestling will begin 2023-24 action at the Journey

Penn State wrestling will be in action next at the Journeyman Collegiate Classic on Sunday, November 12. The competition will begin at 9 a.m. at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Folks can stream the duel with FloWrestling.

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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 Matt Canada

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