Penn State Wrestling may be facing a major shakeup to its National Championship winning lineup.
Following Carter Starocci’s pin against Nebraska’s Mickey Labriola in the 2023 NCAA finals, he was very direct about his wrestling future. Starocci said his next stop in wrestling was going to be an Olympic gold medal.
And he didn’t stop there, as Carter indicated he wanted MMA titles as well.
But look, if you’ve followed Starocci during his time as a Nittany Lion then you know how driven he is. Simply put, Carter Starocci wants to be the best at everything he does. Whether that’s being in the best shape possible, or beating your butt on the basketball court, or ripping out your soul on the wrestling mat.
So it’s no surprise at all he has his sights set on the world stage of wrestling.
His comments were so influential that I’ve already seen a handful of Penn State lineup predictions which have Josh Barr slotted in at the 174 weight class for next season. We also talked about it in our Penn State Wrestling projected lineup for 2023-2024.
Keeping with the theme for next season’s lineup, the only big question surrounding Aaron Brooks was whether he was going to bump up to 197 and let incoming All-American transfer Bernie Truax man his old slot at 184. It was no secret Brooks struggled making weight last year, but moving from 184 to 197 is a massive jump.
Well, now let’s turn the page to the senior level results at the 2023 US Open Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At 79 kg, Carter Starocci was slotted as the No. 2 grappler in his bracket. And he breezed through his first three matches while pitching a shutout, 29-0. Then in the semi finals he was matched up against the No. 3 seed, Alex Dieringer. With one minute and 37 seconds remaining in the first period, Dieringer took Starocci to the mat for a two point takedown. But unfortunately it appeared that Carter injured his already wrapped and braced right knee.
Following a medical timeout, Starocci continued the match however he definitely wasn’t the same guy. Carter ultimately dropped the match 7-1, and he medically forfeited his remaining matches to finish in sixth place.
Obviously not the outcome or performance he was looking for.
Then jumping over to the 86 kg bracket, fellow Nittany Lions teammate Aaron Brooks had the No. 3 seed. And like Starocci, he also blew through his first three matches to the tune of 30-0 which then pitted a semi final match against former Penn State legend Mark Hall.
Brooks was all over Hall in the match and Mark had no answers to Aaron’s offense. Brooks cruised to a 6-1 win and a finals matchup against the No. 1 seed Zahid Valencia. I think Penn State fans remember him, right?
In a fantastic back-and-forth match, Aaron Brooks proved to be the better man on that day as he outlasted Valencia 10-6 to win his first ever US Open title and book his ticket to worlds.
Now, you might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with Penn State wrestling?
Well that’s an excellent question and I’m glad you asked it. Because this outcome may have some ripple affects for the upcoming wrestling season.
The first item pertains to Carter Starocci and what his plans are for the future. Will he put his international wrestling goals on the back burner and focus more on collegiate wrestling for the near term? He could become the first ever Nittany Lion grappler to win four NCAA titles.
The second variable in this is Aaron Brooks and what he wants to do this season. Will his recent win in the US Open push him to try for Olympic greatness? If so then that mean’s the Nittany Lions may call upon either Josh Barr or Lucas Cochran to take the reigns at 184 or 197.
But there’s also a third option to think about. What if both Starocci and Brooks decide to take a year off from college? It’s possible Starocci’s injury could hinder his training and he elects to focus solely on freestyle for next year. And as I just mentioned, it wouldn’t be out of the possibility that Brooks takes an Olympic redshirt and works towards his dream of donning a gold medal.
If this happens, then both Josh Barr and Lucas Cochran will be needed to fill the voids. Which then means next year’s Penn State team will be without both three time NCAA champions. And even though the Nittany Lions brought in Aaron Nagao, Mitchell Mesenbrank, and Bernie Truax, their road to a third straight title might be a tough one.