Penn State Wrestling looks poised to lock down its third straight national championship this coming season.
Cael Sanderson and his world class coaching staff have assembled yet another dominating Nittany Lion lineup, which includes several game changing transfers, and a handful of incoming freshman who could make an immediate impact on the mat.
But, no matter the sport, winning championships at the highest level is never easy.
Sports are the ultimate and the only remaining “Reality TV”, and at the end of the day anything can happen.
I know it looks like it’s “Penn State and everyone else” on paper, but as the old cliché goes, “That’s why they play the game.”
In the world of collegiate wrestling this is especially true.
So with that, let’s take a look at three potential roadblocks which may stand between Penn State and them hoisting their third consecutive NCAA team title.
3 Roadblocks to Penn State Wrestling Winning a 3rd Consecutive National Championship
No. 1 – 2024 Summer Olympics
I think it would be safe to say that the Olympics are hardly ever a bad thing.
But, for the top tier collegiate wrestling teams who have elite level grapplers on their roster, it can be potentially be problematic.
The Summer Olympics only come around every four years, and for most world class wrestlers they start to enter their prime in their early to mid-20s.
Couple this with the fact that most grapplers get a shot at one or maybe two Olympic cycles, and it’s no surprise hyper-competitive people want to test their skills against the very best in the world.
For the Nittany Lions, they have two of their starters who fit the above criteria to a “T”.
Both Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks have their future sights set on more than just individual titles and team titles in college.
They want to be the best on the planet.
There is a fairly decent chance either Starocci or Brooks use their Olympic-shirt in the upcoming season. But what if both of them do it?
That would mean the Nittany Lions would not return a national champion to their starting lineup for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.
Penn State would still return six All-Americans from the previous season with Aaron Nagao, Beau Bartlett, Shayne Van Ness, Levi Haines, Bernie Truax, and Greg Kerkvliet, so it’s not like the cabinets will be empty.
But, and this is a big “But”, if Cael Sanderson and company can’t trot out a competitive guy at 125, and if Alex Facundo is unable to take the next step forward, and if the Nittany Lions suffer underperformances from other slots, then they could be overtaken by another team if they are also without the services of Starocci and Brooks.
No. 2 – Michigan Wolverines
“Hey Chris, didn’t you have Michigan as the fourth team in your Way Too Early Big Ten Wrestling Power Rankings?
Yes, yes I did. And thank you for reading them!
So yeah, how on earth can a team who I think will potentially be the fourth best team in their conference topple Penn State?
Well, if you’ve paid attention to what the Wolverines did in the transfer portal this spring, then you probably have a decent idea about what I’m talking about.
Sean Bormet and his coaching staff went out and completely raided the Northwestern Wildcats roster.
The Wolverines brought in *cue Lebron James* not one, not two, but three former Wildcat All-Americans.
Between Michael DeAugustino, Chris Cannon, and Lucas Davison, Michigan brought in three immediate starters to its lineup who have amassed five All-American finishes.
Oh, and they landed Shane Griffith who only has an NCAA individual title (2021), a runner-up finish (2022), and a fifth place finish (2023).
Which means Michigan’s starting lineup has 40% of it that wasn’t on the team last year and each of those additions can compete for an individual title.
If Dylan Ragusin can turn the corner at 141 and if Will Lewan and Cameron Amine can continue racking up high finishes in the NCAA Championships, then it’s easy to see why the Wolverines will be a dangerous team next year.
On a side note, you might see Michigan a few slots higher in my next Power Rankings, as I don’t think I chugged enough coffee before writing their section.
No. 3 – Injuries
And now we’re onto the dreaded “I” word.
I also know exactly what you’re thinking now, “That gas bag Chris Snyder just jinxed Penn State for next year!”
Which is completely fair for you to say.
But look, wrestling is a sport that pushes you both mentally and physically to the limit. Joints, ligaments, bones, tendons, and everything else in the human body are stretched to points that would break almost every single average person.
Beau Bartlett would dislocate both of my shoulders, rupture my left Achilles, and wrap my right leg around my head in the first 30 seconds of a match.
The point I’m trying to make is this, injuries happen in wrestling. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained or how prepared you are.
So, if any of the other roadblocks I’ve written about also happens, then any injury suffered to any of the competitive starters could spell some big time trouble for the Nittany Lions. Especially if the injury occurs late in the year.
But the good news is this, Cael Sanderson has proven time and time again that he’s able to get his guys to peak at the right time. And managing their time on the mat in practice and in regular season matches is a big part of this.
It’s now been a handful of years since any of the Nittany Lion stars have competed in the Southern Scuffle or the Midlands or the CKLV’s. While competing in those prestigious events is great for building experience, it doesn’t do anything but potentially wear your body down for NCAA Championship contenders.
Extra matches that don’t count for NCAA titles aren’t needed. Besides, if you want to wrestle against the best wrestlers in the country, all you have to do is slap on a singlet and walk into the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
So, back to my point again. Even minor injuries can derail a season.
Just look at what happened to Drew Hildebrandt two years ago and Alex Facundo this past season. Both guys had fantastic regular season records but they unfortunately couldn’t do anything in the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships.
And if teams like Iowa and Michigan want to narrow the gap between themselves and Penn State, then an ill-time injury to a Nittany Lion grappler would certainly benefit them greatly.