Break out the streamers and the trumpets because it’s prediction season, baby!
What a magical time.
It’s the time of the year that fills each fan with optimism and hope that the next season will be “The One” and they can already envision wrestlers lifting trophies on the center of the mat in the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
So, in keeping up with that theme, let’s dive into my predictions for how the Nittany Lions team will look when they hit the mat at some point this coming November. And, the format for this will be simple, I will list the guys in the mix for each weight class and I will then accurately (probably not) predict who the starter will be.
Predicting the Penn State Wrestling Starting Lineup
In the mix: Robbie Howard, Gary Steen, Marco Vespa, Karl Shindledecker, and Braeden Davis
Oh boy. Talk about a muddled mix of bodies, sweat, and a whole lot of “I have no ideas” with this group.
Gary Steen was the main guy for Penn State Wrestling this past season at 125 but to say his results were inconsistent is a fairly large understatement. The redshirt freshman put together a 6-15 campaign and it looked like he was muscled around the mat for much of the year.
Marco Vespa also saw action in the starting lineup, however he lost via technical fall in both matches. And he was pinned in his other two matches in the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open.
And as most Penn State fans know, Robbie Howard was a potential breakout candidate to lock down the 125 spot as he qualified for the 2021 NCAA Championships and made it to the round of 16. But unfortunately for him, injuries have completely derailed his last two seasons in Happy Valley.
There’s also the overall No. 16 recruit in the 2023 recruiting class in Dundee High School stud Braeden Davis. Davis recently secured his fourth individual championship and is only the fifth wrestler to win four individual championships and four team titles in Michigan history.
The only catch with Braeden is the fact he wrestled his final year in high school at 138 and that’s a huge ask for him to get in the rhythm of training for college wrestling while dropping 13+ pounds.
Which is why if you held a banana to my head, I’m going to go with …
In the mix: Aaron Nagao, Karl Shindledecker, Baylor Shunk, and Braeden Davis
Ah yes, there’s nothing like free agency in amateur athletics.
Prior to Aaron Nagao committing to Cael Sanderson and Penn State back in April, I thought it wouldn’t be likely the Nittany Lions would land him. Mainly because they already got commits from Bernie Truax and Mitchell Mesenbrink.
It’s good to be wrong in situations like this, right?
But look, how on earth can Cael Sanderson and his coaching staff fill the crater left behind at 133 as all-time Nittany Lion great Roman Bravo-Young rides off into the sunset? And the answer is simple; He can’t. At least not this coming year.
However acquiring the services of a 2023 All-American is a good way to start and Nagao should be the man at 133 for next year.
Prediction – Aaron Nagao
In the mix: Beau Bartlett, Connor Pierce, and David Evans
This is a really easy one.
Each and every year Beau Bartlett has suited up for the Nittany Lions, he has made massive improvements and his hard work in the wrestling room has paid off with the results.
And this past year was the largest leap he made yet as he stepped into the more comfortable wrestling weight of 141 following the departure of Penn State legend Nick Lee.
Beau put together a fantastic 2022-2023 campaign by going 27-3 and finished third at the 2023 NCAA’s. The podium finish was his first ever and he was crowned an All-American for the first time in his career. And at this point, I see no reason why the Nittany Lion faithful won’t see more great things from Bartlett in the future at 141.
Prediction – Beau Bartlett
In the mix: Shayne Van Ness, Connor Pierce, and Tyler Kasak
Following an injury shortened 2021-2022 year where he only took to the mat twice, Shayne Van Ness bounced back and had a tremendous 2022-2023 season.
Van Ness took his lumps during the regular season where faced a plethora of highly ranked grapplers. But he continued to work hard, learn from each loss, and get better every single day.
And nothing was more evident of this than his sensational run in the 2023 NCAA Championships.
Van Ness was on the ropes in each of his first three matches, but the talented wrestler fought back and bested his opponent each time. His lone loss of the tournament came at the hands of the eventual champion, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis.
Shayne then plowed his way through All-Americans Caleb Henson and Kyle Parco to finish on the podium with a third place finish. And he is yet another name to add to the growing list of Penn State All-Americans.
Connor Pierce had a good showing last year with an 8-2 record and there’s also the No. 25 overall recruit in the 2023 class with Tyler Kasak. Both of these guys will be good options to go to if and when Van Ness needs a night off. But as of now, that’s it.
Prediction – Shayne Van Ness
In the mix: Levi Haines and Terrell Barraclough
This is a two person race at 157. And one of the guys has a bit of a head start over the other.
Terrell Barraclough was the main guy for Penn State early in the 2022-2023 season, but due to an injury the true freshman Haines was thrust into the mix. And all he did was go a combined 27-2, added a Big Ten title, and made the finals in the 2023 NCAA Championships.
Not too shabby.
Haines ultimately fell to the immensely talented Austin O’Connor in the finals, but his run in the latter portion of the season was impressive.
But hey, Barraclough is a highly competitive grappler and he will absolutely get time on the mat for the Nittany Lions next year. And these two will undoubtedly push each other in the wrestling room which will only be good for each of them and for the team.
There’s also another factor in play here, and that’s the fact Haines has a large frame for 157. And it will not be surprising to see him finish out his collegiate career at 165. But I don’t think it’s going to happen until after next year.
But, I’m not sure what happened at the end of the season. It could have been an injury or fatigue in going through his first full college wrestling season, but Facundo’s performance fell off the map and he ended the year by going 3-4 and was knocked out of the NCAA’s after only two matches.
Facundo will be back, and he will be back better than ever next year. The will and drive of collegiate wrestlers to be the best they can always amazes me. The amount of work they have to put in and the sacrifices they make off the mat would drive most people insane.
Penn State fans just need to trust Cael Sanderson and they need to trust the process when it comes to Facundo.
Plus, the Nittany Lions have two viable backups in Joe and Matt Lee. The Lee brothers combined for an overall record of 9-3 last year and they are more than capable to fill in for Alex if the time arises.
Prediction – Alex Facundo
In the mix: Carter Starocci and Josh Barr
At this point, most people would be saying this to me, “Chris, are you serious? It’s Carter Starocci at 174 and it’s Carter Starocci every single day and twice on Sunday.”
And while I would normally agree with you, Starocci‘s post-win interview following the pin of Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola in this year’s finals had to be a little eye opening.
Carter stopped just short of saying he wanted to go down as the best wrestler and MMA fighter the two sports have ever seen. And, I get it. Well, at least not the part about being good at anything let alone being the best.
I might be one of the best fresh cut french fry eaters on the planet.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Carter Starocci and his interview.
As I said, I get it. Starocci is blessed with an amazing work ethic, an amazing drive to be the best, and a lot of confidence. And I believe the sky is truly the limit for him, both in college and on the world stage of wrestling.
The reason Josh Barr’s name is listed in the mix is due to this coming year being an Olympic year. And I have no doubt Carter will be training to reach that next mountain and chasing the Olympic dream of wearing a gold medal.
So there is a chance he could use an Olympic redshirt and take off the following year which opens the door for the No. 8 recruit in the 2023 recruiting class. Barr is a four time Michigan state champion and he will make an immediate impact in the Penn State wrestling room.
But as I just stated, I believe Carter Starocci can do it all. And I believe he will do this next year as he trains for both the Olympics and for college wrestling.
Prediction – Carter Starocci
In the mix: Aaron Brooks
Yeah, this is probably what most people were expecting here too. So when the people ask, I giveth.
Not much more needs to be said for the three time NCAA champion who’s compiled a career 67-3 record for the Nittany Lions. Aaron Brooks will be locked and loaded for next season and if the past has been any indicator, he will as good as he’s ever been on the Resilite.
Bernie is a three time All-American at Cal Poly and he’s finished fourth at 174, 184, and 197. Prior to Truax’s commitment, I was convinced Lucas Cochran would be the starter at 197, but obviously things have changed now.
Cochran was a lightly recruited member of the 2022 recruiting class and he might be a diamond in the rough. Lucas put together a record of 169-17 in high school and was a three time Utah state champion while also going undefeated his junior and seniors seasons. As for his 17 losses, 16 of them came in his freshman year alone.
Lucas has donned a blue and white singlet in 25 career matches and sports a 20-5 record. While participating in several opens and invitationals, Cochran has run up against a handful of top 33 ranked grapplers. And he’s faired pretty well in splitting these bouts 2-2.
Will Penn State fans see Cochran on the mat this coming season? I’m guessing they will at various points. But Bernie Truax is not going to transplant himself from California to Pennsylvania just to ride the pine. And if Cochran wants to one day hoist some hardware, then he will do well to retain everything he’s learned from Max Dean the past two seasons and learn a thing or two from Truax this coming season.
Prediction – Bernie Truax
In the mix: Greg Kerkvliet
I realize there isn’t a whole lot of drama in these last few weight classes, but seriously, who else is Penn State going to trot out at 285?
Austin Hoopes has exhausted his college eligibility and Seth Nevills is currently in the transfer portal, so my main concern for Kerk is his competition in the wrestling room. Now he can always grab Kyle Snyder or Anthony Cassar from the NLWC, but they may not have the availability that the other college guys have.
Or maybe Kerk will just wrestle Cael all season. I’m sure that won’t hurt!
Prediction – Greg Kerkvliet
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