Penn State wrestling: Top performers, a bold prediction, and more following the 2023 season

On3 imageby:Greg Pickel03/22/23

GregPickel

Penn State wrestling finished off its latest NCAA Championship season with two individual first-place finishers. It also had three runner-ups and won the team race by a commanding 55 points over Iowa. It marks the largest margin of victory at nationals by a Lions squad. And, others were even further off the Hawkeyes’ second-place pace.

The team had a great weekend, a lot of gutsy performances,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “It’s an individual sport as well as a team sport, so as a coach your heart and mind is with the guys that don’t reach their goals. But we’ve got a lot to be happy about and proud of ourselves.

“We just got to keep getting better. We’ve got a lot of things we can work on moving forward. That’s what you do. You come here, and you’ve got to be quick to observe and figure things out; what can we do better? And that’s what we’ll do.”

Here are our superlatives and more from the final month of the season.

Top three Penn State wrestlers

Here are our picks:

Carter Starocci | Jr. | 174 pounds 

Carter Starocci may not end up being the Hodge Trophy winner. But, he has every right to be. The Penn State wrestler capped off a perfect season by pinning Mike Labriola of Nebraska at the 2:46 mark of the first period to win the national title. He surrendered just two points at nationals after winning a Big Ten title prior to running through his NCAA bracket with ease. 

Aaron Brooks | Jr. | 184 pounds

Many felt Brooks was slighted by being the third seed at the NCAA championships. Whether that was fair or not, he proved any and all doubters wrong over the course of three days in Tulsa, Okla. He won his first match by major decision, earned a fall in round two, and then used a pair of decision victories to land in the finals. There, he faced and beat top-seeded Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa in dominating fashion, 7-2, to become a three-time champ. Brooks lives his life with ease on and off the mat, and it shows as he routinely finds a way to beat his opponents in impressive fashion. 

Levi Haines | Fr.  | 157 pounds

It is extremely difficult not to give 149-pound redshirt freshman Shayne Van Ness this spot. But, it’s also impossible to leave Haines off this list. The first-year Nittany Lion looked like a seasoned pro en route to a Big Ten title. Then, at NCAAs, he won his first two bouts by decision, scored a fall, and then beat top-seeded Peyton Robb of Nebraska in the semifinals. He didn’t win his finals bout against top-seeded Austin O’Connor of North Carolina. But, he showed plenty of promise, just as he has all season, in the 6-2 setback. 

Key moment for the Nittany Lions

There were many memorable moments for Penn State during its run to the Big Ten and NCAA titles. But, it’s hard to pick any other than the clinching one at nationals. Entering the penultimate session of the national tournament, the Lions needed just one win in a consolation semifinal to clinch the overall title. Junior Beau Bartlett recorded it. Trailing 1-0 at the start of the third period, he earned an escape, takedown, and riding time point to beat North Carolina’s Lachlan McNeil 4-1 and secure the 11th team title in program history.

What was the best highlight?

We are going to the quarterfinal round at 157 pounds for this one. Freshman phenom Levi Haines found himself on the wrong end of a 6-0 deficit early in his match with seventh-seeded Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech. Haines’ hopes of reaching the final looked bleak. However, his steady demeanor and relentless drive allowed him to pull within 8-6 in the third period. A takedown and turn later, he pinned the Hokie at the 6:11 mark to become an All-American for the first time.

Bold prediction

Shayne Van Ness will win an NCAA title next season at 149 pounds. Perhaps we’re going to far, here, however, that is the point of a bold prediction, right? The redshirt freshman showed poise far beyond his age en route to a third place finish this year. And, he has a motor that will not stop. The weight figures to be a major challenge next season. But, expect ‘SVN’ to be in the mix at nationals and take it by this time next year.

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