Blue White Illustrated

May 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 47 of 67

4 8 M A Y 2 0 2 3 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M WRESTLING L ife can be bittersweet for fans of Penn State wrestling, because with another NCAA team title comes an eight-month hiatus in which to ponder what next season's version of coach Cael Sanderson's Nittany Lion juggernaut can offer them. Ten team championships since 2011, 34 individual titlists under Sanderson, a 55-point winning margin this year and the possibility of returning 114 team points — 53 more than the closest competitor — for the 2023- 24 season can spoil the team's followers and cause that time between March and November to seem quite prolonged. A lot can happen between Tulsa and Kansas City, with the latter serving as site of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Lineup projections for the upcoming season can provide offseason entertainment, but these days — with the transfer portal, Olympic redshirts and talented incoming freshmen — those predictions are tenu- ous at best. But that doesn't mean that pure specu- lation isn't fun. So, let's have a little … 125 and 133 pounds: Several options exist at these two weight classes, but replacing three-time NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young at 133 is the biggest challenge. Gary Steen returns after going 6-15 at 125 pounds as a redshirt freshman this past season. The question already being asked is whether Robert Howard, who was 7-6 as a freshman in 2021 and had wins over Ohio State's Malik Heinselman and Michigan's Jack Medley and Dylan Ragusin, can return at full strength after shoulder and elbow surgeries. Howard's reappearance would be the best-case scenario. Freshman Karl Shin- dledecker (0-1) and sophomore Marco Vespa (0-2) made appearances at 125, and junior Baylor Shunk (4-4) filled in at 133. Brown transfer Timothy Levine is an op- tion at 133 as well and, fortunately for the Lions, more depth is coming at these two weights with incoming recruits Braeden Davis, Cael Nasdeo and Branden Wentzel. Davis finished his Michigan scholastic career as a four-time state champ and ranked No. 6 in the nation at 125 pounds, while Nasdeo won a Pennsylvania state ti- tle at 121 for Williamsport and was ranked 14th nationally at 120 pounds. Wentzel was a four-time state medalist for Mon- toursville, winning a Pennsylvania title as a 106-pound freshman and finishing his career at 121. Howard has been op- timistic on social media about his return. Sanderson doesn't use true freshmen unless they are next-level wrestlers (see 157-pounder Levi Haines), but Davis won his fourth title at 132 and could be a good fit at 133. The best guess here is Howard at 125 and Davis at 133, with Steen and Shunk adding valuable depth and/ or spot starts. 141 pounds: No guess- ing here. Rising senior Beau Bartlett enters his fourth season with a 50-16 record and will be labeled as a na- tional contender. His time at 149 during the 2021-22 season may have been a bit rocky, but it helped prepare him for his drop to his natu- ral weight of 141, where he placed third in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. 149 pounds: Shayne Van Ness, in his first year in the lineup as a redshirt freshman, followed his fourth-place Big Ten finish with a spectacular third-place showing at the NCAAs. His early-round comeback victories and clutch wins over big-time foes in the consolations helped set the tone for Penn State's dominating run to the team title. 157 pounds: Here is where it gets con- fusing. As far as pure lineup balance is concerned, Levi Haines, this year's NCAA runner-up as a true freshman, is the an- swer. But whether Haines can hold that weight, given that Sanderson said at mid- season that Haines is "not long for 157," is the mystery. Haines' season was nearly of the story- book variety, but North Carolina's Aus- UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE Penn State's hopes of repeating as national champion in 2024 will likely hinge on the resolution of several key questions J I M CA R L S O N | B L U E W H I T E C O N T R I BU TO R Rising senior Greg Kerkvliet is expected to be the preseason favorite to claim the 2024 heavyweight championship after finishing as runner-up this past season. PHOTO BY DANIEL ALTHOUSE

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