Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 66 of 75

M A R C H 2 0 2 4 6 7 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M He had had some contact with Penn State while in high school, but the recruit- ing process amped up last winter. Mesen- brink returned home to Wisconsin after just one semester in the Golden State and entered the transfer portal. Penn State struck gold in the portal in 2023, land- ing Mesenbrink, Bernie Truax from Cal Poly and Aaron Nagao from Minnesota. All three wanted to be part of coach Cael Sanderson's highly successful Penn State program, and they're all in the starting lineup this season. "I think we had spoken my first time in the recruiting pro- cess, so I wasn't too, too intimidated," Mesenbrink said, recalling a Febru- ary phone call from Sanderson. "But it is Penn State, where I've wanted to be. I remem- ber getting really excited about the text and getting the phone call and then talk- ing to my mom [Bernadette] and dad [John, his high school coach] afterward and telling them, 'Penn State called me … Coach Cael.' It was pretty sweet." That was that. A few months later, he was in summer school in State College and in the wrestling room. Before long, it was November, and he was in the lineup. A Positive Experience Since then, Mesenbrink has won 19 consecutive matches at 165 pounds, 13 of which earned bonus points, including a victory by forfeit in Penn State's dual meet finale Feb. 25 against Edinboro. Along the way, the redshirt freshman has ascended to No. 6 nationally in a highly competitive weight class. Oddly, he'll get to face only No. 5, Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin, in the Big Ten Tournament. Nos. 1 through 4 — Keegan O'Toole of Missouri, David Carr of Iowa State, Iz- zak Olejnik of Oklahoma State and Ju- lian Ramirez of Cornell — might get to introduce themselves in Kansas City at the NCAA Championships March 21-23. How the year ends remains to be seen, but how it's progressed has exceeded his expectations. "You can get a sense of what you may think it might be, not even just the sea- son but here at Penn State, and it's ev- erything and more than I thought it was going to be," he said. "And the support and the fun that I'm having and every- thing, it's really a positive experience." Mesenbrink began that experience at the Journeymen Classic in November with a wild 14-10 win over Arizona State freshman Nicco Ruiz but then earned bonus points for Penn State in 12 of his next 13 bouts. That included a technical fall over No. 10 Matthew Olguin of Or- egon State and 12-1 and 18-9 wins over No. 7 Cam Amine of Michigan and No. 10 Caleb Fish of Michigan State, respec- tively. He thumped Iowa's Michael Caliendo, ranked ahead of Mesenbrink at the time, 12-6, and in the first match in which he actually had to win to help Penn State get out of a tough situation, he responded with a 9-5 victory over Nebraska's An- trell Taylor, who took Mesenbrink down to start the match. Mesenbrink regis- tered takedowns in the second and third periods to pull away from Taylor and help set the tone for Penn State's comeback in a 22-13 win over the No. 3 Cornhuskers. Trending Upward Sanderson said Mesenbrink is the same person every day. "And that's a trait of a great competi- tor," he said. "He's loose and confident. He's got great flexibility and speed. And he's really good, but I don't know if he's surprising people because everyone has watched him d eve l o p t h e l a s t couple of years. "He's just got to make sure he's continuing to trend up- ward in all things, and he'll be good to go." Penn State's top-ranked seniors Carter Starocci (174 pounds) and Greg Kerkvliet (285) rave about Mesenbrink as well. "I love wrestling after Mitchell," Starocci said. "He gets me fired up when he's coming off the mat — I just like his energy. It's always fun going after him." Kerkvliet said Mesenbrink is well on his way to being one of the team lead- ers. "I feel like he can almost put himself in a leader position because everybody wants to wrestle at the pace that he does," Kerkvliet said. "He's just going out there and breaking guys." Mesenbrink, who bounces around post-match with his cut-off sweat- pants, full head of curly hair and wire- rim glasses, said he takes things at face value. "It's just being present in all of it and not letting the highs or the lows affect my happiness and my positivity," he said. "And continuing to be kind to all the people that come into my life. Being kind and spreading positivity helps keep the nerves and the expectations from being a burden. "A year ago, I didn't get to compete in a college season, and I'm grateful for the experience." ■ Penn State 2023-24 Wrestling Schedule Date Opponent Time/TV Nov. 12 Journeymen Collegiate Classic* Individ. Nov. 19 Army Black Knight Invite** Individ. Nov. 21 NWCA ALL-STAR CLASSIC Individ. Dec. 3 LEHIGH W, 30-10 Dec. 10 HOFSTRA W, 43-10 Jan. 5 at Oregon St. W, 36-3 Jan. 14 INDIANA W, 46-0 Jan. 19 at Michigan W, 27-9 Jan. 21 at Michigan State W, 35-0 Jan. 28 at Maryland W, 42-6 Feb. 2 OHIO STATE W, 28-9 Feb. 9 at Iowa W, 29-6 Feb. 12 RUTGERS^ W, 35-3 Feb. 18 NEBRASKA W, 22-13 Feb. 25 EDINBORO W, 55-0 Mar. 9-10 Big Ten Championships% BTN Mar. 21-23 NCAA Championships# ESPN/U/+ * at Bethlehem, Pa. ** at West Point, N.Y. ^ at Bryce Jordan Center % at College Park, Md. # at Kansas City, Mo. "He's loose and confident. He's got great flexibility and speed. And he's really good, but I don't know if he's surprising people because everyone has watched him develop the last couple of years." C A E L S A N D E R S O N O N M E S E N B R I N K

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