Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 67 of 75

6 8 M A R C H 2 0 2 4 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he Penn State wrestling team clinched its fourth consecutive Big Ten regular-season title in February. It now enters head coach Cael Sander- son's favorite time of year: the postsea- son. The Nittany Lions will head to the Big Ten Championships in College Park, Md., March 9-10, as the No. 1 team in the nation, but not without some concerns. Senior 174-pounder Carter Starocci went down with a knee injury Feb. 25 against Edinboro, and the potential loss of the three-time national champion has dimmed an otherwise bright postseason outlook. Here's a sneak preview of how each weight class looks for the Nittany Lions. 125 pounds: Penn State freshman Braeden Davis did not officially become the team's starter in the lightest weight class until January. He got off to a tor- rid start as the program's main man here but cooled off down the stretch when the competition ratcheted up. Still, Davis projects as the No. 6 seed, at worst, at the conference tournament. With the Big Ten likely to send 8-10 wrestlers to the national tournament, he should advance with ease by simply wrestling to form. However, in order to win his first con- ference tournament, he would likely need to avenge a loss to Iowa's Drake Ayala, who beat him handily during the dual meet season, to make just the semifinals. If the seeding shakes out in his favor, though, an easier path might exist. 133 pounds: Sanderson told reporters in late February that sophomore starter Aaron Nagao had been battling an illness that caused him to miss a January match with Maryland and a February meet- ing with Nebraska. The newcomer, who transferred in before the 2023-24 season, has had some impressive results with the Lions but also some matches where his inability to create offense and/or finish shots left him on the wrong side of the scoreboard. A healthy Nagao should have no prob- lem being one of the Big Ten's 7-9 quali- fiers (and if not, there are at-large bids available), but he's likely to find himself in the back of the seeding, and thus an unfa- vorable spot of the bracket. Top seeds here include Michigan's Dylan Ragusin, Rut- gers' Dylan Shawver and Ohio State's Nic Bouzakis, who have all won over Nagao this season. 141 pounds: Senior Beau Bartlett ce- mented himself as the top dog both in the Big Ten and the nation by beating reigning No. 1 seed Real Woods of Iowa, 7-2, when the two teams met back in February. He will be the top seed at Big Tens. If Woods and Ohio State's Jesse Mendez end up as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, Bartlett would face the winner of their semifinal match in the final. Nebraska's Brock Hardy will be a tough out for whoever he possibly faces in a quarterfinal, but it's hard to envision someone other than Bartlett, Woods or Mendez taking the top spot here. 149 pounds: Freshman Tyler Kasak took over the starting spot in January by beating out junior David Evans for the right to replace injured All-Ameri- can Shayne Van Ness. Like Davis at 125 pounds, Kasak suffered some setbacks in February but still projects as the No. 4 seed. If he lands there, it will put him on the same side of the bracket as projected No. 1 seed Ridge Lovett of Nebraska, who beat Kasak, 7-3, during the dual meet sea- son. The good news for the first-year Lion is that an upset won't knock him out of NCAAs as long as he wrestles back well. The Big Ten should be sending upward of 10 wrestlers at this weight class. 157 pounds: Sophomore Levi Haines, the reigning Big Ten champ, could be on a collision course to again see Nebraska's Peyton Robb in the final. The Nittany Lion beat him, 3-1, at last year's confer- ence championships and already once during the 2023-24 season via a 10-3 de- cision at Rec Hall in February. With all of that said, Michael Blockhaus of Min- nesota is undefeated in Big Ten matches this year and projects as the No. 2 seed. Robb may fall as far as No. 6, which would still keep him off Haines' side of the bracket until a potential meeting in the final. 165 pounds: Redshirt freshman Big Ten Tournament Preview Penn State will look to continue its dominant run when it heads to Maryland for the league championships GREG PICKEL | G R E G . P I C K E L @ O N 3 . C O M Sophomore Levi Haines may be headed for a rematch with Nebraska's Peyton Robb. Haines beat Robb, 3-1, en route to last year's 157-pound Big Ten title. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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