Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 68 of 75

M A R C H 2 0 2 4 6 9 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M Mitchell Mesenbrink has been a shining star for the Lions this season. His aggres- sive style is beloved by the coaching staff and fans. He finished the Big Ten season 8-0, and while his résumé is worthy of the top line, he's likely to fall to No. 2 behind projected No. 1 Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin, who has 10 wins against Big Ten foes this season. All signs point to the two meeting in the final for an epic showdown that would shape the seeding at nationals. 174 pounds: Senior Carter Starocci was tracking to add to his already mon- strous collection of hardware with a goal of becoming Penn State's first four-time national titlist. However, after suffering a knee injury of unknown severity in the Lions' dual meet finale against Edinboro, he has an unclear postseason outlook. To be eligible for the NCAA Tourna- ment, Starocci would have to at least show up and forfeit at the conference tourney. If he cannot compete at the Big Ten meet, Michigan's Shane Griffith would become the favorite in this weight class. 184 pounds: Graduate senior Bernie Truax has been a bit of an enigma for Penn State fans during his first and only year in a blue-and-white singlet. The three-time All-American at Cal Poly has had matches where he looks unbeatable and others where his offense is nearly nonexistent. Which wrestler will show up at Big Tens? That's up to him, of course, but if the best version does, he'll have no issue grabbing one of the confer- ence's 8-9 available allotments for the national tournament. Either Minnesota's Isaac Salazar or Nebraska's Lenny Pinto, who beat Truax in February, will take the top spot here, with the other one slotting in at No. 2. Ohio State's Ryder Rogotzke, who pinned Truax during the dual meet season, could get No. 3 — they share a pair of mutual Big Ten wins — but the Nittany Lion could, too. The other cer- tainly ends up at No. 4. 197 pounds: Super senior Aaron Brooks returns to the Big Ten Tourna- ment as a massive favorite to win his fourth conference title. No other mem- ber of the field is undefeated against Big Ten competition like Brooks is. He should roll to another conference crown and his fourth NCAA national champi- onship in March. 285 pounds: Senior Greg Kerkvliet is now the top dog in the Big Ten and country at heavyweight. He beat likely No. 2 seed Nick Feldman of Ohio State by major decision, 12-0, in early Febru- ary. It's hard to find a challenger who can stop Kerkvliet from becoming a Big Ten champ for the first time in his career. ■ PENN STATE WRESTLING SUPERLATIVES JAN. 19-FEB. 25 Three Best Wrestlers Beau Bartlett | 141 | Sr. There is simply nowhere else to start this list. All Bartlett did in February was beat No. 3 Jesse Mendez of Ohio State, 4-1 in sudden victory, before taking out No. 2 Real Woods of Iowa in impressive fashion, 7-2. The nation's No. 1-ranked wrestler in this weight class then added a decision over Max Hermes of Rutgers and beat top-10 foe Brock Hardy of Nebraska, 9-6. He wrapped up the dual meet season by pin- ning Jacob Brenneman of Edinboro in 4:11. Levi Haines | 157 | So. Haines gave Bartlett a good run for his money. The returning All-American kicked off the final month of the regular season with a major decision over Ohio State's Isaac Wilcox. He then beat top-five opponent Jared Franek of Iowa by major decision, 12-0, before pin- ning Dylan Weaver of Rutgers in 1:31. Haines then stopped familiar foe Peyton Robb of Nebraska, 10-3. Like Bartlett, he ended the regular season with a fall, pinning Edinboro's Gannon Jaquay in 4:38. Aaron Brooks | 197 | Sr.+ This was a tough call between Brooks and redshirt freshman Mitchell Mesenbrink at 165 pounds. We give the edge slightly to Brooks, who scored wins by fall, technical fall, major decision and decision in February while keep- ing his record perfect at 14-0. Key Moment Penn State led Iowa 4-3 after two matches inside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in early February when No. 1 senior Beau Bartlett took the mat to take on No. 2 and previously top-ranked Hawkeye Real Woods. There was no doubt who earned the No. 1 spot after seven minutes, with the Nittany Lion cruising to a 7-2 triumph. The Lions would go on to win six of the next seven bouts en route to a 29-6 victory that marked head coach Cael Sanderson's 200th win at Penn State. Best Highlight The history of Penn State wrestling is filled with stars and those who stuck around despite being good enough to compete elsewhere to instead be a reserve for the Nittany Lions. It's why the highlight of the month was seeing backups Terrell Barraclough, a senior, and Lucas Cochran, a sophomore, both beat their opponents by decision at 165 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, to help the Lions crushed Rut- gers 35-3 for the program's 1,000th all-time victory. Bold Prediction It's understandable that fans are down on Bernie Truax after he lost multiple times in February. But this is still a former All-American who knows what it takes to win in the postseason, and that, as much as anything else, can lead a wrestler to new heights. We predict that Truax not only hits the podium at na- tionals but also finishes higher than fourth, which is where he's placed three years in a row, at 174, 184 and 197 pounds, respectively, from 2021-23. — Greg Pickel Brooks was unbeaten during the regular season, going 14-0 in preparation for his final tournament run with the Nittany Lions. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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