Returning All-Americans: 6
Projected NCAA Points: 132
2021 Record: 6-0
For the past decade, the question at the beginning of the year has been: can anyone beat Penn State for the NCAA trophy? Even during their so-called “down years,” the Nittany Lions still produced National Champions that no one was expecting to see at the top of the podium. In fact, at least one Penn State wrestler has won the NCAA Championships every year for the past ten years. With the 2021-2022 season approaching, can they produce another National Champion (or four)? Read on to see how the Penn State wrestling lineup will fare.
2021 starters Jared Verkleeren, Brady Berge, and Bo Pipher are all departing the Nittany Lions. Verkleeren and Pipher, who both battled for spots at 149 lbs. this season, are transferring to other schools. Verkleeren announced his ACC switch to Virginia in April. Berge, on the other hand, is stepping away from his 157 spot for health concerns regarding his past concussions.
Five Finalists Return
The good news for PSU fans is that all of last year’s NCAA Champions will return. Bravo-Young (133), Lee (141), Starocci (174), and Brooks (184) are all back in the lineup and each seeking their second consecutive titles. The other exciting news that broke in early May is that 2019 NCAA finalist Max Dean is transferring to Penn State. This means that half of Cael’s lineup is full of NCAA finalists. If each of those wrestlers return to the finals, Penn State will have 80 NCAA points on the board already.
Where Does Max Dean Fit In?
The first question that inevitably popped into your head is: does Max Dean go 184 or 197? On “Beyond the Fight,” Gabe Dean talked about his brother’s transfer and said, “Aaron entertained the idea of maybe potentially going up. . . but I think [Max] is looking to fill that 197 void.” Personally I wouldn’t call 197 a ‘void’ with returning All-American Michael Beard back for another season, but there will be a tough wrestle off between the two studs.
Dean already has a previous win over 197 lbs. finalist Nino Bonaccorsi, so he is the favorite to start. If he makes an appearance in the finals, this would give Penn State 10 additional points compared to their 7th place finish at 197 lbs in 2021.
The Situation at 149 lbs.
Because Verkleeren and Pipher are both gone, you would think 149 lbs. really opened up a spot for someone. However, Barraclough, Bartlett, and Van Ness will still all be competing to start. Barraclough competed for a brief stint last season, but Bartlett ultimately earned the starting position at Big Tens. Van Ness adds further intrigue into the situation, considering he is the top recruit in the class of 2021. Cael has a knack for starting freshmen midway through the season, so I would expect Bartlett to start and Van Ness to pop into the lineup in January.
Other Questions & Change-Ups
The remaining weights to discuss are 125, 157, 165, and 285.
Expect to see triple Lees this year with Nick Lee at 141, Matt at 157, and Joe at 165. Matt will look to follow in his brothers’ footsteps, and Joe will look to improve on his NCAA-qualifying-season debut.
Greg Kerkvliet will start again at heavyweight and attempt to get over the hump of tougher opponents he couldn’t quite edge in 2021, such as Cohlton Schultz, Gable Steveson, Anthony Cassioppi, and Mason Parris. But if he can progress past an All-American season, that will only better Penn State’s chances at a team title.
The remaining spot is 125 lbs. Rumor has it that 2X Pennsylvania State Champion Gary Steen could get the start. However, don’t overlook Robby Howard, who qualified for the NCAA Championships in his freshman season and knocked off Malik Heinselman on the big stage.
Way-Too-Early NCAA Projections
Penn State will likely start the season with six wrestlers ranked in the top 10. Fanco’s current projections have the team scoring approximately 132 points at NCAAs, but that number could definitely bolster if Van Ness and Steen both prove to be valiant freshmen. The biggest question is if this lineup will be tough enough to defeat the Iowa Hawkeyes?