The 11-time national champion Nittany Lions will officially make their return to the mat on Sunday Nov. 12 for competition as they begin their quest for yet another NCAA title. With a stacked lineup that includes two three-time returning NCAA champions, two returning NCAA finalists and four additional All-Americans, this is a team that will be expected to roll through their competition this year and dominate the national scene once again.
Let’s break down some of the teams and athletes the Blue and White will have to conquer if they want to stay undefeated on their way to the national tournament in Kansas City in 2024.
Nov. 12 Journeymen Collegiate Classic (Bethlehem, Pa.) + Nov. 19 Black Knight Invite (West Point, N.Y.)
Much like years past, Penn State will start its competition schedule with two open tournaments, and this year those tournaments include the Journeymen Collegiate Classic and the Black Knight Invite. The Nittany Lions put five athletes on the top of the podium at the Black Knight Invite in 2022 including Beau Bartlett, Shayne Van Ness, Levi Haines, Alex Facundo and Max Dean. All of those athletes, with the exception of Max Dean, return for the 2023-2024 campaign, and Bartlett, Van Ness and Haines will each come into this season looking for their second career All-American honors after finishing third, third and second respectively at last year’s national tournament.
These open tournaments are a good chance for athletes, particularly young athletes, to gain experience and shake off the rust. Every once in a while, an open tournament will produce a wild result, but, more traditionally, these tournaments are just an opportunity for wrestlers to ease back into the season and find their rhythm.
Nov. 21 NWCA All-Star Classic (Exhibition)
Given that the All-Star Classic is slated for two days after the Black Knight Invite, don’t expect most Penn State’s biggest names to participate in the open tournaments. The lineup for the 2023 All-Star dual has not been released yet, but, last year, Penn State had three of its athletes — Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks and Greg Kerkvliet — compete in this exhibition showcase, and all three notched impressive wins. The All-Star Classic results don’t count on a wrestler’s official record, but these wins matter for pride, confidence and reputation. A win here gives an athlete an edge.
🔥 2023-24 SCHEDULE //— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) October 2, 2023
🦁 7 Home Duals //
🙌 Monday Night Wrestling in the BJC! //
📺 B1G Dual Times and TV Dates to be announced later! //
😁Get the story! //#PSUwrhttps://t.co/gUGFJ7GM5z pic.twitter.com/6Qls4ceDL3
With this year’s All-Star Classic being held in State College, look for even more Blue and White representation and success. If there’s one thing Penn State likes to do, it’s put on a show in front of the Nittany Lion faithful.
Dec 3. vs. Lehigh (State College, Pa.) + Dec 10 vs. Hofstra (State College, Pa.)
The Penn State dual schedule kicks off with the in-state foe of Lehigh, a team that dropped 24-12 to the Nittany Lions in Grace Hall last year. Now, the Mountain Hawks head to Happy Valley for a heated battle with a potential of 15 total ranked wrestlers across both lineups.
The highest-profile matchup of the dual though will likely come at 197 pounds where No. 1-ranked Aaron Brooks could square off against his former teammate, No. 10 Michael Beard of Lehigh. Beard beat Penn State’s Max Dean in this dual last year, upsetting the defending national champion and sending a message about Beard’s potential and prowess. Now Beard, a 2021 NCAA All-American, will potentially have the chance to face Brooks, a three-time NCAA champion moving up to 197 pounds for the first time. It’s a dual with heavy emotional implications, and while Brooks should be favored, particularly in his home gym, this bout will be a great test for both athletes so early in the season.
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The other top-ten bout could come at 133 pounds where 2023 All-American and recent transfer Aaron Nagao will be expected to take the mat for the first time in a dual setting as a Nittany Lion and battle No. 8 Connor McGonagle. Lehigh’s McGonagle went 12-3 last year after suffering an injury at the EIWA tournament, but he’s a tough two-time national qualifier with a win over All-Americans Kai Orine. Nagao’s strength comes from his top game, and he’ll have the chance to put that skill to the test in Rec Hall for the first time in this bout. A win over a top-ten opponent would be an ideal way for Nagao to start his dual career for the Blue and White, but McGonagle can't be overlooked.
The weekend after Penn State wrestles Lehigh at home, the Nittany Lions welcome the Pride of Hofstra for another non-conference dual. The Pride currently do not have any ranked wrestlers in their lineup, and the team finished 5-6 last season. While there may not be any high-profile bouts in this particular meeting, this will be another chance for Penn State to show off its talent in front of what will likely be a sold-out Rec Hall fanbase. With a number of wrestlers in the Penn State lineup who could be competing for Hodge Trophy honors this year, bonus points will be a factor this season, and this dual could very well produce some big-time points for the Blue and White.
Jan 5. vs. Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)
Outside of Lehigh, Penn State's January 5 dual with Oregon State might be the most interesting non-conference contest of the year. The Beavers have been on the rise for the last several seasons under the leadership of head coach Chris Pendleton, and while they'll be unlikely to stop Penn State, there are a number of notable possible matchups in this dual, headlined by No. 2 Bernie Truax vs. No. 3 Trey Munoz. Previously Pac-12 foes, Truax and Munoz have already met five times in their collegiate careers, with Truax holding a 4-1 record over his Beaver opponent. Their last meeting in March 2022, however, went Munoz's way by fall in the first period. Truax may now be wearing the Blue and White of Penn State instead of his old Cal Poly colors, but he'll now doubt still want revenge on an old conference rival.
OREGON STATE: Learn more about the growth and rise of the Beavers
The Nittany Lions topped Oregon State 31-3 last season as a team with the lone weight class loss coming at 125 pounds as All-American Brandon Kaylor shut out Gary Steen. Penn State is expected to swap in Robbie Howard for Steen this year, so while Kaylor will likely still be favored at his weight class, the Nittany Lions will be favored overall. Oregon State comes to scrap though, so this dual is absolutely worth watching in early January.
Jan. 14 vs. Indiana (State College, Pa.)
Penn State will open its Big Ten slate on January 14 against Indiana in a dual that has just two top-ten matchups, but one of them will, without a doubt, be heated. While Hoosiers' top-ranked wrestler No. 7 Graham Rooks will be expected to take on No. 2 Shayne Van Ness of Penn State at 149 pounds in a rematch of the NCAA quarterfinals, the spotlight of the dual could, once again, be on 174 pounds as No. 1 Carter Starocci is expected to wrestle No. 10 DJ Washington.
Indiana's Washington is one of two athletes in the NCAA with a win over Carter Starocci, as the Hoosier stopped Starocci in his opening match as a redshirt freshman. Starocci came into this rematch with intensity last year and shut down Washington by major, but there's still something about this match that carries intrigue. Starocci is vocal and focused, and he's made no secret about the fact that he wants to, as he said, drag his opponent "in deep waters and feel his soul leave of his body and just keep coming after him." He'll have another chance to do that on Jan. 14.
As a team, Penn State posted a 29-11 win over Indiana last season and will be looking for a similar, if not more dominant, result. This dual comes just a few days before the team's road trip to Michigan where Penn State will take on Michigan and Michigan State, the former of whom beat Penn State at the 2022 Big Ten tournament.
Jan. 19 vs. Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich. ) + Jan 21 vs. Michigan State (East Lansing, Mich.)
On the Michigan wrestling weekend, Penn State's first opponent, the Wolverines, will pose a bigger threat to Penn State than the Spartans, as Michigan brings a stacked roster of four transfer All-Americans plus returning podium finishers Will Lewan and Cam Amine to the mat. The Michigan State dual, however, will still include a top-ten bout of its own with No. 1 Levi Haines expected to take on No. 10 Chase Saldate at 157 pounds in a fun middleweight battle.
Here’s how those duals went last year and what you can expect this season:
Michigan: Penn State has soared past the Wolverines in back-to-back seasons now, shutting down a powerful Big Ten foe with ease 29-6 and 30-8 in 2022 and 2023. Last year’s dual marked an important milestone for Penn State then-true freshman Levi Haines in particular as he notched a win over All-American Will Lewan and demonstrated, on a big stage, that he was ready to be the man for Penn State for the rest of the season. Haines will likely see Lewan, now ranked No. 7, again, in one of three top-ten matches between these two teams.
PSU vs Michigan— Heavyweight Nation (@hwtnation) May 4, 2023
125- Robbie Howard vs Mike DeAugustino
133- Aaron Nagao vs Chris Cannon
141- Beau Bartlett vs Dylan Ragusin
149- Shayne Van Ness vs Fidel Mayora
157- Levi Haines vs Will Lewan
165- Alex Facundo vs Cam Amine
174- Carter Starocci vs Shane Griffith
184- Bernie Truax… pic.twitter.com/5gG2eOBA1B
The big intrigue with Michigan in this dual and in this season more generally is how the new transfers will perform. The Wolverines picked up All-Americans Michael DeAugustino, Chris Cannon and Lucas Davison from Northwestern along with NCAA champion Shane Griffith from Stanford, and Cannon, Griffith and Davison will all face All-Americans from Penn State in this particular matchup. Griffith, now up at 174 pounds, will have the biggest challenge, as he’ll likely face No. 1 Carter Starocci, the Penn State three-time champ who pinned his Michigan foe — Max Mayor — in the second period last year.
Starocci and Griffith have never wrestled, as Griffith competed his first three seasons down at 165 pounds, but Griffith’s style is tricky and could create some different positions for Starocci to navigate. Penn State will come into this match favored in eight bouts, but if Michigan can pull off a few upsets and keep some of these ranked battles close, this dual could be more interesting than it has been in the last several seasons.
Michigan State: In another statement win last year, Penn State beat the Spartans 34-6, winning all but two matches in this dominant performance. Haines did not compete for the Nittany Lions in this matchup last year, as head coach Cael Sandereson put Terrell Barraclough in instead. Barraclough dropped his match to Saldate 8-6, but Haines will be expected to reverse that result for his team this year. Michigan State’s Layne Malczewski also picked up a win in this dual in 2023, as he beat Penn State’s Donovan Ball who competed in place of Aaron Brooks. With Brooks and Haines in the lineup, there's a likelihood that Penn State could win all ten bouts this year and could shut out the Spartans if all ten Nittany Lion starters compete and compete to seed.
Jan. 28 vs. Maryland (College Park, Md.)
The Penn State Nittany Lions have also handled the Terps in recent years, beating Maryland 44-3 in their most recent matchup last season. This year's dual though has one top-ten matchup and one unusual matchup, both in the upperweights, that will be notable.
At 197 pounds, No. 1 Aaron Brooks will take on No. 8 Jaxon Smith in a bout that will be an excellent test for Smith in particular. After finishing in the Round of 12 last season, Maryland's Smith is back for his sophomore season with his eyes on the podium, and he's ever bit capable of making the dream a reality. Smith and Brooks did not wrestle last year, as Brooks competed down at 184 pounds, but with the Nittany Lion now up a weight, Smith will have a chance to compete against a national champion in his home gym before February. Smith's best win last year came against four-time NCAA All-American Jacob Warner, and he's also kept matches close with just about everyone else in the NCAA, including Brooks' former teammate Max Dean, who edged out Smith 3-2 in the Blood Round. Brooks will be favored in the match, as he will be for all of his matches this season, but don't dismiss Smith.
The other intriguing matchup in this dual is at heavyweight, where Penn State All-American Greg Kerkvliet will take on former teammate Seth Nevills. Maryland's Nevills came to Penn State alongside Kerkvliet in 2020 and served as the starter while Kerkvliet redshirted, but Kerkvliet ultimately took over the spot in 2021, finished on the podium and hasn't looked back. Nevills has gone 4-1, 3-2 and 2-0 in his last three seasons with the Blue and White, but he has two seasons of eligibility remaining with the Terps, and, in just his first year in College Park, he'll get a chance to compete against the athlete that beat him out for his starting spot at Penn State back in 2021.
Outside of these two weights, Penn State has the advantage. Maryland wrestles hard, though the Nittany Lions will be coming into town with force, ready to put up some points.
Feb. 2 vs. Ohio State (State College, Pa.)
This year's Ohio State Buckeyes team has some serious star power, and while it will be tough to stop the Nittany Lions, the dual between these two Big Ten rivals should be non-stop action. The first top-ten bout will likely kick off at 133 pounds when No. 3 Aaron Nagao is set to take on No. 9 Nic Bouzakis of Ohio State. Bouzakis came to Columbus as a blue-chip recruit and posted an 11-1 record last year with his lone loss coming up at 141 pounds against Virginia Tech's Tom Crook. A battle between Bouzakis and Nagao will be a test of strength and speed, as these two wrestlers are scrappy and hungry. Look for them to set a tone that will continue through heavyweight.
At 141, Ohio State's true freshman All-American Jesse Mendez is expected to bump up this year where he could meet All-American from Penn State Beau Bartlett for another battle of former highly-touted recruits and talented stars in this dual. These two have never met in college, as Bartlett wrestled up at 149 his first few years at Penn State before dropping down to 141, while Mendez was down at 133 pounds last year. Bartlett is a fundamentally sound wrestler who does not want to lose to a Buckeye in his home gym, so while this may not be the high-flying, high-scoring match at 133 pounds could bring, Bartlett is an elite wrestler who will look to find the edge where he can against Mendez.
The Buckeyes have a number of athletes bumping up and changing weights this year, including its other two top-ten athletes No. 6 Dylan D'Emilio at 149 pounds and No. 7 Carson Kharchla at 174 pounds. These two athletes will be expected to compete against No. 2 Shayne Van Ness and No. 1 Carter Starocci respectively, but Ohio State has important names to know beyond these two weights.
Pay special attention to heavyweight Nick Feldman at heavyweight against No. 1 Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State, as one of the best high school recruits, Feldman, takes on one of the best college athletes at the weight over the last few years. This Buckeye team is on the rise, and while they lost 29-9 to Penn State in 2023, and the Nittany Lions have only gotten stronger, don't write off the Scarlet and Gray.
Feb. 9 vs. Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
The Penn State vs. Iowa dual always brings the heat every year, and while this year's Iowa team may not have the hype of years past, there are still a number of key bouts to watch in this rivalry matchup. In fact, two of the ten matches expected to occur in this dual will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 matches, with No. 1 Real Woods expected to battle No. 2 Beau Bartlett at 141 pounds and No. 1 Levi Haines scheduled to compete, at least on paper, against No. 2 Jared Franek of Iowa at 157 pounds. Franek and Woods are two of five ranked transfers in the starting lineup for Iowa that also includes No. 14 Brody Teske — previously of Penn State and Northern Iowa — No. 10 Victor Voinovich — formerly with Oklahoma State — and Mikey Caliendo — a former North Dakota State All-American. Much like the pack of transfers at Michigan, this Hawkeye group, some new, some returning, will be fascinating to watch this year as they continue to adjust to the Iowa style of wrestling and look to make further jumps under head coach Tom Brands.
PENN STATE VS. IOWA: A complete breakdown of last year's rivalry dual
Penn State beat Iowa handily last year 23-14, and the Nittany Lions will look for a similar result this year. Iowa will be favored, at least right now, at 125 pounds with No. 13 Drake Ayala, at 141 pounds with No. 1 Woods and at 165 pounds with No. 5 Caliendo, but the Hawks will need more than those weights to hold off Cael Sanderson's squad. This year's dual is in Iowa, so, regardless of the result, expect the environment to get heated and the intensity to rise.
Feb. 12 vs. Rutgers (State College, Pa.)
The Penn State Nittany Lions roared past Rutgers 33-8 last season, but the Scarlet Knights return a roster full of ten ranked wrestlers, all of whom likely want a shot against the top-ranked Nittany Lions again. Rutgers comes into the dual favored at 125 exclusively, with No. 6 Dean Peterson holding an edge on paper over Penn State's No. 19 Robbie Howard. Rutgers' No. 10 Brian Soldano, 12 John Poznanski at 197 pounds and No 6. Yaraslau Slavikouski at heavyweight certainly cannot be dismissed either though.
"The ultimate goal always is to be the champion."— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) August 23, 2023
Graduate transfer Yaraslau Slavikouski explains his journey to Rutgers in this 'Summer Scrap' installment.#RelentlessPursuit | #GoRU pic.twitter.com/KSfA1gChj7
Slavikouski is a particularly notable wrestler to watch given that he'll be in his first year with the Scarlet Knights but his fifth year of college wrestling, as he spent the last four years of his college career with the Harvard Crimson. Slavikouski is a two-time NCAA qualifier with a 64-15 record and wins over All-Americans Josh Hokit, Lucas Davison and Tate Orndorff. He's a competitor, and while Penn State's No. 1 Kerkvliet is a different kind of test, Slavikouski is the real deal too.
This scrappy Jersey squad as a whole always comes ready to compete. In State College though, putting up points against the Nittany Lions is no easy task.
Feb. 18 vs. Nebraska (State College, Pa.)
For the second weekend in a row in February, the Nittany Lions will face a deep squad of ten opposing ranked wrestlers in the confines of their home arena. The Nebraska Cornhuskers lost NCAA finalist Mikey Labriola to graduation last year, but they'll still bring a loaded squad, led by No. 1 Ridge Lovett at 149 pounds and No. 3 Peyton Robb at 157 pounds.
Lovett is one of just three wrestlers for the Red and White with a higher seed than his expected Penn State opponent, and he comes in one spot ahead of Penn State's Shayne Van Ness who finished third last year at 149 pounds while Lovett redshirted. The other two higher-ranked Husker are No. 14 Caleb Smith, a transfer from Appalachian State who sits five spots above Penn State's Robbie Howard in the rankings and No. 12 Bubba Wilson who comes in two slots ahead of Penn State's Alex Facundo. Smith and Howard have not wrestled before in their college careers, whereas Wilson is 1-0 against Facundo.
Outside of 125, 149 pounds and 165 pounds, Penn State is favored, but a number of those matches could come down to one or two points, as the margin for error at this level is minuscule. At 141 pounds, Penn State's No. 3 Beau Bartlett will face a familiar opponent in No. 5 Brock Hardy, a wrestler who beat Bartlett 7-3 at the Big Ten tournament. If Nebraska can produce a similar result from Hardy, the Huskers could keep this one competitive early. At 157 pounds, Penn State will be expected to field No. 1 Levi Haines against Nebraska's No. 3 Peyton Robb, assuming Robb has continued to recover well from the flesh-eating virus that he contracted at the end of last season. Robb is a national-title-caliber wrestler, and while he's 0-2 against Haines, both matches have been decided by two points or less.
The two other matches featuring top-ten opponents come at 184 pounds with No. 3 Bernie Truax of Penn State vs. No. 9 Lenny Pinto of Nebraska and 197 pounds with No. 1 Aaron Brooks of Penn State vs. No. 7 Silas Allred of Nebraska. The latter of those two matches, in particular, is fascinating, as Allred beat Brooks' teammate Max Dean twice last year, once to win the Big Ten tournament and once to send Dean to the consolation bracket of the NCAA tournament.
Not one takedown, not two takedowns, but three takedowns. 😤— Big Ten Wrestling (@B1GWrestling) August 23, 2023
We're reliving @silas_allred's 197-pound 2023 @bigten championships title. ⤵️#WinningWednesday x @HuskerWrestling pic.twitter.com/8bimOkUddD
Allred is underrated and tricky, but Brooks is Brooks. This is a match that should be circled on every Big Ten schedule as one that could get interesting, though, once again, Penn State will be favored in this bout and the dual.
Feb. 25 vs. Edinboro (State College, Pa.)
The Nittany Lions will close out the dual season against Edinboro, a team that they last wrestled to a 37-12 victory in 2011. The Fighting Scots have just one ranked wrestler, No. 24 Ryan Burgos at 149 pounds, so this should be another chance for Penn State to put on a show. The Nittany Lions have a history of scheduling a non-conference foe for Senior Night, and this year is no exception. Following the matchup with Edinboro, Penn State will have a week off before heading back up to Maryland for the 2024 Big Ten tournament, the final stop before the national tournament in Kansas City in mid-March.