Penn State Wrestling: 2023 NCAA preview and road map to another national title

Penn State Wrestling's Aaron Brooks (Image via the Des Moines Register)
Penn State Wrestling's Aaron Brooks (Image via the Des Moines Register) /
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Mar 5, 2023; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Penn State wrestler Carter Starocci. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2023; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Penn State wrestler Carter Starocci. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

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Carter Starocci

1. Carter Starocci (PSU) 19-0
2. Mikey Labriola (NEB) 25-1
3. Mekhi Lewis (VT) 18-1
4. Chris Foca (COR) 24-1
5. Dustin Plott (OKST) 21-4
6. Ethan Smith (OHST) 19-6
7. Peyton Mocco (MIZZ) 20-4
8. Bailee O`Reilly (MINN) 18-5
9. Edmond Ruth (ILL) 26-6
10. Rocky Jordan (CHAT) 19-2
11. Nelson Brands (IOWA) 10-6
12. Aaron Olmos (ORST) 15-6
13. Cade DeVos (SDSU) 25-7
14. Benjamin Pasiuk (ARMY) 22-5
15. Demetrius Romero (UVU) 14-3
16. Sam Wolf (AF) 13-3

Opening Match: Winner of No. 32 Will Miller (APP) and No. 33 John Worthing (CLAR)

I don’t see Starocci’s opening match being much of a bout, however his second round match could be interesting if No. 17 Donnell Washington takes down No. 16 Sam Wolf. DJ and Carter have a bit of a history now and them squaring off in the NCAA’s could be an electric match.

Key Match: Finals – possible matchup against No. 2 Mikey Labriola or No. 3 Mekhi Lewis

Starocci walked through Labriola a handful of days ago to claim his second career Big Ten title. And in the preseason NWCA All-Star Classic, Carter and Lewis locked horns once again which was only 248 days following them going head-to-head in the 2022 NCAA finals. Starocci took both matches 2-0 and 6-5 respectively, but neither one was easy. Labriola and Lewis are elite athletes and no matter the road which lays ahead of Carter, it’s not going to be a cake walk.

Aaron Brooks

1. Parker Keckeisen (UNI) 22-1
2. Trent Hidlay (NCST) 20-1
3. Aaron Brooks (PSU) 12-1
4. Trey Munoz (ORST) 24-1
5. Marcus Coleman (ISU) 19-3
6. Kaleb Romero (OHST) 21-5
7. Hunter Bolen (VT) 19-5
8. Matt Finesilver (MICH) 24-6
9. Isaiah Salazar (MINN) 16-2
10. Travis Wittlake (OKST) 19-5
11. Gavin Kane (UNC) 21-6
12. Abe Assad (IOWA) 18-4
13. Lenny Pinto (NEB) 23-9
14. Will Feldkamp (CLAR) 24-4
15. Layne Malczewski (MSU) 23-4
16. Reece Heller (PITT) 18-8

Opening Match: No. 30 Matthew Waddell (CHAT)

Brooks should be able to get through his first two matches without having to be pushed too much by the competition.

Key Match: Semifinals – possible matchup against No. 2 Trent Hidlay (NCST)

Remember when I was slightly bitter about Aaron being a No. 2 seed in last year’s NCAA’s? Yeah, not exactly a good look from me considering some of the rankings and brackets that came out this year.

But I’m going to nip the whole “these seedings are complete garbage” rhetoric in the bud right here.

To be an NCAA wrestling champion you need to win five straight matches (six matches if you’re the No. 32 or No. 33 seed). This is the case for your entire bracket and the only thing you can do is lace up your shoes and take on the guy next in line.

Should a two-time NCAA champion who dropped only a single match on the season be behind two other grapplers who also weren’t undefeated? What if the wrestler in question is also 4-0 against the two guys ranked above him?

Look, it’s not a great look for the NCAA having Brooks as the No. 3 seed, but in their defense, I can understand why. And seriously, do you really think Cael Sanderson and Aaron Brooks care one bit about it?

My money is on a resounding “No” because the only thing the NCAA needs to do is line up opponents in front of Brooks and he will continue to knock them down no matter who they are.

Max Dean

1. Nino Bonaccorsi (PITT) 16-0
2. Bernie Truax (POLY) 13-1
3. Rocky Elam (MIZZ) 10-1
4. Ethan Laird (RID) 25-1
5. Michael Beard (LEH) 19-3
6. Isaac Trumble (NCST) 19-4
7. Tanner Sloan (SDSU) 23-2
8. Silas Allred (NEB) 26-5
9. Max Dean (PSU) 20-3
10. Jacob Cardenas (COR) 16-3
11. Jaxon Smith (MD) 21-6
12. Zac Braunagel (ILL) 21-7
13. Yonger Bastida (ISU) 16-7
14. Jacob Warner (IOWA) 15-6
15. Luke Surber (OKST) 21-8
16. Owen Pentz (NDSU) 17-7

Opening Match: No. 24 Levi Hopkins (CAMP)

Nothing really to see here with Dean’s first match, but it would be a confidence boost if he can breeze though it.

Key Match: 2nd round – possible matchup against No. 8 Silas Allred (NEB)

Before I get into the absolute meat grinder laid in front of Max, please re-read what I wrote above regarding the NCAA and their seedings.

Now back to Max and the potential road which lay ahead of him.

Look, I’m not going to mince words here but if Dean makes his third career NCAA finals appearance, then it’s going to be one heck of a run.

Because essentially right out of the gate Max will be squared up against Silas Allred in the second round. Yeah, he’s the same guy who humbled Dean in the Big Ten finals 6-3.

Then if Max gets past Allred, the No. 1 seed Nino Bonaccorsi stands in his way to make the semifinals. And if Dean gets past Bonaccorsi, then he will have to potentially avenge a loss earlier in the season to the talented Ethan Laird of Rider to make the finals. Then there’s No. 3 Rocky Elam and No. 2 Bernie Truax on the other side of the bracket.

The group at 197 is about as wide open as any bracket in this year’s NCAA Championships and once the dust settles on the action, your guess as to who is the last man standing on the mat will be as good as any.

Greg Kerkvliet

1. Mason Parris (MICH) 28-0
2. Wyatt Hendrickson (AF) 26-1
3. Greg Kerkvliet (PSU) 15-2
4. Tony Cassioppi (IOWA) 21-3
5. Cohlton Schultz (ASU) 20-2
6. Yaraslau Slavikouski (HAR) 27-4
7. Owen Trephan (NCST) 21-3
8. Sam Schuyler (ISU) 17-3
9. Lucas Davison (NW) 22-4
10. Zach Elam (MIZZ) 18-3
11. Trent Hillger (WIS) 16-8
12. Colton McKiernan (SIUE) 27-3
13. Tyrell Gordon (UNI) 18-11
14. AJ Nevills (SDSU) 19-6
15. Grady Griess (NAVY) 35-5
16. Tate Orndorff (OHST) 15-7

Opening Match: No. 30 Hayden Copass (PUR)

Kerk has been about as locked in as any of the Nittany Lion wrestlers this year and this matchup will be no different.

Key Match: Semifinals – possible matchup against No. 2 Wyatt Hendrickson (AF)

Like Kerkvliet, Hendrickson is a bonus points machine himself. And while these two titans of the sport have yet to face off in their careers, I think it will be an incredible match if they do meet in the semis.

The only comparison I have for Hendrickson is his 12-5 loss at the hands of Mason Parris in the Cliff Keen Invitational back in December. Parris appears to be fully healthy this season and with no Gable Steveson in his way, he has his eyes squarely on the NCAA title at 285.

But do you know who else would like to have a say in that? Greg Kerkvliet, that’s who.