The 2020-21 wrestling season was a successful one for Penn State, as they came away with a second-place finish at NCAAs and crowned four national champions. The Nittany Lions will enter the 2021-22 season as the favorites, despite national champion Iowa potentially returning their entire lineup.
Penn State's potential and the development of their younger wrestlers should make up the gap next season. One important note about next season, the NCAA Tournament lineup will be stronger due to the return of Ivy League schools following the cancellation of their seasons in 2020-21. Here is a look at a projected PSU lineup:
|Weight||Wrestler(s)||Best finish at NCAAs|
|125||Robert Howard (Fr.)||2-2, R16|
|133||Roman Bravo-Young (Jr.)||1st|
|141||Nick Lee (Sr.)||1st|
|149||Beau Bartlett (Fr.) or Shayne Van Ness (Fr.)||DNQ|
|157||Brady Berge (R-Jr.)||2-2, R12|
|165||Joe Lee (R-Fr.)||0-2, DNP|
|174||Carter Starocci (R-Fr.)||1st|
|184||Aaron Brooks (So.)||1st|
|197||Michael Beard (R-Fr.)||7th|
|285||Greg Kerkvliet (R-Fr.)||7th|
Four National Champions Return
Roman Bravo-Young - 133 pounds
Bravo-Young enters this season as a true junior after securing the biggest win of his college career over two-time NCAA finalist Daton Fix (Oklahoma State). There should be at least one high-level addition to this weight class with Stevan Micic (Michigan). That said, Bravo-Young will enter the season as the favorite to repeat as Big Ten and NCAA champion.
Nick Lee - 141 pounds
Lee will enter his final college season after grabbing a title by avenging a Big Ten Tournament loss to Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) in the NCAA final. There will be a lot of moving parts at 141 pounds, including whether Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) decides to go 141 – regardless of where he ends up, he will be the favorite. That said, Lee's gas tank and ability will at the very least make him a strong contender at whatever weight class he wrestles in 21-22.
Carter Starocci - 174 pounds
Starocci's NCAA title win over Michael Kemerer (Iowa) was the biggest upset in the NCAA finals. He also was often criticized for not being the most prolific scoring wrestler this season, but I anticipate that will be changing in the near future. He's proven to be extremely coachable and will be the favorite to repeat as champion at this weight. I expect he will take significant strides this offseason.
Aaron Brooks - 184 pounds
Brooks was the only No. 1 seed for Penn State at the NCAA Tournament, and he won his first career NCAA title. It was quite a comeback from Brooks who looked like he might have had to forfeit out of the Big Ten Tournament with an injury. There are a lot of moving parts at this weight, as well, as Myles Amine (Michigan) could move down and 2019 NCAA finalist Max Dean (Cornell) will be back. That said, Brooks will be the favorite to repeat.
Freshmen To Take Next Step?
Robert Howard - 125 pounds
Howard came into the lineup later in the season but acclimated himself well. He finished 6th at Big Tens and was eliminated in the consolation round of 16 after going 2-2 at NCAAs. He picked up a big win over Malik Heinselman (Ohio State), but ultimately lost to third-place finisher Pat McKee (Minnesota). Howard will be one to watch next season because if he can develop a more consistent offense in neutral, he can make the jump.
Beau Bartlett or Shayne Van Ness - 149 pounds
What Penn State does at 149 pounds will be the most interesting part of their lineup. It's possible that Lee moves up to 149, but promising freshmen Bartlett and Van Ness could easily start here. Bartlett is smaller than Van Ness, and with Lee entering his last year of eligibility, maybe Sanderson decides to redshirt Bartlett for Van Ness. Bartlett is the lighter of the two, and even competed some of 2021 at 141 pounds. It may be best for the long-term lineup to redshirt Bartlett, and let him replace Lee in 22-23. Either way, expect whichever one is on the roster to challenge for the podium, they're that good.
Joe Lee - 165 pounds
Lee did not have the season many expected and his performance levels fell off as the season went along. There is talent here though. He picked up some big wins in his redshirt year, including a win over 2021 NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh) 10-3 at the 2020 Southern Scuffle. Alex Facundo could be another option, but it seems more likely he redshirts or takes a gap year as Van Ness did.
Michael Beard - 197 pounds
Beard had a promising freshman campaign that saw him finish seventh at NCAAs. There is more to come from him, and he flashed some good ability in top and neutral. I would like to see his defense improve a bit, and if he can do that, I think he can take the next step and move up higher on the podium.
Greg Kerkvliet - 285 pounds
Kerkvliet came in to compete late this season after surgery, and despite that, finished seventh at NCAAs. He was the only man to take down NCAA Champion Gable Steveson (Minnesota) this year. His ability in neutral is close to the elite at this class, but he is another one that has a few areas to improve on. I genuinely believe he can be close to the Steveson and Mason Parris (Michigan) levels of this class, but he needs time to get there.
Coming Back From Injury
Brady Berge - 157 pounds
Berge's season came to a sad end when he was injured in the quarterfinals against NCAA finalist Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider). Considering the head injury last season and all he's been through, it was gutting to see him get carried off the mat and miss out on a chance to wrestle for the podium. Berge is a legitimate All-American candidate and hopefully will get the chance to earn that distinction next season.