2024 National Champions: Penn State Wrestling's Dynasty Continues

2024 National Champions: Penn State Wrestling's Dynasty Continues

It’s hard not to sound like a broken record, but it’s simply the truth. Penn State’s wrestling program is a different breed of dominant. It’s untouchable.

For the 12th time in program history, and the 11th time under coach Cael Sanderson, the Penn State Nittany Lions are once again National Champions. They took home first place in the team race with 172.5 points, 100 points ahead of second place Cornell (72.5) and Michigan took third (71). The point deficit is the largest in NCAA history and the point total broke the previous record of 170 points held by Iowa.

“You just want to see your kids smiling at the end of the season and reaching their goals,” coach Cael Sanderson said.

In addition, the Nittany Lions crowned four individual champions, including two 4x NCAA Champions who joined an elite club of the sport’s greatest of all time. But, before all the trophies and records and accolades, the buildup leading up to this year’s championships was nothing short of hype.

Starting with the 125-weight class as a whole, no one could’ve predicted how this was going to play out. The bracket alone was a story in itself. Veterans like DeAugustino weren’t even seeded in the top ten and Penn State freshman Braeden Davis got the No. 1 seed. No. 8 seed Richard Figueroa of Arizona State won it all and knocked Davis out in the quarterfinals. Davis came to life a bit too soon in that match and let Figueroa secure a riding time point by a few seconds, which ended up sealing the deal. Davis then lost his first consol match in sudden victory and ended the tournament without any hardware.

Freshman Aaron Nagao lost his first match at 133 and battled back to Friday evening and lost again in the third place bracket. Some rumors were swirling that he wasn’t feeling 100%. Hearts broke at 141 as we watched senior Beau Bartlett make his way to the finals only to lose once again to long-time rival Jesse Mendez of Ohio State in the final moments of the match. Freshman Tyler Kasak lost his opening match, but he did not go quietly in the consols. He went on to win seven straight matches and take third place with notable wins over both the No. 3 Jackson Arrington of NC State and No. 1 Ridge Lovett of Nebraska. We also saw probably the most exciting match of finals night at 149 with Virginia Tech’s Caleb Henson nearly pinning Michigan’s No. 3 Austin Gomez twice in his major decision victory.

Nothing super shocking happened at 157. No. 1 Levi Haines won it all and with bonus style including two techs, a major decision in the semis and a pin in the finals over Arizona State’s No. 2 Jacori Teemer.

Then there’s 165. Perhaps the most fun wrestler to watch of the tournament, freshman Mitchel Mesenbrink, was heading for the top of the podium. He said himself that he didn’t think anyone could match his pace, and honestly, no one could. In his finals match against Carr, Mesenbrink got behind early, but he’d been in that position before. Carr was gassed, checking the clock, taking stall calls over cutting Mesenbrink loose and banking the riding time point. Mesenbrink started chipping away at Carr’s lead in the third and tied things up late, 8-8. But he forgot about the 2+ minutes of riding time Carr had from the first period and missed his opportunity to give one last takedown attempt. Everyone was kind of in disbelief.

“Don’t even have me seeded. Just have me wrestle every single kid in the bracket, one by one, and I’ll take them all out inside three days.” That was the quote Carter Starocci put out there before the tournament, and he kept his word. Some are going to say his matches are boring, but I’m going to call them calculated. His undisclosed knee injury occurred 3 weeks out from the NCAAs. He clearly was not wrestling at 100 percent. The fact that he took down two previous national champions (Micah Lewis and Shane Griffith) and won the finals while battling/recovering from injury is so incredibly impressive. Maybe his matches weren’t the greatest show of all time, but they got the job done and now he can call himself a 4x NCAA Champion.

Transfer Bernie Truax, wrestling down a weight class from previous seasons at Cal Poly, lost in the quarterfinals to No. 3 Dustin Plott of Oklahoma State. He worked his way back to wrestle for fifth place and beat No. 2 Isaiah Salazar of Minnesota. Aaron Brooks had a very straightforward path to a perfect finish. Two tech falls, two pins, and a decision win over No. 2 Trent Hidlay in the finals polished off his perfect 4x NCAA Champion story. Greg Kerkvliet also got his first NCAA title at heavyweight with a notable win over No. 4 Colton Schultz from Arizona State in the semis then a major in the finals over No. 10 Lucas Davidson of Michigan.

The story of this dynasty continues on. We see greats graduate and the next guy is ready to step in and pick up right where they left off. In Cael’s words in his post-championship interview, “it’s time to get ready for next year.”