The last time Penn State wrestlers took the mat, their efforts netted four individual conference crowns, and the coveted team title at the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament at the University of Michigan.

The Nittany Lions left Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the program’s seventh championship of coach Cael Sanderson’s 14-year tenure and with nine qualifiers for national championships.

On Thursday, those nine Nittany Lion qualifiers will start their quest for NCAA titles when the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships begin at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Sessions 1 and 2 are at noon and 7 p.m. today. Friday will feature sessions 3 and 4, at noon and 8 p.m., respective. Sessions 5 and 6 will take place at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Penn State claimed the team title at last year’s NCAA Championships in Detroit.

Four of Penn State’s NCAA qualifiers — Roman Bravo-Young (133 pounds), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184) and Max Dean (197) — enter the three-day event as reigning national champions. Bravo-Young and Starocci open nationals with byes as they hold No. 1 seeds in their respective weight classes. Bravo-Young, Starocci and Brooks are seeking national titles for the third time.

Brooks, a three-time Big Ten champion, heads to Tulsa as the No. 3 seed. Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen received the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds. Brooks is a career 2-0 against Keckeisen.

“The truth is, you could be the one seed and lose; you could be the 33 seed and win the thing,” Brooks said when discussing his seeding. “I think a lot of other people get caught up in the seeding. More so, my family and my hometown were more upset than anyone here.”

Freshman Levi Haines (157) won a Big Ten champion last week in Ann Arbor. He’s 21-1, and was recently named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Haines will compete in Tulsa as a No. 2 seed. North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor is the No. 1 seed at 157.

“He’s a young kid, but he’s very mature, as far as his perspective,” Sanderson said of Haines. “He’s relaxed and grateful and ready to go. He’s going to give it his best effort regardless of the time, place and event. He’s always very consistent, and that makes things quite easier for him and for everybody else — his consistency.”

Haines is one of three Penn State freshmen who will experience nationals for the first time.

Shayne Van Ness (149) and Alex Facundo (165) are a combined 38-10 this year. Both are seeded No. 13 in their respective weight classes. Cornell’s three-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis is the No. 1 seed at 149 pounds, while Iowa State’s David Carr (2021 national champion) is the top seed at 165 pounds.

Dean and Greg Kerkvliet (285 pounds) received No. 9 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, for the NCAAs. Both reached the Big Ten Tournament finals but fell in their championship matches.

“Max wasn’t really excited with the way he competed, but he has a great foundation,” Sanderson said. “(He’ll) just refocus and get things in place mentally and physically.”

Beau Bartlett will wrestle on the national-championship stage for the first time at 141 pounds. He competed in the 2022 NCAA Championships at 149 pounds before dropping weight ahead of this season. Bartlett, a No. 6 seed, placed third at the Big Ten Tournament.

Penn State’s team national title last season gave the program its ninth under Sanderson’s direction. As the Nittany Lions prepare to repeat again in Tulsa, Sanderson said there won’t be much deviation from the process his wrestlers have followed to this point of the season. For him, it all comes down to consistency.

We just tune them up a little bit the week before, finish off, top off their conditioning,” Sanderson said this week about preparations for nationals. “But for the most part, they’re ready to roll. It’s consistency — just being the same person all the time.”


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