There may not be a more confident collegiate wrestler in the nation than Penn State’s Carter Starocci.
While Starocci can certainly back up his talk, the reigning NCAA National Champion is anything but satisfied heading into the 2021-22 season.
Despite adding a national title to his resume, Starocci’s mindset has not changed in the slightest.
“There's nothing extra added from me winning nationals,” Starocci said. “I knew I was a champ from day one.”
In just his first official season at the collegiate level, Starocci finished last season with just one loss in the shortened regular season.
He has not forgotten that moment and is eager to redeem himself.
“I get up to make sure there's not a pulse alive that can beat me,” Starocci said. “I got a match that I have to avenge from last year, and it'll be taken care of.”
While the Nittany Lion is focused on his own individual success and goals, his role on the team has shifted.
The Erie, Pennsylvania, native has gone from a somewhat inexperienced wrestler to a leader on a team that has national title aspirations.
From Cael Sanderson’s perspective, his 174-pound national champion leads by example.
“I think Carter just works really hard,” Sanderson said. “He's one of those guys that we have to convince to kind of take his foot off the gas as we prepare for competitions.”
Sanderson is looking for his wrestlers to wrestle with enthusiasm this season. This is something he thinks could help highlight their individual off-season improvements.
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Penn State’s season is so close fans can almost smell it.
“I would say he, and I think all of our guys, have improved and jumped levels this offseason,” Sanderson said. “Of course, it's up to them then to go out there and take advantage of that and continue to compete freely and with enthusiasm because it doesn't really matter how much you've improved if you're not wrestling with enthusiasm.”
Despite finishing second overall as a team at the NCAA Wrestling Championships and crowning four national champions, there are still areas for the team to improve upon.
Sanderson said wrestling with added emotion could lead to scoring more total points.
A lot of the time, bonus points are key when deciding close duels, which is often the case at championship-level events.
However, Sanderson acknowledged his team struggled in that department last year but said he feels they can clean it up for this upcoming season.
Sanderson said the team will be good to go if it can focus more on competing rather than the end result of a win or a loss, and this is something that he thinks can come from strong leadership.
Starocci’s change in leadership is not just something Sanderson noticed, fellow teammate Roman Bravo-Young has also seen the change.
“His work ethic is unmatched, so I think he just leads by example,” Bravo-Young said. “He's definitely a big part of this team, and he's definitely a leader on this team.”
While Starocci’s role change is apparent to his teammates and coach, it’s certainly not lost on him.
Starocci is not a vocal leader on the team, the redshirt sophomore prefers to let his work ethic set an example for the rest of the team to follow.
“I put my hard work in, I work hard, I work smart, I help guys,” Starocci said. ”If they ask a question I'm always there for all those guys.”
Starocci may be a leader on the team, but he is entering only his second official season and is aware of the fact that he is still learning and improving his skills himself.
“I don't have too much to say, I don't have all the answers,” Starocci said. “I'm learning every single second of the day, and I think we're all leaders in our own way.”
Despite winning a national championship, last season also served as a learning experience for the 174-pound wrestler.
Starocci’s lone regular-season loss, and his loss to Iowa’s Michael Kemerer in the final round of the Big Ten Championships, has left the champion hungrier than ever.
Starocci knows what he is capable of, and his goals for the season show that.
“I want to go undefeated as I know I'm better than everybody, but I guess that’s just part of life,” Starocci said. “You just get up and you learn, you improve, and you carry on your journey.”
The reigning national champion at 174 pounds is anxious for the opportunity to once again showcase his talents against the top athletes in the sport and prove why he is the best in college wrestling at his weight class.
“No one cares about who Carter Starocci is on Nov. 12,” Starocci said. “It's who Carter Starocci is when it's time to go whoop someone’s butt. I just have to make sure that I'm ready on those days and when those days come — take everybody out.”
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