The undisputed top wrestling program in the land right now Penn State will be hard pressed to best last season's effort that produced a national team title and five individual champions.
With the buzz around the program as strong as ever, a new contract for Cael Sanderson potentially in the works and an already talented roster, the future is now for the Nittany Lions, who will attempt to defend their title in the 2022-23 season.
Still, the team is not without its losses and will have at least three key departures from last season's championship roster, including two-time champion Nick Lee, Drew Hildebrandt and Brady Berge.
These departures will leave many fans asking: Does Penn State still have enough firepower to bring home yet another title?
The Nittany Lions search for their first back-to-back national team title since 2019 will be full of potential usurpers with teams like Iowa already making big additions to an already talented squad that includes a former Hodge Trophy winner.
With defending champions Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks and Max Dean all returning, the 174, 184 and 197-pound spots are respectively locked down should the trio remain healthy for next season.
Looking ahead to the 2022-23 campaign, here’s the potential starting lineup for the blue and white next fall.
125 pounds: Robbie Howard
Prior to the 2021-22 season, Robbie Howard looked like the solution to Penn State’s long standing problems at 125 pounds, qualifying for NCAAs as a freshman and winning two matches at the tournament before bowing out — a solid performance for a freshman.
Unfortunately for Penn State, Howard’s struggles from 2020 likely kept him out of competition in the 2021-22 campaign. Now with nearly a year of recovery time, Howard should have no issues preventing him from entering the 2022-23 season healthy and as the starter.
With much more experience under his belt, Howard could be a dark horse All-American contender come next March.
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133 pounds: Roman Bravo-Young
This prediction is a little up in the air, as Roman Bravo-Young previously said at the beginning of last season that the 2021-22 season would likely be his last, but then he opened the door for a return following his title win.
One thing is clear, Bravo-Young will likely go where the money is, stating after his match that Penn State’s boosters “know what to do” if they want him back.
Bravo-Young has been steadfast in his desire to enter the UFC at some point, but with the new NIL era taking over college athletics, it may make more sense financially to stay in college — especially for athletes as talented as Bravo-Young.
If he returns, Bravo-Young will unquestionably be the favorite to win the 133-pound national title and complete the three-peat.
141 pounds: Beau Bartlett
Many expected this slot to be filled by Stanford’s Real Woods following his entrance into the transfer portal; however, it was Iowa who ultimately scooped up the 141-pound semifinalist.
Nevertheless, the blue and white still has a solid but still unproven alternative at 141 pounds in Beau Bartlett.
The Wyoming Seminary product had an up and down 2022-23 season, going 15-10 across the season and 1-2 at the NCAA championships.
However, the biggest story of Bartlett’s season was his weight. After making the move up to 149 pounds over the offseason, Bartlett looked slightly out of place and undersized at his new class.
With the departure of Nick Lee, Bartlett is the logical choice to slot back in at his old weight class where his size will be less of an issue, especially after growing accustomed to wrestling bigger and stronger opponents.
With a good portion of the top 141-pound wrestlers departing within the Big Ten, the weight class should be fairly up in the air and could present a perfect opportunity for Bartlett to have his best season yet.
149 pounds: Shayne Van Ness
One of the top recruits in the country and coming out of one of the most well renowned prep programs in Blair Academy, Shayne Van Ness is expected to become a major contributor in the Penn State lineup for years to come.
Van Ness only wrestled four matches in his redshirt season, going 2-2 at the Clarion Open, with his two losses coming by way of medical forfeits.
Despite his limited experience, Van Ness’ year in the wrestling room will likely pay dividends going forward, and the redshirt freshman will be expected to contribute as soon as next season.
157 pounds: Levi Haines
This pick might be a bit of a stretch, after all, freshmen rarely start in Year 1 of their college careers.
However, Levi Haines is no normal freshman.
The Biglervillle, Pennsylvania, native went 30-0 in his senior season, but he also showed he was already capable of taking on college-level competition.
Haines won the Franklin & Marshall open last season as a senior, defeating a ranked opponent in the process — Navy’s Andrew Cerniglia, the No. 18-ranked 157-pound wrestler at the time.
Haines may not get the start right away at 157, but he could seriously contend for the role as the season progresses. If not Haines, current redshirt freshman Matt Lee looks to be the logical option at 157 next season.
165 pounds: Creighton Edsell
Despite losing his starting spot midseason following Brady Berge’s return, Edsell still had a solid showing throughout the year, going 11-5 on the season and holding his own against a number of quality opponents.
While it is certainly a possibility redshirt freshman and highly touted recruit, Alex Facundo, slides into this role, Edsell has earned his shot to at least start next season.
Should the senior once again fail to defeat some of the best the conference has to offer, Sanderson may opt to make the change to Facundo who likely has the higher ceiling between the two.
174 pounds: Carter Starocci
184 pounds: Aaron Brooks
197 pounds: Max Dean
HWT: Greg Kerkvliet
Kerkvliet is another given headed into the 2022-23 season after coming off a fourth-place finish at NCAAs this past year, yet there is one key difference for the Minnesota native moving forward.
This time around, he may be the favorite.
Wrestling defending NCAA champion Gable Steveson, arguably, tougher than anyone has before and defeating Mason Parris handily in the consolation semifinals, Kerkvliet solidified himself as a serious contender for a national title heading into next season.
He will likely be a co-favorite alongside Arizona State’s Cohlton Schultz and Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi.
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