Penn State wrestling captures 12th NCAA championship, cements dynasty under Cael Sanderson

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Penn State wrestling has done it again. Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions secured the program’s 11th NCAA championship since Sanderson was hired in 2009 and Penn State’s 12th NCAA championship overall. The program’s first title came in 1953 and, under Sanderson as coach, Penn State has become one of the top dynasties in sports.

The Nittany Lions, winners of the Big Ten championship and the Big Ten regular-season crown, entered T Mobile Center in Kansas City as the heavy favorites to secure a third consecutive team title and, while the three-day event concludes Saturday night, PSU has already blown past the competition and mathematically can’t be caught.

Penn State sent 10 wrestlers to NCAAs — one per weight class — and six of them will be competing for individual NCAA titles Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. No program has ever had more than five individual NCAA champs, a mark that Penn State owns. PSU will have eight All-America honorees as freshman Tyler Kasak (149) and senior Bernie Truax (184) have each secured the distinction. The medal-round matches are Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNU and ESPN+.

Among the contingent of NCAA finalists are seniors Carter Starocci (174 pounds) and Aaron Brooks (197), who both are looking to become four-time individual NCAA champions. Only five wrestlers have accomplished such a feat. Their coach of course is one of them.

Starocci, who entered NCAAs seeded ninth because of a medical forfeit at Big Tens, has stormed his way through the bracket while wearing a bulky brace on his right leg. Starocci sustained a knee injury in late February and was held out of competition until Thursday. He dispatched two NCAA champs on Friday, downing Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis — the top seed — and Michigan’s Shane Griffith.

“I’m the NCAA champion. This is my weight. This is my bracket. When you’re the best it doesn’t matter  — ninth seed, two seed, seventh seed, no seed — it doesn’t matter,” Starocci said during his post-match interview. “When you’re the champ, it’s search and destroy.”

Among those competing for individual crowns on Saturday:

  • 141 pounds: No. 2 Beau Bartlett vs. No. 1 Jesse Mendez (Ohio State)
  • 157: No. 1 Levi Haines vs. No. 2 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State)
  • 165 pounds: No. 2 Mitchell Mesenbrink vs. No. 4 David Carr (Iowa State)
  • 174: No. 9 Starocci vs. No. 6 Rocco Welsh (Ohio State)
  • 197: No. 1 Brooks vs. No. 2 Trent Hidlay (NC State)
  • HWT: No. 1 Greg Kerkvliet vs. No. 10 Lucas Davison (Michigan)

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(Photo: Nick Tre. Smith / USA Today)

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