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Wrestling Preview: No. 1 Penn State vs No. 24 Lehigh

The Nittany Lions’ dual season is finally upon us, with some key wrestlers starting their swan song of a season.

I’m pretty sure I say this this week every year - but it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Penn State wrestling kicks off their dual season and continues their march towards a third consecutive national title this season against in-commonwealth foe Lehigh, a formidable opponent that always brings their a-game to this dual meet.

It’s been a number of years since Lehigh actually beat PSU in this dual (since before Cael Sanderson started roaming matside in Happy Valley) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough outing against a ranked opponent - last year, when the Nittany Lions were defending national champs with four returning individual champions in their lineup, they only beat the Mountain Hawks 24-12 (in the PSU lineup’s defense, only three of the four returners last year wrestled; in Lehigh’s defense, one of those three actually lost to PSU transfer Michael Beard).

Regardless, there’s enough new in both lineups and in the rule changes this season to make nearly each individual bout in this matchup far from a foregone conclusion.

There’s a lot of significant scoring changes in effect this year, so I’ve got to caveat this preview with a big, fat, I have no idea if my score predictions will come true - there’s a not-small chance that some of the majors I’ve predicted will actually be techs, and the pins I’ve predicted will be over before both of the opponents’ shoulders hit the mat.

How To Watch

What: #1 Penn State vs #24 Lehigh*

Where: Rec Hall, University Park, PA

When: Sunday, December 3, 2:00 PM EST

Audio: Free (via GoPSUSports)

Video: BTN

Lineup

#1 Penn State WT #24 Lehigh
#1 Penn State WT #24 Lehigh
Robert Howard (So., Cranford, NJ) OR Gary Steen (So., Hermitage, PA) OR Braeden Davis (Fr., Belleville, MI) 125 #33 - Luke Stanich (Fr., Roxbury, NJ)
#3 - Aaron Nagao (So., La Habra, CA) 133 #5 - Ryan Crookam (Fr., Hellertown, PA) OR Connor McGonagle (Jr., Danville, NH)
#2 - Beau Bartlett (Sr., Tempe, AZ) 141 #10 - Malyke Hines (So., Kissimmee, FL)
#2 - Shayne Van Ness (So., Somerville, NJ) 149 Matt Repos (Fr., Palmyra, PA)
#1 - Levi Haines (So., Arendtsville, PA) 157 #24 - Max Brignola (Jr., Fair Haven, NJ)
#16 - Mitchell Mesenbrink (Fr., Hartland, WI) 165 #32 - Jake Logan (Jr., New Rochelle, NY)
#1 - Carter Starocci (Sr., Erie, PA) 174 Thayne Lawrence (So., Perryopolis, PA)
#2 - Bernie Truax (Gr., Oceanside, CA) 184 Caden Rogers (Fr., Lancaster, PA)
#1 - Aaron Brooks (Sr., Hagerstown, MD) 197 #10 - Michael Beard (Jr., Reading, PA)
#1 - Greg Kerkvliet (Sr., Grove Heights, MN) 285 #12 - Nathan Taylor (So., Brookville, PA)

125 LBS

I see Braeden Davis as the long-term starter at this weight, and the guy here in the post season. But I”m not so sure we see him go in this bout this week, as Robbie Howard, coming back from a few years of injuries, may be given the opportunity to keep the starting job. This bout isn’t an easy task so I figure I’ll start the reverse jinx early by throwing a Jimmy Gulibon on him.

Prediction: Stanich by decision

Score: PSU 0, Lehigh 3

133 LBS - Match of the Meet

The one bout without the returning champ last year in this dual matchup was this one, where Roman Bravo-Young sat for Karl Shindledecker and Lehigh’s Connor McGonagle won. McGonagle’s still in the Lehigh lineup, but he isn’t the starter this year - that honor goes to Hellertown’s own Ryan Crookham - a true freshman who, just a few weeks ago, upset world team member Vito Arujau.

So while on paper new PSU transfer Aaron Nagao, who wrestled RBY tough last year, is ranked higher, he’s also coming off injury and Crookham is pretty darn confident. Nagao might get him later in the year, but it’s a little too early in the season for me to pick the new Nittany Lion in this one.

Prediction: Crookham by decision

Score: PSU 0, Lehigh 6

141 LBS

Both Beau Bartlett and Malyke Hines improved as the season went on last year, and both are better wrestlers this year than they were last year. But they’ve faced each other very recently - at the the Journeymen Collegiate Classic - and it was close to a tech fall for the Nittany Lion under the new scoring rules. I expect something similar this week.

Prediction: Bartlett by major decision

Score: PSU 4, Lehigh 6

149 LBS

Speaking of getting better as the season went on - holy NCAA tournament, Batman! Or, as we call you in these parts, SVN.

After being down big in the first round, Shayne turned around and pinned his opponent and ended up finishing third. And that has directly led into an expected monster sophomore year. I think the finals will come down to the third bout between the dynamic Ridge Lovett and Shayne.

Prediction: Van Ness by pin

Score: PSU 10, Lehigh 6

157 LBS

Speaking of freshmen who came on strong at the end, here comes Levi Haines! The redshirt for Haines was pulled late in the year and it proved pretty unnecessary for the team’s title hopes but pretty awesome to watch if you like good wrestling. Now that Austin O’Connor’s exhausted his eligibility, this year’s title is Levi’s to lose and it’ll be exciting to watch. This bout could set the tone and it could be over much quicker than I’m predicting - it depends on if Levi has learned more about setting the tone with the new scoring rules than he knew in November when he beat Brignola by major.

Prediction: Haines by major decision

Score: PSU 14, Lehigh 6

165 LBS

I’m excited to see what Mitchell Mesenbrink brings the middle of our lineup. The transfer from Cal Baptist was one of the biggest pickups of the transfer portal, as the redshirt freshman won the under 20 world title this summer and is dynamic to watch.

He’s wrestling a tough dude, though, so this is another one that could be over very quickly (especially given the new scoring rules) or end up being something like 8-2 (if Mesenbrink’s first dual in a PSU singlet is a new and different on-mat experience for him). Let’s split the difference.

Prediction: Mesenbrink by major decision

Score: PSU 18, Lehigh 6

174 LBS

Is it possible that Carter Starocci has gotten better this year? I certainly hope so. And if I was Gabe Arnold, I’d try to bump up to 184 as well.

Prediction: Carter by pin

Score: PSU 24, Lehigh 6

184 LBS

For the first time in three years, Aaron Brooks won’t take the mat right after Carter Starocci in the PSU lineup! This year, Bernie Truax, a three-time All-American from Cal Poly, joins the lineup and splits up the two title winners - and has an undoubted shot at his first national title. I think he gets a more offensive, high-volume, PSU-y pep in his step in the blue and white.

Prediction: Truax by major decision

Score: PSU 28, Lehigh 6

197 LBS

AB has been the training partner of world champ David Taylor for a number of years now, so it makes sense to see him bump up a few pounds to 197. He’ll be the prohibitive favorite at this weight too, and if it’s possible - he might have gotten better, too. Woe be it to all ye who stand in the way of his fourth national title, even if that woe is his former teammate.

Prediction: Brooks by major decision

Score: PSU 32, Lehigh 6

285 LBS

I thought Greg Kerkvliet had Mason Parris figured out last year, but I was wrong. This year, though, I’m convinced that the national title is Kerk’s to lose - provided, of course, that Gable Steveson stays retired.

Oh, and Kerk’s another one who seemingly got better in this offseason, if that’s at all possible. I know these two faced each other a few weeks ago and it wasn’t bonus, but I think Kerk terns that around.

Prediction: Kerk by major decision

Score: PSU 36, Lehigh 6

Overall score prediction: Penn State 36, Lehigh 6


*The Penn State athletic department, in its official capacity, uses Intermat Tournament Rankings in all its match literature; I’m using Intermat’s Dual Meet Rankings because this happens to be a dual. Penn State is #1 in both rankings; Lehigh is #24 in the Dual Meet Rankings, and #20 in Tournament Rankings.

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