2023 Black Knight Invite

Facundo Opting For Olympic Redshirt, Nagao To Debut | Nittany Lion Insider

Facundo Opting For Olympic Redshirt, Nagao To Debut | Nittany Lion Insider

The Penn State wrestling lineup is beginning to take shape as the Nittany Lions announced Alex Facundo is taking an Olympic redshirt.

Nov 17, 2023 by Travis Johnson
Facundo Opting For Olympic Redshirt, Nagao To Debut | Nittany Lion Insider

Alex Facundo was wearing a blue singlet on Thursday, but not the dark blue one that Penn State fans are used to seeing him in.

This one was a lighter shade and bore his last name over the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club livery. Facundo, with a bloody forehead bandaged, grabbed a jug of water, waved goodbye to his teammates and got a thumbs-up from coach Cael Sanderson on the way out the door as freestyle practice ended.

An NCAA qualifier at 165 pounds last year, Facundo won’t be back on a collegiate mat this season. He’s taking an Olympic redshirt to train with eyes on next spring’s Olympic Trials in State College. 

“I think he earned the opportunity and it makes sense for him,” Sanderson said. “He's excited about it. Makes sense for the team and it’s a win-win."

Facundo went 19-6 at 165 a year ago. He’ll yield his spot in the lineup to newcomer Mitchell Mesenbrink, who transferred in from Cal Baptist as Facundo looks to compete at 74 kilograms. 

Sanderson said that Starocci returning at 174 made the decision to redshirt Facundo easier. Had Starocci not returned, the growing Facundo was already eyeing a bigger weight class.

Now, the Nittany Lions can plan to get a little more out of Facundo’s eligibility in the future.

“We have a lot of guys in the middleweight area so I think it pans out,” Starocci said. “Then, next year, us guys graduate, and he can move up in weight and I think it opens things up.”

Hot Start

Shayne Van Ness started his sophomore campaign with bonus points and no Nittany Lion was as hot as him in the season’s opening weekend.

The 149-pounder was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week after he steamrolled his opponents in the  Journeymen Collegiate Classic in Bethlehem, Pa. last weekend.

Van Ness went 3-0 with three falls. He pinned Eddie Hummel of Army in 2:06, Bloomsburg’s Cade Balestrini in 2:58 and then flattened Lehigh’s Kelvin Griffin in 1:30.

While Sanderson likes the bonus points, he was more impressed with the pace Van Ness set in his wins. It was much closer to the pace he wrestled with after a loss to Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis in last year’s NCAA tournament that dropped him to the wrestle-backs. There, he upped his pace again and battled back to take third.

“He’s obviously a great wrestler, really tough and I think he's continued to improve quite a bit,” Sanderson said. “He was wrestling with enthusiasm and he looked great. Just a lot of pressure, forward pressure, which is tough to beat.”

Closing The Gap

David Evans learned a lot from watching last season.

The junior is hoping he can put some of what he learned into practice as he and Beau Bartlett look to seize the starting spot at 141 pounds.

Bartlett went 27-3 with a third-place finish at nationals last season while Evans went 9-2 in tournaments. 

Evans got a taste of top-tier competition immediately in Bethlehem. The junior looked good in a matchup with Penn’s #6 CJ Composto where he pushed the Penn star into sudden-victory and beat him 4-1 with a takedown. 

“I get excited for those matches,” Evans said. “Especially not starting last season and seeing everyone battle Top 10 guys, so whenever I go to compete I definitely get excited when I see those rankings. I know I’m getting some good matches, some close matches and see what I can do against those kids.”

All-Stars And Black Knights

Levin Haines (157), Bernie Truax (184), Aaron Brooks (197), Greg Kerkvliet (285), Van Ness and Starocci will all wrestle in the NWCA All-Star Classic on Tuesday. They will not wrestle Sunday when most of the Nittany Lions travel to West Point for the Black Knight Open on Army’s campus.

While not yet official, Penn State plans to take 15 wrestlers. Among them, transfer Aaron Nagao is expected to make his Nittany Lion debut at 133 pounds.

Nagao, who transferred from Minnesota, did not wrestle last weekend.

Sanderson said the results could help the coaching staff piece together an early dual-meet lineup and sort out depth behind the starters. 

He’s especially looking forward to the Nittany Lion vs. Nittany Lion matchups that usually emerge in these tournaments.

“It just gives the guys a chance to kind of wrestle in the same bracket, see where they are,” Sanderson said. “It’s just different than just going head-to-head in here, obviously.”

Newcomers Coming On

A pair of vaunted Michigan prospects made their debuts in Bethlehem.

Former Michigan four-time state champs Braeden Davis and Josh Barr combined to go 6-0 at 125 and 184, respectively. 

Davis turned in a pair of technical falls before dousing teammate Gary Steen 11-3 in their final bout. Barr opened with a tech then posted a pair of majors to compliment Truax’s perfect run at the weight.

Truax edged Purdue’s James Rowley, majored both Cael Valencia of Arizona State and Franklin and Marshall’s James Conway.

Both Davis and Barr are expected to compete at West Point.

“That's what we want to focus on is just improvement,” Sanderson said. “You don't want to if we, if we get caught up, focus on winning and losing right now.”