Big Ten

Star Prospect Josh Barr Adjusting To Life In Penn State Wrestling Room

Star Prospect Josh Barr Adjusting To Life In Penn State Wrestling Room

Josh Barr is getting acclimated to the Penn State wrestling room, where points can sometimes be hard to find for newcomers.

Nov 29, 2023 by Travis Johnson
Star Prospect Josh Barr Adjusting To Life In Penn State Wrestling Room

Josh Barr was a takedown machine back home in Michigan, where he lit up high school scoreboards and flattened opponents on his way to championship after championship.

Here, inside Penn State’s sweltering Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, the true freshman is just another new guy trying to find his way through a sea of talent.

After a tough first few months in the program, the four-time Michigan state high champion feels like he’s coming on. 

That wasn’t the case two months ago. 

Fresh off a 125-1 run for Davison High School, the 184-pounder was humbled quickly in Penn State’s room. The gauntlet of upper-weight athletes — three-time national champions Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci among them — was alarming for a kid who hadn’t lost a practice match for more than two years.

“Learning to lose in practice and knowing that it’s helping me and making me better, that’s probably been the most difficult thing to overcome,” Barr said. “I came here, first couple of weeks and I was getting my butt kicked every single day, so I had to learn to lose in practice. Now I’m used to that, and obviously losing helps me learn a ton.”

Not only was Barr losing, he wasn’t scoring at all and was struggling for answers. Chatting with the coaching staff helped him realize he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Rather, Barr just needed more experience at this level.

“This is natural,” Barr said. “There’s people that come in here and don’t get takedowns for months. So just accepting that and knowing that when I wrestle these other guys, it’s gonna show. Even if I’m getting my butt kicked every day in practice, the work and all the stuff I’ve been working on is going to show up when I compete against those guys in different places.”

And it has. 

Barr talked to reporters on Tuesday with a heavy bandage wrapped around his forehead. It protected a slice over the right eye, a battle scar obtained in his most recent action — Army’s Black Knight Invitational — where Barr improved to 7-0.

He’s posted two technical falls and two major decisions. His most notable win came in a 2-1 scuffle against three-time national qualifier Jacob Nolan of Binghamton in the season-opening Black Knight Invitational.

The win over the tricky Nolan served as a level of affirmation for Barr, who’ll likely redshirt this season. The plan is for him to challenge for one of the team’s upper weight slots in the coming years.

“I just felt my movement changed, I was getting to my shots a lot easier and a big thing for me was getting better on top,” Barr said. “I was able to ride some guys for a little bit and it was probably about two, two and a half months in that I felt that confidence I had in high school again and it’s been trending upwards since then.”

Slimmer Big Guy

Already one of the country’s quickest big men, Greg Kerkvliet thinks he can be even more efficient and outlast opponents with a bit less weight this season.

Last year’s national runner-up is down to 250 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than when he lost to Michigan’s Mason Parris in the NCAA finals.

“It’s noticeable,” Kerkvliet said. “I feel it throughout. (On my) feet, top, bottom. I just feel better overall.”

At times last season, Kerkvliet said his arms would feel heavy as second periods melted into thirds. Looking back, he said he wrestled a lot of third periods “tired”.

Kerkvliet is coming off an 18-2 technical fall over Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson in the NWCA All-Star Classic. Kerkvliet didn’t need a third period, racking up the tech in just 4:48. 

He did wrestle full bouts against postseason qualifiers Owen Trephan of NC State and Lehigh’s Nathan Traylor in the Journeymen’s Classic, however. Kerkvliet beat them by a combined score of 13-3. He’ll likely face Traylor again when Penn State hosts Lehigh on Sunday.

Confidence, Confidence 

Shayne Van Ness has been on a tear since his semifinal loss to Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis in March’s NCAA tournament. 

After bulldozing his way to a third-place finish, he’s got three falls and an exhibition win over Arizona State’s Kyle Parco, the wrestler he beat in the third-place match last season. 

He’s also got a new mantra. 

“My philosophy this season is Shayne Van Ness Stomps,” Van Ness said. “And you’ll hear me say that a lot. But I think that’s just a reflection of me wrestling the way I want to wrestle, going out there and being dominant.”

Sporting a full beard, Van Ness offered a chuckle when asked if he’s been hanging out with the ultra-confident Carter Starocci more lately. He pointed toward his forehead.

“It’s all right here,” Van Ness said. It just lives in my head. And I just believe that I have the skills and abilities to be dominant and be the best and then just believe in that.”

Other All-Stars 

Overall, Penn State was well represented inside its home facility on Tuesday where Nittany Lions went 4-1.

Brooks and Starocci joined Kerkvliet and Van Ness as victors while new Nittany Lion Bernie Truax fell to Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen 7-4.

“It was a lot of great wrestling and our guys had very, you know, top quality matches to kind of gauge where we're at and what we can do,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “There's nothing like great competition to kind of show you what we can do better. So I think it was good up and down the board.”

While Truax lost in his debut in Rec Hall, Sanderson said it was a great chance to learn.

“We can be better prepared for the next time,” Sanderson said. “Parker's a tremendous competitor and always has been. He's just gonna wrestle one speed, which is full speed and he's got great technique. But Bernie's awfully good and that's just a match that we have to prepare for a little differently.”