During Penn State’s first media availability last week, wrestling coach Cael Sanderson said his team’s 165-pound weight class was deep.
A week later, Sanderson confirmed that last year’s starter, Alex Facundo, would not be wrestling for the Nittany Lions this year.
“It’s been kind of in the works for a while. I think the official term is like an athletic activity waiver, just Olympic redshirt is basically what he’s looking to do,” Sanderson said. “He just had a great summer and was floating around there, just in case, he was needed to kind of not focus on the Olympics. He’s excited about getting some freestyle experience in. In December [he] may be hitting some camps [and] traveling overseas, so it will be a good year for him.”
Sanderson said Facundo had to qualify for this opportunity as USA Wrestling has a set of criteria.
Last year, the redshirt sophomore went 19-6, and qualified for the NCAA Championships in his first year officially competing for Penn State.
Facundo ran out to a 9-0 record. He suffered his first loss in the Collegiate Duals, when he fell to Iowa State’s David Carr, 4-2.
He had some nice wins over Big Ten foes in Michigan’s Cameron Amine, Michigan State’s Caleb Fish and Ohio State’s Carson Kharchla. However, Facundo’s season ended by going 0-2 at the NCAA Championships in March.
Facundo’s teammate, Carter Starocci, thinks the decision is a good one, and it’s probably tough, too.
“I think every day is a good opportunity to just always enhance your skills. I’d imagine it’d be hard though,” Starocci said. “After the NCAA Tournament he had last year and just kind of sitting out, it would be rough. I think it all works out. We have a lot of guys in the middle weight area, so I think it pans out. Then, next year as guys graduate and move up in weight, I think it opens things up.”
Starocci clarified the “rough” part of the decision, sayinghe’s so competitive, he’d want to rebound right away. However, he knows Facundo has a plan and is “sticking with it.”
Mitchell Mesenbrink’s transferring in did not play a role in Facundo’s decision, Sanderson said.
Sanderson said Facundo has been working toward transitioning to a new weight class. This may mean he’s working toward being the replacement for Starocci, when he decides to leave — whether after this season or next.
“This was something he was excited for the opportunity to do. When it looked like we knew Carter was coming back ...he wasn’t going to be able to go at 174,” Sanderson said. “It gave him the opportunity to take advantage of this time, and train up some freestyle.”
Nagao is a go
Last week, transfer Aaron Nagao said he would compete this month.
On Thursday, Sanderson confirmed that Nagao would be competing in the Black Knight Invitational along with 14 other Penn State wrestlers.
“He’s wrestling this weekend. He’s a great kid and works really hard. He’s continuing to try to get better,” Sanderson said. “He just does everything you ask, very disciplined and humble, but very grateful. He wants to be good. I mean, we watched him wrestle last year, he’s tenacious and a competitor. You don’t see all of those same characteristics and traits in one person very often. It’s pretty cool. He’ll be ready to roll this weekend.”