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                Wearing teammate Mark Hall’s freestyle singlet, Penn State true freshman Carter Starocci got his hand raised Thursday evening in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as the 174-pound Southern Scuffle champ.

                The choice of singlet was appropriate, as three years ago, Hall was in the exact same position, being crowned the Southern Scuffle champ at 174 pounds, wrestling unattached as a true freshman redshirt. While Hall went on to have his redshirt pulled just a few weeks later and to win the national title, it’s unlikely Starocci will continue to follow the same path, as Hall has his sights set on another national title this year in his senior season.

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                Starocci was one of three Penn State true freshmen redshirts competing at this year’s Scuffle. All three of those Nittany Lions knocked off top 10 seeded opponents to earn spots on the podium, with Michael Beard placing fourth at 197 pounds, and Joe Lee fifth at 165.

                To reach the finals, No. 6 seed Starocci went 5-0 with a pin, a technical fall and two major decisions, including a 13-5 victory over No. 3 seed Spencer Carey of Navy, who’s ranked No. 16 in the country by InterMat.

                The two-time PIAA champ beat No. 8 seeded Pitt redshirt junior Gregg Harvey 11-6 in the finals in convincing fashion, with four takedowns to one.

                Starocci’s Scuffle performance impressed many in wrestling media over the last two days, but the Cathedral Prep grad has been impressing the teammate he’ll likely replace next season, Hall, since he arrived on campus.

                “He’s been competing hard; he’s hard to wrestle with,” Hall said at preseason media day. “I know whenever I go with him, I’m going to have a good day. Because days we’re drilling, I’m going live with him anyway because we’re both stubborn and don’t want to give up things. He’s been impressive.”

                En route to his fourth-place finish, unseeded Beard went 4-2 with a tech fall and a major. He posted a 1-0 win with a second-period escape over No. 3 seed Nick Reenan of North Carolina State, and a 10-5 decision over top-seeded Dakota Geer of Oklahoma State. InterMat ranks Reenan at fourth and Geer at sixth at 197 pounds.

                Beard got out to a 4-2 lead against Rider’s Ethan Laird in the third-place bout, using two takedowns at the end of the first. Laird, however, fought back with a takedown of his own in the second and sealed the bout 9-7 with a third takedown with eight seconds left.

                Beard's other loss was a hard-fought 9-7 decision at the hands of Stanford's No. 2 seed Nate Traxler in the semifinals.

                Also unseeded, Lee went 5-2 with a pin and two tech falls. His wins included a pin in two minutes and 17 seconds of Missouri’s No. 6 seed Connor Flynn and a 10-4 decision in the fifth-place bout over fourth-seeded Pitt redshirt junior Jake Wentzel. His losses were 9-4 to No. 3 seed N.C. State junior Thomas Bullard and 8-4 to former Penn State commit Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State. Wittlake, the No. 5 seed, ended up taking third and Bullard fourth.

                Starocci, Beard and Lee are part of a loaded freshman class that has been keeping busy this season wrestling in open tournaments. Penn State has already seen one of these true freshmen, 184-pounder Aaron Brooks, come out of redshirt this season.

                This isn’t Starocci’s first tournament win, as he knocked off InterMat’s then-No. 12 Ben Harvey of Army to win the GMU Patriot Open on Dec. 7, and also has a Clarion Open title under his belt. Lee also won the Clarion Open, while Beard finished runner-up in that tournament, and won Lock Haven’s Mat-Town Open. Both Lee and Beard won titles Dec. 22 at the Wilkes Open.

                Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said for his redshirts, the main thing he's looking for are guys who want to go out and compete in these open tournaments, gaining experience away from the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex with different opponents.

                “More than anything, we want kids who want to compete,” he said in early December. “It’s one thing to come in here and train, and you have to enjoy that, that’s part of the process ... but they didn’t come here to train, they came here to compete and make their best crack at winning a national title. We want to have national champions at every weight, and to be a national champion, you’ve got to love it.”

                Besides the Southern Scuffle, Penn State had 22 wrestlers — both attached and unattached — compete in the Wilkes Open over the winter break. In addition to Beard and Lee, true freshman redshirt heavyweight Seth Nevills won a title. Penn State did not compete as a team in the Scuffle this year for the first time since the 2016-17 season, to allow those with Olympic aspirations the chance to train and compete for a bid to the April 4-5 Olympic Trials at the Bryce Jordan Center.

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                Two-time All-American junior Nick Lee, older brother of Joe Lee, was able to do just that Dec. 22 at Senior Nationals.

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