FARGO, N.D. – It’s ironic that Carter Starocci has had a stop sign on his mind since he arrived at the Marines Cadet National Championships in Fargo last week.
If there’s one thing that the Cathedral Prep rising junior hasn’t done, it’s stop. He’s gone full-speed ahead through the first two days of the tournament, and it’s put him in position to win the 152-pound championship on Monday at the Fargodome.
If he can beat Arizona’s Aaron Gandara in the final round, which begins at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, he’ll get the octagonal award – known to wrestlers everywhere as a stop sign – that goes to the national champion.
“It feels good,” said Starocci, who is the only finalist among the 12 Pennsylvania wrestlers to win All-American honors in Cadet freestyle. “I’ve worked hard all year. I’ve never stopped working hard. In the finals, hopefully I can bring that stop sign back.”
Team PA coach Bryan Pearsall was impressed with what he saw out of Starocci, who outscored opponents 48-2 on his way to the title match.
“He’s been wrestling awesome. I told him at the start of camp, your mindset needs to be you’re winning this thing going into it,” Pearsall said. “Everything from every training session to every cutting weight session, he’s been super focused the whole time. It really shows when he steps on the mat. He’s had one goal in mind the whole time, and that’s to win the whole thing.”
Starocci kept the pressure on in all of his matches. He scored a takedown and used four turns from a leg lace for a 10-0 victory over Ohio’s Jax Leonard in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, he made the most of limited opportunities. He went up 1-0 when Wisconsin’s Joshua Otto didn’t score while on the shot clock. Seconds later, Starocci hit a nice double for two and followed that up with a gut wrench turn for two more.
“I felt good when it was 5-0, but I didn’t want to let up,” Starocci said. “I wanted to keep on my attacks, keep scoring, because that’s when I feel I’m at my best. I never want to get on my defense because things can happen. When I’m not attacking (and) backing up, bad things can happen.”
He did so well that Otto was put on the shot clock again in the second period, even as he trailed 5-2, which incensed Wisconsin coach Ben Askren.
“He does a good job of keeping the pace that he wants in the match,” Pearsall said of Starocci. “When there’s a break in action, he follows up with fakes, and he makes sure he’s dictating the pace of the match.”
Starocci closed out the match with two more points at the buzzer for an 8-2 victory, which was important to him.
“I wanted to get that last takedown,” he said.
Starocci was the biggest highlight of what was an up-and-down day for the Team PA Cadets.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Pearsall said. “We went 2-for-9 in the quarters and then, I think, 10-for-12 in the blood round. I’m really proud of the guys. At camp, and everything leading up to this, I told them, ‘Hey, if you want to make the podium, you want to win this thing, you’re going to have to overcome some adversity.’ That’s word I think of this morning round: adversity.”
Pennsylvania’s only other semifinalist, 170-pounder Gerrit Nijenhuis, bounced back from his morning loss and will wrestle for third place on Monday. He’ll be joined in the consolation finals by Sheldon Seymour (94 pounds), Ryan Miller (106), Michael Kistler (138) and Darrien Roberts (182).
Luca Frinzi (145) and Hunter Catka (220) will go for fifth place on Monday while Marckis Branford (120), Carter Tuttle (132), Aurelius Dunbar (152) and Colby Whitehill (285) will wrestle for seventh.
“Having 12 All-Americans when we only had six last year in Cadet freestyle, so doubling our All-American count, I’m really proud of the guys,” Pearsall said.
152 – Carter Starocci vs. Aaron Gandara, Arizona
94 – Sheldon Seymour vs. Kyle Rowan, Ohio
106 – Ryan Miller vs. Aizayah Yacapin, Washington
138 – Michael Kistler vs. Lance Runyon, Iowa
170 – Gerrit Nijenhuis vs. Patrick Kennedy, Minnesota
182 – Darrien Roberts vs. Jonathon Fagen, Idaho
145 – Luca Frinzi vs. Christian Hudson
220 – Hunter Catka vs. Jacob Bullock, Illinois
120 – Marckis Branford vs. Jacob Lindsey, Illinois
132 – Carter Tuttle vs. Joshua Edmond, Michigan
152 – Aurelius Dunbar vs. Brett McIntosh, Ohio
285 – Colby Whitehill vs. Carlos Sanchez, Texas