Photo: Sam Janicki

Mesenbrink named 2024 NCAA Division I Freshman of the Year

The Open Mat presents awards annually in three categories for each division of college wrestling at the conclusion of the season. Awards are presented for Freshman of the Year, Coach of the Year and Wrestler of the Year.

After winning a gold medal at the U20 World Championships in freestyle last summer, expectations were sky-high for Penn State freshman Mitchell Mesenbrink going into the 2023-24 college wrestling season.

Mesenbrink exceeded those expectations as a freshman, winning a Big Ten title and reaching the NCAA finals at 165 pounds, a weight class that included three past NCAA champions.

On Wednesday, Mesenbrink was announced as the 2024 NCAA Division I Freshman of the Year by The Open Mat.

A native of Hartland, Wisconsin, Mesenbrink shined all season long, winning matches in dominant fashion with a relentless, aggressive style.

"It's just about competing with heart and realizing it doesn't matter if you're down early, just keep going, keep bringing it," Mesenbrink said after reaching the NCAA finals in March. "Wrestling with honor. Wrestling with my value not being tied to the outcome -- winning or losing -- but being tied to how I compete."

He started his season by going 3-0 at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic. A week later, Mesenbrink won the Black Knight Invitational. While his early-season performances created buzz in the wrestling world, it was his dominant 11-1 victory over three-time All-American Cam Amine of Michigan on Jan. 19 that put him in the conversation as a potential national title contender.

Mesenbrink finished the regular season undefeated and entered the Big Ten Wrestling Championships as the No. 2 seed at 165 pounds. He opened the tournament with a pin before picking up a 23-7 technical fall over Iowa's Mike Caliendo in the semifinals. In the finals, Mesenbrink fell behind early against top-seeded Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin but stormed back to win 13-11.

His Big Ten crown helped earn him the No. 2 seed at the 2024 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Kansas City. Mesenbrink cruised to the finals with three bonus-point victories in four matches, outscoring his opponents 52-15. In the finals, Mesenbrink suffered his first and only loss of his freshman season, losing a 9-8 thriller to Iowa State's David Carr.

Mesenbrink finished his freshman season at Penn State with a record of 26-1 with four pins, nine technical falls and four major decisions.