The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Penn State wrestling makes history at NCAA Championships, breaks Iowa’s team point record

The Nittany Lions also crowned the sixth and seventh four-time national champions in NCAA history.
Cody Blissett
An official holds up Penn State 197-pound Aaron Brooks arm during the fourth session of the NCAA men’s wrestling championships at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, March 22, 2024. Brooks defeated Missouri Rocky Elam by technical fall.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson approaches wrestling with the mindset that “it’s just a game.”

That mindset helped his squad make history during the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

“It doesn’t matter. I mean, life moves forward,” Sanderson said. “This is just all about preparation and getting ready for the next stage in life, and with that perspective, you can compete a little bit more freely.”

Embodying that approach was Penn State’s Aaron Brooks at 197 pounds as he capped off an undefeated season by becoming the seventh four-time national champion in NCAA wrestling history.

Two matches earlier, his teammate and 174-pounder Carter Starocci had become the sixth-ever four-time national champion. Starocci said the fact that he can be this dominant in the sport and run through opponents is what “scratches his ego.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Brooks said on being a four-time champion with his teammate. “Having someone else to be a part of that journey and do it with is a lot of fun. We’re blessed.”

Starocci and Brooks said they enjoyed being the “target” in the field this year and getting wrestlers’ best shot each time on the mat.

“It’s nothing different when you’ve had a target on your back your whole life,” Brooks said.

Brooks recalled his dad showing him the “greatest wrestler ever” when he brought back a disc of Sanderson wrestling for NCAA titles when he was in college. Sanderson went 159-0 and won four national championships during his collegiate career at Iowa State.

Brooks said those tapes are where he learned the basics of wrestling, like an ankle pick and the cradle, and where his wrestling journey really started.

“Being six years old in the back of the car watching those things,” Brooks said, “I didn’t think I’d be here.”

Starocci has one more year of eligibility due to COVID-19, but he said he hasn’t even considered that yet. For now, Starocci is focused on qualifying for the Olympics at 74 Kg and getting healthy after a knee injury that forced him to injury default during the Big Ten Tournament.

“I’m moving forward, I’m moving forward,” Starocci said. “We’ve made a lot of progress … like 12 days ago, I wasn’t even walking.”

In addition to the two four-time champs, the Nittany Lions crowned two other national champions — Levi Haines at 157 and Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight. Two more wrestlers, Beau Bartlett and Mitchell Mesenbrink, reached the finals but lost.

With the dominating tournament performance, Penn State broke Iowa’s team points record of 170, which the Hawkeyes set in 1997, with 172.5 points. The Nittany Lions also became the first team to win with a triple-digit margin of victory, with second-place Cornell scoring 72.5 points.

As Penn State continues to sit atop the college wrestling world, the program and head coach are drawing comparisons to Iowa’s dominance under legendary head coach Dan Gable. From 1976-1997, Gable coached Iowa to 15 national titles  and 45 individual champions.

“I’m not worried about that stuff,” Sanderson said of the comparisons. “We’re doing our thing, you know; we don’t worry about and try to compare ourselves to others. We’re just going to be the best we can be. As a staff, we’re here trying to figure out what we can do better and how we can have our guys better prepared because things continue to change.”

Starocci doesn’t see the Penn State tradition stopping anytime soon. The 174-pounder said the coaching staff’s commitment, love, and dedication to the program make them second to none.

“I’m just another guy crossing through and following their patterns,” Starocci said.

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About the Contributors
Isaac Elzinga
Isaac Elzinga, Sports Reporter
Isaac Elzinga is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass communication. This is his first year working at The Daily Iowan; he also works as a producer for 1600 ESPN a sports radio station in Cedar Rapids.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.