2023-24 Penn State Wrestling

Aaron Brooks, Penn State Wrestling Rolling Into Showdown With Iowa

Aaron Brooks, Penn State Wrestling Rolling Into Showdown With Iowa

Three-time NCAA champ Aaron Brooks has been racking up bonus points for the #1 Penn State wrestling team, which travels Friday to take on #3 Iowa.

Feb 7, 2024 by Travis Johnson
Aaron Brooks, Penn State Wrestling Rolling Into Showdown With Iowa

Aaron Brooks had to pause on Tuesday to think about his favorite way to win a wrestling match. 

After a few seconds passed, the three-time NCAA champion still couldn’t settle on an answer between two obvious options.

“I don’t know, actually,” Brooks said. “I mean, I don’t mind a tech (fall) because I’m getting more shots in and maybe a turn, but a pin’s like, ‘Alright!’ Go back, drink the Gatorade, whatever it is.”

Reading between the lines, Brooks just likes to dominate. He likes to do it with flair, too. 

Brooks, who’s won 70 percent of his collegiate matches with bonus points, wishes more wrestlers across the country had the same, aggressive mindset as often as he and most of his teammates. But when the Nittany Lions watch other top teams around the country, they don’t see a lot of stylistic similarities. 

The Nittany Lions will face off with the rival Iowa Hawkeyes in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday where Penn State’s let-it-fly style will again be up against the Hawkeyes’ much stingier approach. But Iowa’s patient plodding didn’t work against Michigan, where the Hawkeyes lost the opening five bouts without a single takedown to show for them.

Michigan won the dual 24-11.

“I wouldn’t say that’s just Iowa, I think that's a lot of folkstyle (teams),” Brooks said. “I think the way the rules are set up, you don't have to really go get someone. I think for us, our team, we like to go score points. So I think the refs kind of look at it as ‘Oh, well these guys will score so I'm not gonna make the other guy wrestle.’ So I wouldn't say that’s even just Iowa. I think that’s a lot of the NCAA.”

Brooks, like NCAA champs David Taylor, Ed Ruth, Jason Nolf, Zain Retherford and Bo Nickal before him, has only benefitted as Penn State’s staff has continued to cultivate bonus-point machines over the last decade-plus.

Fifty-six of Brooks’ 80 collegiate bouts have come with bonus points. That includes four majors, a tech and a pin in the NCAA Championships. 

So far this year, his first at 197 pounds, Brooks has earned bonus points in every bout. He’s got three pins, a major and has made the most of the three-point takedown with six technical falls, none taking longer than 6:21.

He also leads the Big Ten with 40 dual-meet takedowns. 

“We don't have a style where we're trying to figure out how we stop what our opponents do,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “You know, we're just trying to do what we do and get better at it. And that's more of a big-picture philosophy and just you know, how I was taught by my coaches.”

Stumbles At Home

Sanderson isn’t worried about first-year Nittany Lions Aaron Nagao and Bernie Truax after both suffered tough defeats on Friday against Ohio State.

Although Penn State won the dual 28-9, Nagao dropped a 13-7 decision to Buckeye freshman Nic Bouzakis at 133 before Truax was pinned by Ryder Rogotzke at 184.

Bouzakis jumped out to a 9-2 lead with three takedowns in the opening period. A Nagao takedown from neutral cut the deficit to 9-5 early in the second period, but a Bouzakis reversal moments later followed by a quiet third period from Bouzakis dashed Nagao’s comeback effort.

It was his second loss in three matches. Michigan’s Dylan Ragusin pinned Nagao on Jan. 19 as the two scrambled in sudden victory.

Sanderson doesn’t believe the recent hurdles will affect the steely 133-pounder. Furthermore, Sanderson would likely point to last year’s postseason as evidence that Nagao is, as Sanderson described him, “a gamer”.

After losing to Roman Bravo-Young in the Big Ten finals, Nagao — then with Minnesota — wrestled a seven-match NCAA Tournament slate in which he battled back in the consolation bracket to take fifth overall.

“He's just missing angles and positions by just a tiny amount,” Sanderson said. “So I just see his potential and I think it's really great. Obviously, he's a guy, because he does all the right things, he’s gonna have his best performance as we get to the end. Just seems to be a pattern. We'll see.” 

Meanwhile, Truax’s loss came by mere inches to a red-hot Rogotzke, who entered on a three-match win streak with all three wins coming via fall or tech.

Initially, it looked like the Buckeye freshman had little for Truax as the snappy Nittany Lion cinched up a pair of quick takedowns in the opening period. He added another in the second before Rogotzke got control of one of Truax’s arms in a scramble and landed the pin at 3:59.

“Bernie's fine too,” Sanderson said. “He's got a lot of experience and he's a well-rounded individual and you don't get too high or too low. You just kind of keep hustling and plugging away and doing your best. Win or lose, we're preparing for the next match, you know, that never really changes and these opportunities come and go really fast. So they're all just learning experiences, and it's all about getting ready for the end.”

Title Contender

The loss was Truax’s second this season and his teammates would note that he looked pretty good before that last scramble. 

The former Cal Poly star is a four-time NCAA qualifier and has finished fourth at a different weight each of the last three years. Count Brooks among those who see Truax as a legit title contender at 184. Brooks has the background and experience to make that call. He’s worked hands-on with Truax a lot since the sixth-year senior transferred in before the season.

Brooks has also carved through the 184-pound field and feels like Truax is as good as anyone he wrestled in the tournament.

“He’s world-class. He can definitely be NCAA champion.” Brooks said. “He's got some good leg defense, but his shots are so quick, and you don't really see it coming. The first time I wrestled with him, I’m like, ‘Oh, snap, he’s on my leg!’ Because he’s so long, but he’s also real quick. That's a skill he's developed and he’s just got to put faith in it.”

Cruising Along

Having spent the last four seasons at 184, Brooks was ready to deal with everything bumping up to 197 pounds would entail this season.

So far, so good. Penn State’s star said he feels great and has had no trouble managing the added weight. The trick early on was to correctly gauge how hard he could push himself in practice and how many pounds he’d shed doing so.

Practicing in a T-shirt? Brooks says he can lose as much as six pounds in one session. If he’s wearing long sleeves or anything heavier in the practice room, he said it’s for added protection during the team’s usual dodgeball warm-up.

One To Watch

Sanderson said he expects to get Iowa’s best lineup inside what will be a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

There’s no doubt that would include the last year’s NCAA runner-up at 141, Real Woods who’ll likely face another 141-pound title hopeful, Beau Bartlett.

The two have met just once in college. Woods earned a 4-1 decision in a dual meet last season. That match was tightly contested with each wrestler looking for throws off their opening lockup. Woods eventually earned the first takedown with just over two minutes left in the first, but Bartlett couldn’t escape the Hawkeye’s ride.

Eventually, Woods outlasted him 4-1 with 1:35 in riding time, most of it compiled in the second period when Bartlett couldn’t break Woods’ control.

“You just have two of the best wrestlers in the country at the weight,” Sanderson said. “Obviously, Real Woods is a very good, very competitive. He's very tough on his feet and on top. And I think that's where we had a lot of problems last year was just getting off the bottom. I think we've improved in that area. We'll find out you know, I mean, they've improved in the areas that they are working on also.”