2024 NCAA Championships Watch Party

Penn State Takes Down NCAA Records As Starocci, Brooks Win Fourth Titles

Penn State Takes Down NCAA Records As Starocci, Brooks Win Fourth Titles

Penn State completed a record-smashing performance at the NCAA Championships and Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks became four-time national champs.

Mar 24, 2024 by Andy Hamilton
Penn State Takes Down NCAA Records As Starocci, Brooks Win Fourth Titles

College wrestling history was never listed as an opponent on Penn State’s schedule this season. 

But it became clear months ago that the Nittany Lions were operating at such a high level that their greatest test collectively might come against some of the sport’s most hallowed facts and figures. 

Penn State completed a record-smashing performance Saturday night at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, breaking the NCAA tournament scoring mark with 172.5 points and becoming the first team to post a triple-digit victory margin. 

On the 22nd anniversary of the night when Cael Sanderson became college wrestling’s first undefeated four-time NCAA champion, two of his prized pupils — Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks — became the first teammates to enter the four-timer club. 

Starocci finished his gritty run through the 174-pound bracket with another shutout victory and Brooks — like his coach — won a 197-pound title as a senior after winning three at 184. 

“As a coach, every year you just want to see your kids smile at the end of the season and see them reaching their goals,” Sanderson said. “In situations like Carter and Aaron, the pressure mounts, but they’re both are competitors and that’s what they live for, that’s what they were born for.” 

Penn State collectively went 45-9 in tournament matches and piled up a field-best 34 bonus points. The Nittany Lions’ bonus points alone would’ve been good enough for 16th in the team race. 

Four Penn State wrestlers won individual titles, six reached the finals and freshman Tyler Kasak reeled off seven straight consolation victories to place third after losing in the opening round at 149 pounds. 

One of the only major milestones the Nittany Lions failed to check off this weekend was their pursuit of becoming the second team in NCAA history to put 10 wrestlers on the podium. Penn State had eight All-Americans. 

Still, the Nittany Lions piled up enough points to break the tournament scoring record set by Iowa when Dan Gable’s final team put up 170 in 1997. And Penn State’s 100-point victory margin over second-place Cornell blew away the previous record of 73.75 set by Gable’s 1986 Hawkeyes. 

“I’m not worried about that stuff,” Sanderson said. “When I got to college, (Gable) was retired. I think (his last year was) when I was a senior in high school. Obviously, I know a lot about coach Gable and the dominance they had and the excellence of the program, and they still have that excellence. But we’re doing our thing. We don’t worry about and try to compare ourselves to others. We’re trying to do the best we can be. As a staff, we’re trying to figure out what we can do better.” 

There had been just five four-time NCAA champions prior to Saturday night: Pat Smith, Sanderson, Kyle Dake, Logan Stieber and Yianni Diakomihalis. Now there’s seven. 

Starocci posted his third straight shutout win Saturday night, blanking Ohio State freshman Rocco Welsh 2-0 in a title bout that came 28 days after the Penn State senior suffered a knee injury in the final dual meet of the season. Starocci declined to reveal the extent of his injury, but he said “12 days ago I wasn’t even walking. It’s just a blessing.” 

“There were some discussions about not wrestling in this tournament and things like that,” he said. “But me, as a competitor, it doesn’t sit right with me watching my guys go to war and I’m just couped up, just watching. That’s not how I am or who I am.”

Said Sanderson: “Pretty amazing. He wasn’t able to wrestle the way he wanted to, but wrestling with the injury he had was really impressive. There’s not a lot of human beings on the planet that would be able to do what he just did.” 

Brooks torched the 197-pound field, blitzing through the bracket with two first-period pins, a pair of technical falls and a 6-1 win in the finals against previously unbeaten Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State. 

 “It’s pretty cool looking back at when we first came in and seeing the growth of both of us,” Brooks said when asked about winning his fourth title alongside Starocci. “Having someone else to be part of that journey and do it with is a lot of fun. We’re blessed.”