Historic Dominance

Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks became four-time national champs as the Nittany Lion wrestling team rolled to an NCAA blowout. 

photo of NCAA wrestling team with trophy after their 12th championship by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics


Four Nittany Lion wrestlers won individual national titles in March to lift the program to its 12th NCAA team championship. Penn State scored a championship record 172.5 team points at the national meet in Kansas City, Mo., 100 more than runner-up Cornell, by far the largest point differential in NCAA history.

Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks made individual history, becoming the first teammates to each win four national titles. (Only five other wrestlers all-time, including Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, have finished as four-time champs.) “It’s pretty cool, looking back to when we first came in, just seeing the growth,” Brooks, the 197-pound champ, says of his bond with Starocci, who won at 174 after missing the Big Ten tournament with an injury. “Having someone else be along for that journey was a lot of fun.”

“Aaron was very dominant all year long, and Carter had some adversity—he wasn’t able to wrestle the way he wanted to, but wrestling with the knee injury he had was really impressive,” Sanderson says.


Brooks and Starocci holding up the trophy by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics
FOUR THE GLORY: Brooks (left) and Starocci became the first Lions—and the first teammates anywhere—to win four national titles. Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics.


Senior Greg Kerkvliet (285 pounds) and sophomore Levi Haines (157) also won individual titles, and Kerkvliet, Haines, and Brooks all ended the season undefeated. Beau Bartlett (runner-up at 141), Mitchell Mesenbrink (runner-up at 165), Tyler Kasak (third place at 149), and Bernie Truax (fifth place at 184) joined those four teammates as All-Americans. The team’s six national finalists were also a program record.

The Nittany Lions have registered 38 All-Americans since the 2009 hiring of Sanderson, whose teams have won 11 of the past 13 NCAA titles. Asked in the post-tournament press conference how he felt about the latest big night in a dynastic run, the coach made clear that he had already moved on. “It’s time to get ready for next year,” Sanderson said. “We’ll be back in the [wrestling] room on Monday.”