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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the second straight year, University of Iowa senior Sammy Brooks enters the NCAA Wrestling Championships as the reigning Big Ten champion.
Brooks rolled through what was arguably the most star-studded bracket of any of the national qualifying tournaments on March 4-5 in Bloomington, Indiana. On Day 1 of the tournament, he pinned NCAA qualifier Bobby Steveson and won by 13-6 decision over All-American Nathan Jackson. One day later, he won the conference title with a dominating 12-2 major decision over 2016 NCAA champion Myles Martin.
Brooks called his finals match a “good win” and acknowledged the conference title is “another feather in the cap.” But he has written a similar story in the past, and his focus now is on scripting a better ending.
“I won (the Big Ten tournament) last year and didn’t perform the way I wanted to at nationals,” Brooks said. “Now the focus is going out on top and doing what I know I can do in St. Louis.”
The NCAA Championships run Thursday through Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Brooks is wrestling in the tournament for the third time. He split four matches as a sophomore in 2015, and in 2016, two weeks after winning the conference 184-pound title, he placed eighth at the national meet.
He enters the 2017 tournament as the No. 3 seed. He is 24-2 overall and has scored bonus points in 18 of his 24 wins. He has won 14 of his last 15 matches, including eight against ranked opponents, and he is familiar with the opposition, posting a 15-8 record against the 33-man field.
To ascend the medal stand, he’s not resting on past success or changing his existing routine.
“(For me) it’s stick with it and stay the course,” Brooks said. “I have to keep myself healthy. Keep my mind and body feeling good and just soak in the (time I have left) as an Iowa Hawkeye.
“I have to think about the process. I’ll think about the medals eventually, but if I’m focusing on the process and the everyday, then the other stuff will work out and I’ll have a happy-go-lucky feeling when I’m done.”
To reach the ultimate height in St. Louis, Brooks will have to replicate his conference tournament success. All four of the Big Ten’s top wrestlers are seeded on the bottom half of the NCAA bracket. Bo Nickal is the No. 2 seed, Brooks is No. 3, Martin is No. 6, and T.J. Dudley is No. 7. Whomever emerges from that quarterfinal “final four” could see top-seeded and two-time defending champion Gabe Dean in the finals.
It’s a bracket that adds up to three NCAA titles and five NCAA finals appearances. Brooks is not yet part of that equation, but he’s not painting an underdog picture.
“You have to be your No. 1 fan,” he said. “I know there are plenty of people who believe in me and support me and have the same feelings about me and my potential as I do. That’s what I focus on.”
Brooks opens the NCAA Championships on Thursday against Rutgers’ Nicholas Gravina. The opening round, quarterfinals, and medal round are televised by ESPNU. The second round, semifinals, and finals are televised on ESPN. Every match of the tournament is streamed on ESPN3. Fans can also follow the tournament on the radio at KXIC AM 800 and online via Hawkeye All-Access.