Long a stalwart of Penn wrestling, fifth-year senior and 165-pounder Brooks Martino made his return to the Red and Blue on January 8th after a semester off from the team.
Since returning to the mat with a commanding 12-0 win against Princeton freshman 165-pounder Riley DeMoss, Martino has not disappointed, going 4-2 in dual meets. That also includes an upset victory against Stanford senior Keaton Subjeck, ranked eighteenth in the country in the 165-pound weight class, that helped Penn take down the No. 17 Cardinal.
Yet, despite his standout performance over the past month, it’s not enough for Martino.
“I have a couple of losses, so I would’ve liked to have those turn out the other way,” Martino said. “They were certainly winnable — if I had won them, then I wouldn’t have anything bad to say.”
Since he missed his entire sophomore season with a knee injury, Martino had enough eligibility for another season of competition at the collegiate level after completing his fourth year at Penn last year. Since the biology major still needed a few more credits to graduate, Martino seized the opportunity to be able to compete for one more season.
However, Martino only required one semester to complete these credits, so due to the minutiae of athletic eligibility rules, he would only be able to compete on the team for one semester.
For Martino, who received a taste of the NCAA Championships — the pinnacle of collegiate wrestling competition — during his junior year, the choice was obvious.
“With us being a winter sport, our championship season is in March, so it made sense to be able to take my remaining classes in the spring and compete in that part of the season,” Martino said.
While he waited to officially rejoin the team in the fall, Martino remained around campus. The aspiring doctor spent his time off from school conducting biology research and shadowing a pediatric orthopedist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Martino also kept his skills on the mat sharp by taking advantage of the Penn Regional Training Center, the two-year-old Olympic training center co-hosted at Penn and Drexel’s wrestling facilities and headed by Olympic gold medalist and former Penn wrestler Brandon Slay. Martino was able to train with his Penn teammates that also qualified to work with the PRTC in addition to four full-time wrestlers hoping to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Individually, Martino also took the time to continue to improve his general fitness by running and lifting, in addition to learning more about wrestling itself.
“There’s more time to lift when you’re not competing because you don’t have to make weight, so you can concentrate on lifting more. You can spectate the sport a little more,” Martino said. “I was also running in the city, doing the Rocky Steps. ... It’s a big city — there are tons of places to get a good and impromptu workout in.”
As such, Martino’s training and presence around the team during the fall semester made for a smooth return once he was finally eligible to officially join the Quakers.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition with him being in Philadelphia and training with the RTC,” coach Alex Tirapelle said. “With him being around the team, around the guys in his first semester, it’s been fairly seamless. That’s not always the case, but I would say it is here.”
Still, as much effort as Martino put in to stay in shape throughout his offseason training, there was an inevitable adjustment period for the fifth-year senior.
“It does take a little bit of time to get into competition mode,” Tirapelle said. “Even though you’re training, you’re in the mind frame and you have the expectation at the start of the season, it still takes a few matches to shake off the rust.”
But once Martino was able to hit the mat in the red and blue again, he felt right back at home.
“I missed competing,” Martino said. “There’s something about competing and wearing a Penn singlet that’s special. There are only so many opportunities to wear Penn.”