By Mike Finn
Every year, Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine and WIN founder Mike Chapman present the Dan Hodge Trophy to the nation’s most dominating wrestler following the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 15-17, 2012, in St. Louis. Mo.
Now that we are halfway through the regular season, here is a list of Division I wrestlers — separated by weight classes — who are undefeated. Only the most dominant ones from this group will be considered for the annual award named after the former Oklahoma national champion from the 1950s.
• Zach Sanders, Sr., Minnesota, 9-0, 2 pins, 2 TF, 2 MD
The three-time All-American from Wabasha, Minn., is coming off a championship at the Southern Scuffle, where he defeated Missouri’s Alan Waters, 1-0, in the championship match. Among other victories against ranked foes, the Gopher has also defeated Cornell’s Frank Perrelli, 6-3, and Penn State’s Nic Megaludis, 6-3. Sanders has yet to meet Iowa’s Matt McDonough, the 2010 NCAA champion, who is 4-0 against Sanders in their career. They meet Jan. 29 in Iowa City.
• Jordan Oliver, Jr., Oklahoma State, 14-0, 14 pins
After struggling to beat Illinois’ B.J. Futrell in the season-opening NWCA All-Star exhibition in November, the defending NCAA champion has simply dominated his foes this season; scoring falls in every bout. Among the Cowboy’s most impressive falls, the native of Easton, Pa., flattened Minnesota’s David Thorn in 2:16 in their Dec. 4 dual. Oliver’s pin streak will be on the line this Saturday when he meets Iowa’s Tony Ramos in a dual in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
• Logan Stieber, Fr., Ohio State, 15-0, 9 pins, 1 TF, 2 MD
The redshirt freshman and former Junior Hodge winner from Monroeville, Ohio, is spotless on the season, which has been highlighted by his championship at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in December. Stieber also handed Virginia Tech’s Dustin Carter, the recent Midlands champion, his only loss of the season. Perhaps his best pin was against Harvard’s Steven Keith in 4:40 at the Vegas tourney.
• Kendric Maple, So., Oklahoma, 13-0, 0 pins, 3 TF, 8 MD
Though not top-ranked at his weight, the redshirt sophomore from Wichita, Kan., is coming off his best moment of the season: a Midlands championship victory over Iowa’s Montell Marion, 5-3, on Dec. 30, in Evanston, Ill, where the Sooner outscored his competition, 72-13. After posting a 33-12 record as a true freshman at 125 pounds in 2010, Maple redshirted last season.
• Frank Molinaro, Sr., Penn State, 11-0, 3 pins, 3 TF, 4 MD
The native of Barnegal, N.J., and 2011 NCAA runner-up, remained ranked No. 1 at his weight this season after winning the Southern Scuffle, Jan. 2, in Chattanooga, where he majored Minnesota’s Dylan Ness, 9-1. Molinaro, who hopes to become Penn State’s fifth four-time All-American, also earned two of his season’s three technical falls at the Scuffle.
• Jamal Parks, Sr., Oklahoma State, 19-0, 3 pins, 1 TF, 7 MD
The native of Tulsa, Okla., who earned his first All-American honor last March, has proven to be a master of winning the close matches as seven of his victories this season have been by three points or less. That includes wins over Minnesota’s Dylan Ness, 6-5, Oklahoma’s Nick Lester, 4-3, and against Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguchi, 3-2.
• Kyle Dake, Jr., Cornell, 14-0, 4 pins, 2 TF, 2 MD
Halfway to potentially becoming the third NCAA Division I wrestler to win four national championships, the native of Ithaca, N.Y., is having no trouble succeeding at 157 pounds after winning national titles at 141 and 149 pounds the past two seasons. That includes winning the recent Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Big Red All-American pinned three foes and eventually beat Penn State’s Dylan Alton, 3-0, for the title. Dake also has Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational title on his season’s resume.
• Jason Welch, Jr., Northwestern, 9-0, 2 pins, 1 TF, 3 MD
The former Junior Hodge winner from Walnut Creek, Calif., is proving to be the king of funk for the Wildcats. Welch — at least three times in his recent Midlands championship over American University’s Ganbayar Sanjaa — was forced to scramble out of apparent takedowns by this opponent. The 2011 All-American also pinned Illinois’ Jackson Morse during the Midlands.
• David Taylor, So., Penn State, 9-0, 5 pins, 3 TF, 0 MD
The native of St. Paris, Ohio, who quickly made a name for himself last season — when he won every match except his national championship bout at 157 pounds— continues to dominate at a heavier weight this season. That was especially true at the Southern Scuffle where Taylor first majored Appalachian State’s Kyle Blevins, 12-3, in the semifinals before pinning Minnesota’s Cody Yohn in the championship bout.
• Josh Asper, Jr., Maryland, 16-0, 4 pins, 5 TF, 3 MD
The junior from Parkton, Md., did not compete at the Midlands but has picked up from earning his first All-American honor last season by winning all of his bouts, including a 6-0 win over Rutgers’ Scott Winston.
• Ed Ruth, So., Penn State, 10-0, 3 pins, 1 TF, 3 MD
The native of Harrisburg, Pa., received his toughest challenge from teammate Matt Brown in winning the recent Southern Scuffle, but last year’s All-American also has a 7-4 win over Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock in the Nittany Lion Open.
• Nick Amuchastegui, Sr., Stanford, 11-0, 3 pins, 1 TF, 4 MD
Last year’s NCAA runner-up has been hampered by an elbow injury, which forced him to miss the semis and finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and has kept him out of the Cardinal line-up since the early December tournament. Before that, the native of Oregon was dominating most foes, including Midlands champion Lee Munster, 9-1, in the season opener in November.
• Ryan DesRoches, Jr., Cal Poly, 1 pin, 0 TF, 4 MD
The native of Deer Park, Wash., had his two finest moments this season in the state of Nevada, where he first won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Dec. 2, and the Reno Tournament of Champions, Dec. 18. DesRoches has yet to meet conference-rival Amuchastegui this season. That could change when Cal Poly hosts Stanford on Jan. 15.
• Chris Perry, So., Oklahoma State, 15-0, 2 pins, 1 TF, 4 MD
After competing at 184 pounds the first half of this season, the native of Stillwater, Okla., is moving to 174 pounds just in time for the Cowboys’ Jan. 7 dual at Iowa. At the heavier weight, the brother of Iowa’s two-time national champion Mark Perry, Chris was perfect on the year, including a 3-2 victory over Wyoming All-American Joe LeBlanc in the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions in December.
• Robert Hamlin, Jr., Lehigh, 17-0, 1 pin, 0 TF, 7 MD
The Mountain Hawk, who caught the nation’s attention last March when he became the first native of Vermont to earn All-American honors with a second-place NCAA finish, took over the top spot when he defeated last year’s national champ, Quentin Wright of Penn State, in a Dec. 9 dual. Hamlin most recently added a Midlands championship when he defeated Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett in the final.
• Cam Simaz, Sr., Cornell, 7-0, 6 pins, 1 TF
The Big Red All-American has been perfect this season, except suffering an injury default to Virginia’s Ryan Malo in the semifinals of the Body Bar Invitational in November. Before that he had pinned his first five opponents this season, including a fall against Minnesota’s Sonny Yohn. At the recent Southern Scuffle, injuries again pulled him out of the tournament after beating Penn State’s Morgan McIntosh in the semifinals.
• Chris Honeycutt, Sr., Edinboro, 24-0, 0 pins, 6 TF, 7 MD
The native of Ohio and 2011 All-American at 184 pounds has had no trouble moving up a weight after winning both the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational to start the month of December and the Midlands at the end of the month in Evanston, Ill. While the Fighting Scot has no falls at this point, Honeycutt has wins over Indiana’s Matt Powless (in Vegas final) and Penn’s Micah Burak (in the Midlands title bout).
• Ryan Flores, Jr., American U., 3-0, 2 pins
Last year’s NCAA runner-up has been bothered by injuries this season, which did not allow him to compete at the recent Midlands. But he did pin Central Michigan’s Peter Sturgeon on Nov. 26 and decisioned Maryland’s Spencer Myers, 5-2, on Dec. 2. The California native will have to get past Lehigh’s Zach Rey — the man who beat Flores in last year’s NCAA final — and that won’t happen until the EIWA Championships, March 3-4.