Photos: There was plenty of buzz between Penn State (left) and Iowa...
Who could win the Dan Hodge Trophy in 2019?
(Photo: Zain Retherford of Penn State was honored last Saturday in State College, where WIN Magazine’s Mike Finn and ASICS’s Neil Duncan (left of Retherford) presented the three-time NCAA champion a second straight Dan Hodge Trophy before over 110,000 fans at the Penn State-Ohio State football game.)
Now that two-time Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford of Penn State has completed his college career, it’s time to think about who could win the 2019 Trophy, named in honor of Dan Hodge, the three-time NCAA champion from Oklahoma, next March.
The main criteria for the determining the most dominant wrestler are: record, number of pins, dominance and quality of competition. Secondary criteria are past credentials, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart which are used if the primary criteria are similar.
Listed below the top candidates, in alphabetical order, for this year’s winner are the seven defending NCAA champions, who hope to repeat this March for the Division I Championships in Pittsburgh.
Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell, Sophomore, 141 pounds
The native of Rochester, N.Y., was just a year removed from winning a fourth state of New York championship at Hilton High School, when he defeated Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith, 7-4, for the 141-pound championship as a No. 3 seed. Earlier in his first national tournament, the Big Red rookie defeated Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil in the quarterfinals.
Overall, Diakomihalis finished 37-1 — after winning his first 19 matches — with nine pins and eight technical falls.
Seth Gross, South Dakota State, Senior, 133 pounds
The native of Apple Valley, Minn., became the Jackrabbits’ first NCAA Division I national champion when he defeated Michigan’s Stevan Micic, 13-8, for the 133-pound title. Gross originally began his career at Iowa before transferring to SDSU in 2015-16 and also reached the 2017 NCAA finals before losing to Iowa’s Cory Clark, 4-3.
In his career, Gross is 89-17 with 25 pins and 17 technical falls.
Vincenzo Joseph, Penn State, Junior, 165 pounds
The native of Pittsburgh is on track to become Penn State’s first four-time NCAA champion after he secured two NCAA title wins over Illinois’ former two-time NCAA champ Isaiah Martinez, who was seeded first in both the 2017 and ’18 national tournaments, when Joseph was seeded No. 3 each season. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Joseph pinned Martinez in the finals in 5:26, then defeated the Illini senior, 6-1, last March.
In his career, Joseph is 47-6 with six pins and eight technical falls.
Spencer Lee, Iowa, Sophomore, 125 pounds
Iowa did not remove the freshman redshirt off this native of Murrysville, Pa., and three-time PIAA state champ from Franklin Regional, until January last season when he came off a sixth-place Midlands finish and eventually claimed a national championship with a 5-1 decision over Nick Suriano of Rutgers. One match earlier, Lee avenged a Big Ten finals loss by pinning Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello in the semifinals.
Overall, Lee finished 22-2 last winter with nine pins and eight technical falls.
Bo Nickal, Penn State, Senior, 197 pounds
The native of Allen, Texas, has appeared in the NCAA finals in each of the past three seasons and has moved up a weight for a third time in his Nittany Lion career. After getting upset by Ohio State’s Myles Martin in the 2016 finals at 174 pounds, Nickal moved up to 184 in 2017 and stunned Cornell’s two-time NCAA champ Gabe Dean for his first championship. Last March, Nickal avenged his 2016 finals loss to Martin when he pinned the Buckeye to win another championship at 184 pounds, which clinched a third straight team title for Penn State.
In his career at Penn State, Nickal is 90-5 with 41 pins and nine technical falls.
Jason Nolf, Penn State, Senior, 157 pounds
The native of Yatesboro, Pa., also has appeared in three straight NCAA finals at 157 pounds and won two national championships. As a redshirt freshman, Nolf lost to Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez — whom Nolf pinned earlier that season — but came back to win the past two NCAAs. In 2017, Nolf majored Missouri’s Joey Lavallee, 14-6, for his first championship, and then defeated NC State’s Hayden Hidlay, 6-2, for the 2018 national championship. What made last year’s title remarkable was that Nolf suffered a knee injury during the season, and entered the NCAAs as a No. 3 seed.
Statistically, Nolf is 86-3 with 45 pins and 21 technical falls.
Zahid Valencia, Arizona State, Junior, 174 pounds
The Sun Devil from Bellflower, Calif., came up short in the 2017 NCAAs as a No. 1 seed when he was upset by Penn State’s Mark Hall in the semifinals. But Valencia avenged that loss in the 2018 NCAA finals when he defeated the Nittany Lion rival, 8-2, for his first national championship.
In his career at ASU, Valencia is 70-1 with 23 pins and 10 technical falls
In addition, finally there are two other wrestlers, who also have won national titles in the past but came up short last March:
Mark Hall, Penn State, Junior, 174 pounds
The native of Apple Valley, Minn., was a true freshman in 2017 when he defeated Ohio State’s Bo Jordan, 5-2, for the 174-pound national championship as a No. 5 seed. But last year, Hall settled for second place when he lost 8-2 in the finals to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia in Cleveland as a No. 2 seed. Hall defeated Valencia in the 2017 NCAA semifinals.
Overall, Hall’s career record is 63-4 with 25 pins and 10 technical falls.
Myles Martin, Ohio State, Senior, 184 pounds
The Buckeye from Penns Grove, N.J., stunned even the most faithful in the 2016 NCAA tournament in New York City, where he entered as a No. 11 seed as a freshman at 174 pounds and exited Madison Square Garden as a national champion by edging Penn State’s Bo Nickal, 11-9. Since then, the three-time All-American moved up to 184 pounds in the 2016-2017 season when he placed fifth, but made the finals last year and lost to Nickal.
Overall Martin is 96-18 with ten pins and 21 technical falls.