The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
WIN’s Top-10 Wrestling Stories of the ’20-teens’
The 2020s will start in two days, but let’s take a few moments to look at the greatest wrestling stories in the second decade of the 21st century, which was indeed a banner ten-year period for both men and women wrestlers, especially on the college and international level, in this country.
The following lists the Top-10 most memorable moments in wrestling between 2010 and 2019.
1.Olympic threat to wrestling in 2013
The Olympics have always been the ultimate goal for the world’s best wrestlers, but for 218 days, many feared that opportunity was coming to an end.
On Feb. 12, 2013, international wrestling fans woke to the news that the International Olympic Committee had dropped wrestling — an original sport to the Modern Games that began in 1896 — as a core sport from future Games, beginning in 2020.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling; it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”
The IOC was also critical of FILA, the international organization, its president Raphael Martinetti and wrestling’s lack of involvement with the international sports community. FILA eventually changed its name to UWW (United World Wrestling) and leader to Nenad Lalovic as the sport sought to change its image with new rules.
Led my many leaders in the United States, “Keep Wrestling” became the slogan as the IOC reconsidered its position and eventually reinstated wrestling as an Olympic core sport on Sept. 8, 2013.
“With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference,” Lalovic said. “I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic movement that we can be.”
2. Penn State dynasty; wins eight NCAA team titles in nine years
Penn State University, which had not won an NCAA team title since 1953, had hoped for big moments in 2009 when the Nittany Lions hired Cael Sanderson — the NCAA’s only four-time undefeated national champ from Iowa State, where he had coached for three years — as PSU’s mentor.
And for eight of nine years during the past decade, no NCAA Division I program was better than Penn State, which put together a pair of four-year championship streaks (2011-14 and 2016-19) with an average winning margin of 19.8 points.
Over this 10-year period, 12 different individuals won 23 championships and they’ve won 57 All-American honors. Ed Ruth (2012, ’13, 14), Zain Retherford (2016, ’17, ’18), Jason Nolf (2017, ’18, ’19) and Bo Nickal (2017, ’18, ’19) each won three titles while Quentin Wright (2011, ’13), David Taylor (2012, ’14) and Vincenzo Joseph (2017, ’18) each tallied a pair of individual championships.
The other championships came from Frank Molinaro (2011), Matt Brown (2015), Nico Megaludis (2016), Mark Hall (2017) and Anthony Cassar (2019).
It should be noted that Sanderson redshirted a pair of returning All-Americans in Megaludis and Retherford as well as a pair of future champs in true freshmen Nolf and Nickal in 2015.
During this period, Taylor (2012, ’14), Retherford (2017, ’18) and Nickal (2019) have also won five of the ten WIN Magazine/Culture House Dan Hodge Trophies, presented annually by ASICS.
3. Helen Maroulis wins first women’s Olympic championship in 2016 for U.S.
American women had actually been competing for World championships since 1989 and the International Olympic Committee had introduced women’s freestyle beginning in 2004.
But it wasn’t Aug. 18, 2016, that the U.S. had a gold medalist when Helen Maroulis became the first American to reach the pinnacle of the sport when the then 25-year-old native of Rockville, Maryland, stunned Japan’s 13-time World champ and three-time Olympic gold medalist Saori Yoshida, 4-1, for the 53-kilogram gold medal at the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Yoshida led 1-0 at the break after Maroulis was put on the shot clock and could not score. But Maroulis scored a takedown for a 2-1 lead in the second and then added another takedown with 59 seconds left in the match.
“This was the hardest thing I have ever done, mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Maroulis, who could not hold back her tears after time ran out. “I just want to give my all. I want to be proud of myself, knowing I did it my own way. At the end, I was like, ‘really, I did this?’ ”
Maroulis, a 2015 World champion at 55 kilograms, had lost twice —by pin — to Yoshida in the 2011 and ’12 World Championships.
“Yoshida is an incredible, incredible athlete, “Maroulis said. “The more I studied her, the more it was like, she is not my enemy, no one here is really my enemy. God taught me that these are women who want the same thing that you do and are sacrificing the same things that you are. It is not about hating that person you are going against, but it is about respecting that person so much that you are going to give your all.”
4. Kyle Dake wins four NCAA titles at four weights over four straight years in 2013
Two wrestlers — Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson — had already won four career NCAA championships before Kyle Dake began his career at Cornell in 2009 in his hometown of Ithaca, N.Y.
But it wasn’t until March 24, 2013, that Dake became a unique four-time national champion … as he became the first college wrestler to win four straight NCAA titles at four different weights.
In 2010, Dake (as a true freshman) beat Iowa’s Montell Marion, 7-3, for the 141-pound championship in Omaha, Neb.
In 2011, Dake dominated Penn State’s Frank Molinaro, 8-1, for the 149-pound title in Philadelphia, Pa.
In 2012, Dake defeated Iowa’s Dan St. John, 4-1, for the 157-pound championship in St. Louis, Mo.
In 2013, Dake ended his career with a 5-4 victory over Penn State’s 2012 Hodge winner David Taylor — the defending champion and personal friend of Dake — for the 165-pound championship in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Each weight class was a different obstacle, different challenges, and I just had to adapt. My ability to adapt really, really helped me accomplish that,” Dake said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. It’s definitely an amazing feeling. It’s just good to finally see all your hard work pay off.”
Overall, Dake ended his career with a 137-4 record — 72-0 his last two years — and also collected the 2013 Dan Hodge Trophy.
5. 4-time champ Logan Stieber leads native Ohio State to first title in 2015
Traditionally one of the top programs in Division I, Ohio State finally reached the top of the NCAAs in 2015 when the Buckeyes captured the school’s first team title on March 21 in St. Louis, Mo.
Individually, the team leader for the Buckeyes was Logan Stieber, the native of Monroeville, Ohio, who became the fourth wrestler to win four NCAA championships in his career the same year he helped guide his team to the top spot.
Stieber won his first three championships in 2012 (4-3 over Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver at 133), 2013 (7-4 over Iowa’s Tony Ramos at 133) and in 2014 (10-1 over Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter at 141 pounds) before ending his career with an 11-5 victory over Edinboro’s Mitchell Port at 141.
“It’s amazing to win my fourth title and a team title,” said Stieber, who ended his career with a 119-3 record and was also awarded the 2015 Dan Hodge Trophy. “It’s been so much fun. This is one of the best moments of my life. It’s an accumulation of years of really hard work and sacrifice to be one of the four people to win four and I am honored to be in that group.”
And under the leadership of head coach Tom Ryan, who had been hired in 2006, the Buckeyes had finished as runner-ups in 2008 and ’09, the 2015 OSU squad had also earned an NCAA title from Nathan Tomasello (125) and All-American honors by Bo Jordan (third at 165), Kenny Courts (fifth at 184) and Kyle Snyder (second at 197), to win by a 102-84 margin over second-place Iowa.
“All along these guys kept believing,” Ryan said. “We stuck together, and I’m so happy for this team. It was a great weekend for Ohio State.”
6. Kyle Snyder becomes youngest World & Olympic champ in 2015 and 2016
There was already something unique about Kyle Snyder before he became the United States’ youngest World champ in 2015 (at age 19) and youngest Olympic gold medalist (20) in 2016.
Born Nov. 20, 1995, in Woodbine, Md., Snyder won three Maryland state championships for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School before deciding to spend his senior year at the Olympic Training Center.
Snyder eventually wrestled at Ohio State and won three NCAA championships. The Buckeye settled for second place at 197 pounds in March of 2015 after getting thrown and pinned in the NCAA finals. But six months later, Snyder defeated Russia’s Abdusalam Gadisov to win the 97-kilogram World championship, Sept. 11, in Las Vegas, Nev.
“I like making history,” he said. “I want to be known as one of the greatest wrestlers that ever lived and that’s what I plan on doing, but right now probably just being the World champ. It feels good.”
And one year later, after Snyder won his first NCAA title (after moving up to heavyweight), he became the youngest Olympic gold medalist by beating Georgia’s Elizbar Odikadze, 5-0.
“I’m not too concerned about the winning and losing,” he said. “I can’t control that. I can control my effort. I can control how hard I work and how stingy I am in each position. The thing I want out of this sport is to be the best I can possibly be, to wrestle to my best capability. The thing I’m scared of is not doing that.”
7. Burroughs wins fourth Worlds; helps lead USA to first team title since 1995
Kyle Snyder’s second World championship, a victory over fellow Olympic champ Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia, was the final match at the 2017 World championships in Paris, France. That victory over Sadulaev also clinched USA’s first World team title — by a 54-53 margin over Russia, Aug. 26 — in men’s freestyle since 1995.
“It couldn’t have been a more hyped-up situation with everything coming down to the last match and the team title on the line,” Snyder said. “It’s awesome to win the first title for the U.S. since 1995, the year I was born. It was an amazing day.”
It was an equally great day for Jordan Burroughs, who won his fourth World title en route to collecting eight World/Olympic medals in the decade: three previous World golds in 2011, ’13 and ’15; one Olympic gold in 2016; and three bronze medals (in 2014, ’18 and ’19).
“The only thing I’ve ever won as a team was when the Nebraska Huskers were co-champs of the Big 12 with Iowa State in 2009,” said Burroughs, a two-time NCAA champ and 2011 Dan Hodge Trophy winner.
Burroughs rallied to win all five bouts in Paris, including by scoring two takedowns in the final minute to beat Russia’s World champ Khetik Tsabolov, 9-6, in the 163-pound gold-medal bout. This also came after Burroughs failed to medal in the 2016 Olympics.
“I’m not back — I’m still here,” Burroughs said. “This is amazing to win another World title — it’s an incredible feeling. I was really determined to come back strong this year.”
Overall, Team USA went 27-7 in men’s freestyle with Thomas Gilman (silver at 57k) James Green (silver at 70k), J’den Cox (bronze at 86k) and Nick Gwiazdowski (bronze at 125k) also medaling for Team USA and first-year coach Bill Zadick.
“It’s hard to put in words,” said Zadick, himself a former World champion. “Winning an individual World title is an amazing experience. When you do it with eight athletes, and a lot of people dedicating their lives and committing everything they do to this sport, it is pretty amazing.”
8. New York City hosts first NCAA championship in 2016
Madison Square Garden in New York City has played host to many national and international events, including the 2003 FILA World Championships. But not until March 17-19, 2016, had the historic arena hosted the NCAA Div. I Championships.
A total of 110,184 fans — third most in NCAA history — showed up over six sessions to watch Penn State send five wrestlers to the finals — with two winning —and win the team championship. Among the other notable finals was Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder win over NC State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, 7-5, in overtime of the heavyweight final.
9. Conference re-alignments; Missouri & EWL to MAC, UNI & WWC join Big 12
Football was the biggest reason that schools changed conferences in the past decade. But such moves also made a unique impact on wrestling, especially for Missouri, which appeared not to have a conference to wrestle in after the school moved from the Big 12 to the SEC, which does not feature wrestling.
Instead, Missouri joined the Mid-American Conference in 2012 and has won every conference championship since then.
Meanwhile, Missouri’s departure left the Big 12 to just four conference schools — Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and West Virginia — before six schools from the Western Wrestling Conference —Air Force, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, and Wyoming — as well as Northern Iowa (which spent two years in the MAC) and Fresno State (which was re-instituted in 2018) joined the Big 12.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, a former Eastern Wrestling League, joined the ACC after the school joined that conference in 2013-14… and the EWL eventually discontinued sending Bloomsburg, Clarion, Edinboro, Lock Haven, Rider, George Mason and Cleveland State to the MAC.
Earlier in 2013, the Colonial Athletic Association dropped wrestling and sent Binghamton, Drexel and Hofstra to the EIWA and Old Dominion to the MAC.
10. Iowa sets NCAA attendance record in hosting Oklahoma State outdoors in 2015
College wrestling has held outdoor meets before but none like the Iowa-Oklahoma State meet on Nov. 14, 2015. The Hawkeyes defeated Oklahoma State, 18-16, before an NCAA record 42,287 fans in Iowa’s Kinnick (football) Stadium.
The University of Iowa set up the mat near the south end-zone of the stadium, brought in some temporary bleachers which were set up on the football field, and fans were seated in the stadium around the mat in a horse-shoe with some fans seated all the way out to the 10- or 15-yard line on the opposite end of the field.
“It was an incredible atmosphere. You can’t deny that,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands, who first proposed the idea. “Even I can’t deny that and I’m one that likes to talk about the performance.”
The mark broke the previous record of 15,996 set by Penn State on Dec. 8, 2013.
OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS
- Adeline Gray became the first U.S. wrestler – in any style – to win five World championships in 2019. The native of Denver, Colo., also won UWW women’s freestyle titles in 2012, ’14, ’15, and ’18. She also won World bronze in 2011 and ’13.
- The NCAA announced in 2019 it was giving women’s wrestling “emerging-sport” status; the first steps to officially sanctioning the sport.
- The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2019 suspends Russia from competing in international events for the next four years for manipulating a Moscow-based laboratory’s database. The suspension includes the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. However, athletes who prove they are “clean” and whose past results were not manipulated at the lab are able to compete in the Olympics, but will be “neutral” athletes not representing any specific country similar to what some Russian athletes did at the 2018 Winter Olympics.