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College Wrestling Records That May Never Be Broken

Mike McMullan, Joe Williams

Wrestling is an ancient sport that has stood the test of time. Wherever society has flourished, some type of wrestling has been present. Across the world, countless variations of the sport are contested in addition to the international standards of freestyle and Greco-Roman. Our very own folkstyle attracts the bulk of the attention from American wrestling fans with Division I being the pinnacle. Those who have dominated at the top level of college wrestling make an imprint that will last forever. That got us to thinking, what are the wrestling records most likely to stand the test of time? Obviously, there are some that literally cannot be broken barring dramatic rule changes. No one can exceed the career win percentage achieved by Cael Sanderson and others. No one can win more than four Division I titles and unless other divisions become eligible again, no one can match Carlton Haselrig’s six NCAA titles across all divisions. Those are notable certainly, but what about those records that could be broken, but seem unlikely to fall anytime soon? Here is what we came up with.

Most Consecutive Big Ten Tournament Team Titles – 25, Iowa

To put this into perspective, the 25 Big Ten tournament championships won in a row by Iowa, 21 under Dan Gable, from 1974 through 1998 are eight more than any other team has ever won in the history of the conference overall. Given that Penn State has won more national titles then Big Ten tournament titles since they joined the conference, this seems an impossible streak to replicate. Of course, the Big Ten wasn’t the powerhouse back then that it is today. When Iowa’s run began, conference members had won just two wrestling national titles with Indiana winning in 1932 and Michigan State claiming top honors in 1967. Penn State had won in 1953, but they did not join the Big Ten in wrestling until 1992-93. Unless there is another seismic shift in the landscape, this record will remain indefinitely.

Most Consecutive Wins by an Individual Wrestler – 159, Cael Sanderson, Iowa State

There have been other grapplers to go undefeated for their career and there have been more than a few that won more than 159 matches in college. However, no one has managed to win 159 in a row as Sanderson did without a loss on his way to four national titles. Modern schedules mean most wrestlers don’t wrestle 40 matches in a given season and none of the national champions in 2017 won more than 32. Zain Retherford (Penn State) began the year with the most wins in a row by an active competitor with 63. We may see another athlete go undefeated on his way to four NCAA Division I titles again someday, but someone winning 160 matches in a row may never be done.

Most Dual Meets Between Two Division I Schools – 176 and counting, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State

This one is a moving target. While some rivalries may eventually get to 176, Bedlam will have long moved past that number by then. While the records for such things are incomplete at some schools, in my research the next closest clash to the Sooners and the Cowboys is an extinct one as Oregon met Oregon State 135 times before the program was dropped. No other pair of schools is close, though the gap should at least stop growing given only one Bedlam dual is scheduled for 2017-18 after years of two editions per season. The Cowboys lead the all-time series 138-27-10. The 138 dual wins over the same Division I school is also a record that will remain for quite some time.

Most Schools Qualifying a Wrestler for the Division I NCAA Tournament – 128 in 1980

From the indispensable book The History of Collegiate Wrestling by Jay Hammond comes this staggering fact. 128 different schools had at least one wrestler present at the 1980 NCAA Wrestling Championships hosted by Oregon State. This list was bolstered by the allowance of Divison II finalists and Division III champions, but scrolling through the brackets reveals how many defunct programs were having success at that time. Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, UCLA, Colorado, Temple, Oregon, Rhode Island, and LSU all had at least one All-American just to name a handful. With just 76 schools currently eligible to send an athlete to Cleveland this spring, we’re a long way from challenging this record again.

Most Career Pins – 110, Al Sears, SIUE

While the all-time pin record at the top level of college wrestling is up for some debate, there is little doubt that it is somewhere in the triple digits with Sears, Wade Schalles (Clarion), and Gene Mills (Syracuse) all having more than 100 falls attributed to them. The most prolific pinner by far in recent years was Ben Askren, but for all his dominance, he ended up with 91 pins for Missouri when all was said and done. No one in Division I pinned more than 20 last season and we haven’t seen anyone hit 25 in years. To average more than that over an entire career seems nearly impossible now.

Most Midlands Individual Titles – 10, Joe Williams, Iowa

From 1994 through 2003, Williams claimed a Midlands title every winter, breaking Bruce Baumgartner’s record of eight crowns along the way. A three-time NCAA champion, Williams was a five-time world team member and a two-time world bronze medalist which kept him training. Even though he was focused on freestyle, he kept coming back to compete and win the prestigious folkstyle event. Though there have been some high profile post-grads competing over the last few years, the Midlands has seen less and less elite athletes continue to enter after their school days are done. It is almost entirely a college tournament now, making it hard to envision someone wrestling in the event 10 times, much less winning it that many.

Most NCAA Division I Tournament Wins – 22, Mike McMullan, Northwestern, John Fisher, Michigan, Mark Churella, Michigan

These last two records may be broken someday, but through thousands of competitors and many years of competition, no one has won more than 22 matches at the NCAA DI tournament and no one has lost more than 11. Officially, with the current brackets, a wrestler could claim as many as eight wins in a year with an early loss, catching a pig-tail, and then finishing third. Champions that enter the tournament seeded will win five matches which is why the four-time champions don’t top this list. Pat Smith had 21 NCAA victories, drawing a pig-tail once while the rest of the four-timers each won 20 tournament bouts. McMullan finished 3-2-3-3, Fisher 4-4-3-4, and Churella 3-1-1-1 to reach 22. As you can see, Fisher could have won even more, finishing the season with a loss three times while McMullan did so once. 23 tournament wins or more can be done, but no one wants that record.

Most NCAA Division I Tournament Losses – 11, Ben Bennett, Central Michigan, Kirk Mammen, Oklahoma State, Rande Stottlemyer, Pittsburgh

Speaking of records no one wants, in order to lose 11 times at the NCAA tournament, you have to qualify all four years and be an All-American at least three times. Bennett and Mammen each reached the podium all four years with the Chippewa finishing 6-8-6-4 and the Cowboy going 6-6-5-8, avoiding a 12th loss by winning his fifth-place match as a junior. Stottlemyer wrestled in the six All-American era and claimed that position three times while also qualifying but not placing a fourth time. In order to break this record, a wrestler would have to finish sixth or eighth all four years of their college career. Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) could tie this mark if he finished sixth or eighth again as he enters his senior campaign with eight NCAA losses. Solomon Chishko (Virginia Tech) has finished sixth in his first two attempts, racking up six losses at the national tournament already.

UPDATE: One of Ashnault’s NCAA losses was a medical forfeit which does not count on official records.

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