The greatest seasons in NCAA wrestling history can and will be debated. Eras are difficult to compare. As time wears on, many forget the stories of the champions, even more so those that they defeated in getting there. Still, the mystique surrounding a wrestler who wins every battle, defeating each foe who steps on the mat against him on his way to a national championship remains powerful. To have a little fun as we continue to wait for the season to begin, I decided to take a look at the best seasons in Division I wrestling history for each different win total, 11 through 55. Some of the decisions were easy, there has only been one wrestler to ever win a D1 title after going 55-0 for example, but others were incredibly tough. Choosing the best 34-0 season had me splitting hairs as the list of legendary athletes who have earned that record is long.
Today we continue our journey looking at win totals from 41 to 45. I used a blend of dominance, historical significance, and who a wrestler beat to make my choices. Win totals can be a little tricky to confirm, especially for older wrestlers, but using Jay Hammond’s historical work and school websites among other sources, this is what I came up with. We’ll be rolling out the list in increments of five throughout the fall so be on the lookout.
Cole Konrad, Minnesota, 285, 2006
Entering his junior season, Konrad was one of the best heavyweights in the country but had never been able to beat Steve Mocco (Oklahoma State), despite wrestling his rival into overtime in three matches during the 2004-05 season. Everything changed in late November 2005 when Konrad finally topped Mocco, 4-1 in tie-breakers, to win the All-Star match held in Stillwater. While that didn’t count towards official records, the tide had turned. When they met again with the National Duals title on the line, it was tight again, but when the two entered tie-breakers, Konrad locked up his foe in orange, tossing Mocco to his back and getting a stunning fall, one of 16 on the season. Cole beat the Cowboy twice more after that including his 41st victory of the season in the national finals. Konrad posted two of the five perfect seasons in Minnesota history and would finish his career on a 76 match winning streak.
Ben Askren, Missouri, 174, 2007
29 of Askren’s 42 wins came by fall as he raced through his senior season. 23 of those falls were of the first-period variety. At one point, the defending national champion pinned 17 opponents in a row. Even when he didn’t get the fall, Askren was dominant, so much so that he was disappointed in his performance after beating Keith Gavin (Pitt) 8-2 to capture his second NCAA crown. His final tally of 91 career falls puts him in the top five all-time and he is by far the leader of those who have wrestled since 1986. Askren claimed his second consecutive Hodge Trophy, ended his career on an 87 match winning streak, and still holds numerous school records, including career wins with 153. He was a four-time national finalist who lost just eight times for his career, seven of those coming against two-time national champion Chris Pendleton (Oklahoma State).
Jack Cuvo, East Stroudsburg, 118, 1988
From 1977 through 2009, East Stroudsburg was a member of the EIWA. In that time, they had just one wrestler stand atop the podium at the NCAA tournament. Cuvo did it for the first time in 1988, becoming the school’s first-ever Division I champion in any sport. The Easton, Pennsylvania native made liberal use of the new technical fall rule, introduced in 1984-85, to end matches early. He had two such wins, in three bouts, on his way to an EIWA title, then opened the NCAA Championships with another. Cuvo totaled 87 points over his five bouts at Iowa State, cruising into the finals with a 14-8 victory and finishing Keith Nix (Minnesota), 11-4, to claim the crown. After another perfect season in 1988-89, Cuvo ended his college career as a two-time national champion on an 89-match winning streak.
Stephen Neal, Cal State Bakersfield, 285, 1999
After his first national title in 1998, Neal put on a show in his senior season. He pinned 31 of his 44 opponents, a still-standing school record that is eight more than any other Roadrunner has ever achieved. That gave Neal 71 falls for his career, another school record. Stephen won his fourth Pac-10 title, the second wrestler ever to do so, helping Cal State Bakersfield win the conference crown as a team. By the time the NCAA tournament convened at Penn State, Neal was the favorite, but many were interested to see how he would match up with Brock Lesnar, the second seed from Minnesota. Neal held up his end by reaching the finals on the strength of two falls, a default, and a 17-2 tech-fall. Lesnar advanced as well, setting up the epic clash. While Lesnar did what almost no one could, slowing Neal’s offense to a crawl, the Roadrunner made a takedown one minute into the match stand up. The 3-2 win over Lesnar extended Neal’s winning streak to 83 matches and he was awarded the Hodge Trophy.
Ben Askren, Missouri, 174, 2006
After a pair of national runner-up finishes to begin his career, Askren wasn’t going to settle for silver again as a junior. He pinned 25, earned nine tech-falls, and five majors. Ben tacked on a forfeit and an injury default victory, leaving just four decisions on the season. Two of those came at the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City in Askren’s first two matches. However, he would find his offense once again, scoring tech-falls in the quarters and semis before blasting Jake Herbert (Northwestern), 14-2, to become Missouri’s first national champion. The Tiger was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Wrestling Championships, then claimed the Hodge Trophy as well. While many people have played a part in building Missouri into the power they are today, this season was a major milestone in that program’s development.