Photos of Max Askren and Mark Perry by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
It is rare to see a national title contender going down a weight in college wrestling and it is even more uncommon to see a wrestler win the NCAA tournament at a lower weight than they competed at the year before. Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State), who was the 125-pound national champion in 2015 and finished third in 2016 at the lightest weight before moving up to 133 last season, appears ready to attempt that very feat and Buckeye fans would point out that Luke Pletcher has a chance to do the same if he continues to improve. That got me to thinking, when was the last time this happened? Presented for you now are the last five wrestlers to compete at the NCAA tournament one year, then win it at a lower weight the next. This list will not include wrestlers such as Chris Perry, who reached the round of 12 at 184 in 2011, then dropped to 174 mid-year before finishing 3-1-1 at that weight, as he didn’t win the first year after he dropped, though what he did does not happen often, either.
Max Askren, Missouri, 184, 2010
After falling short of the award’s stand as a top seeded freshman, Askren finished seventh and fifth at 197 pounds before descending to 184 for his senior season. That was the magic bullet as Max became just the third wrestler in program history to reach the top step, going 20-2 on the season. Askren capped his run with victories over Dustin Kilgore (Kent State), Joe LeBlanc (Wyoming), and Kirk Smith (Boise State) to join brother Ben as an NCAA champion. His overall record of 104-16 gives him the fifth highest winning percentage ever by a Missouri wrestler with at least 100 wins in the modern era.
Mark Perry, Iowa, 165, 2007
After a runner-up finish as a 165-pound freshman, Perry moved up to 174 both because he got bigger and to help the team with the arrival of Eric Luedke. However, after the 2006 season, with Mark finishing third and Luedke placing eighth at nationals, they flipped weights with Perry moving back down to 165. That proved to be the right decision for everyone involved as Luedke would finish third at his new weight while Perry would stun longtime rival Johny Hendricks (Oklahoma State), who he had never beaten before, for his first of two NCAA titles.
Sean O’Day, Edinboro, 134, 1989
When O’Day arrived on campus, Edinboro had never had a Division I national champion. After a seventh place finish at 142 as a sophomore, Sean came within a match of accomplishing the feat, falling to current Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro, who wrestled for Pitt, 16-11, in a wild final, again at 142. For his final shot, O’Day cut down to 134. Though he took five losses on the year, he headed to Oklahoma City as the number three seed. O’Day lit up the scoreboards in his final college tournament, tallying 71 points in his five victories, finishing his quest by taking down Joe Melchiore (Iowa), 8-3, and TJ Sewell (Oklahoma), 11-8, to make Edinboro history.
Rick Lawinger, Wisconsin, 142, 1974
Another wrestler on our list that won the first wrestling national title for his school, Lawinger started wrestling late and might not have ended up in this club if not for a rough trip overseas to the World University Games. After not qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a freshman and missing the podium as a sophomore, Lawinger finished second at 150 in 1973, losing to Jarett Hubbard (Michigan) in the finals after beating the Michigan man at the Big 10 tournament. Rick got sick on his trip to Moscow over the summer, lost some weight, and realized he could make 142, despite wrestling 145 in high school. He was the number two seed entering his final NCAA tournament and got past Steve Randall (Oklahoma State), 8-2, to become the first Badger to win the crown.
Wade Schalles, Clarion, 150, 1972
One of the most prolific pinners in the history of college wrestling, Schalles, the five seed at 158, was a victim of the repechage system the NCAA tournament used in 1971, losing to top seeded Bruce Trammel (Ohio) in the quarters before Trammel was upset in the semifinals by Mike Jones (Oregon State). That gave Schalles no chance at the wrestlebacks. Schalles would be the one to upend the top seed the next time around, pinning Jay Arneson (Oklahoma State) in the 150-pound semis before capping his title run with his fourth fall of the tournament, sticking the same Jarrett Hubbard (Michigan) that would battle Lawinger later in his career. Wade would move back to 158 pounds and win another title in 1973, finishing his career with 106 pins, the NCAA record at the time.