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 16 to 20. 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.
Dan Hodge (Oklahoma), 177, 1957
By the time Hodge was a senior, he had already been to the Olympics twice, earning a silver medal in 1956. His final year at the college level was his most dominant despite already having set a high standard. The Sooner pinned 15 of his 16 opponents, only an 8-2 decision in the NCAA semi-finals over fourth-seeded John Dustin (Oregon State) kept him from perfection, en route to claiming his third 177-pound title, capping an undefeated career. Hodge’s 1957 pin percentage remains the best ever recorded in program history in front of his 1956 season which sits second.
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State), 285, 2017
When Snyder’s junior year at Ohio State began, he already held the world and Olympic titles at 97 kg in addition to the NCAA heavyweight crown he won in March of 2016. Despite wrestling another international slate that kept him out of the Buckeye lineup at times, Snyder was dominant, winning 13 of his 17 matches by bonus points and scoring at least 13 points in all but two of his matches that did not end by fall. His amazing run was punctuated by a highlight reel moment when he picked Connor Medbery (Wisconsin) up completely off the mat during their finals match on his way to a takedown and a 6-3 win.
Jack Brisco (Oklahoma State), 191, 1965
The first native American to win an NCAA wrestling title, Brisco rebounded from a loss in the 1964 finals, his only college loss, to Harry Houska (Ohio), pinning three of his five opponents at the NCAA tournament during his flawless 1965 championship run. His win in the 191-pound final, by fall over Dan Pernat (Wisconsin), kept Oklahoma State alive for the team title and ensured the race would come down to the heavyweight final for the first time ever. However, when Jim Nance (Syracuse) beat Russ Winer (Oklahoma State), Iowa State took their first official team crown. Brisco would go on to have a long career as a professional wrestler.
Eddie Eichelberger (Lehigh), 147, 1955
After losing to three-time national champion Myron Roderick (Oklahoma State) at 137 in 1954, Eichelberger moved up to 147 at the 1955 NCAA tournament and completed a stellar season that saw him pin 14 of his 19 opponents, including four of five at the championship event. Using an innovative variant of the Granby Roll to put opponents on their back, Eichelberger was named Outstanding Wrestler, combining with his coach, Gerry Leeman, to become the first head coach/wrestler duo to have both won the award. Eddie’s 14 falls still rank second on Lehigh’s all-time single-season list. His pinning percentage from 1955 sits fourth all-time. Eichelberger would storm to another perfect season in 1956, ending his college career on a 40 match winning streak.
Gray Simons (Lock Haven), 115, 1962
After a fifth-place finish at the 1960 Olympics during which he took down defending world champion Ali Aliyev (USSR), who would go on to win five such titles, Simons returned to Lock Haven and was flawless as a junior in 1961. His senior season saw him extend his collegiate winning streak to 84 matches, become the first four-time NAIA champion, winning the Outstanding Wrestler award in each of those tournaments, then cap his career with his third NCAA title, winning his sixth OW at a national championship overall. After another trip to the Olympics in 1964, Simons enjoyed a long, successful coaching career at Lock Haven, Indiana State, Tennessee, where he led the team to an eighth-place finish in 1985 before the program was dropped in 1986, and finally Old Dominion.