Left and right photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
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 26 to 30. 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.
Logan Stieber (Ohio State), 133, 2013
The first of the four-time NCAA champion’s two perfect seasons included 14 falls and seven techs as he claimed his second national title. Stieber missed some time due to a leg injury in January, but when he was in the lineup, he was dominant. Tony Ramos (Iowa), who Logan beat in both the Big Ten tournament finals (3-1 SV) and NCAA finals (7-4) after missing the Iowa dual, was one of the few who could compete with the Buckeye sophomore. Stieber ran through the rest of the post-season, pinning his other two opponents in the conference tournament, then doing the same to the first two he faced at NCAAs. He would roll up future national champion Cody Brewer (Oklahoma), 17-1, in the quarters, then thump fourth-seeded AJ Schopp (Edinboro), 18-2, in the semifinals. Despite his incredible season, Stieber finished just fourth in the Hodge voting. The 2013 field was loaded with Kyle Dake winning title number four and the Hodge. Ed Ruth (Penn State) and Jordan Oliver (Oklahoma State), who jumped up two weight classes after Logan beat him in the 2012 finals at 133, finished second and third respectively.
Yojiro Uetake (Oklahoma State), 130, 1966
After two perfect seasons and winning the 1964 Olympic gold medal, Uetake, who often allowed matches to remain close early in his college career, preferring not to embarrass anyone needlessly, opened up during his senior season. His seven falls were nearly double his previous career total and his margin of victory was much greater than in his earlier years. This unleashed Uetake was on display at his final NCAA tournament as he outscored the opposition 52-11 on his way to his third consecutive finals appearance. Facing Joe Perlitore (Lehigh) with a third title on the line, the Cowboy led 2-0 near the end of the first period when he was called for stalling. Incensed, Uetake set out to prove his point, pinning Perlitore in 4:31 to cap his legendary career undefeated. He was named OW.
Zain Retherford, Penn State, 149, 2017
Few seasons in collegiate history have been as statistically impressive as Retherford’s 2016-17. He tied for the Division I lead with 17 falls, won just two matches by decision and added just one major decision. The vast majority of his contests ended early and Zain ran away with the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler award as well as being named Outstanding Wrestler at the national tournament. His run at NCAAs was even better than his superlative regular season as he recorded four technical falls, with a combined score of 72-6, in addition to pinning Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) in the semis after the two had battled into the second set of tie-breakers when they met in a regular season dual. A year after finishing a close second behind three-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) in the Hodge race, Retherford claimed the award over world and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) as well as another three-time NCAA champion J’den Cox (Missouri).
Logan Stieber, Ohio State, 141, 2015
2015 was a year of firsts for the Buckeyes and Stieber becoming the fourth four-time NCAA champion in Division I history was a big part of that. He was the first wrestler from Ohio State to do so and remains the only Big Ten competitor to accomplish the feat. After a season in which he pinned 11, only allowed five regular decisions, and helped lift his school to their first team national title, he became the first wrestler from Ohio State to win the Hodge Trophy. His only major scare came in a 10-9 barn-burner of a win over Nick Dardanes (Minnesota) during which Logan’s 8-3 lead came under fire late, but other than that, the senior was in total control. After seeing off Mitchell Port (Edinboro) 11-5 for his only non-bonus point win at the national tournament, Stieber was named Outstanding Wrestler to add to his award haul.
Pat Smith, Oklahoma State, 158, 1994
With the Cowboys missing the 1993 post-season due to NCAA sanctions, Smith was forced to redshirt a year before continuing his quest to become Division I wrestling’s first four-time national champion. When he did, he was rarely tested, earning 24 bonus point wins. The two exceptions were a 6-4 overtime win at Oklahoma over Jason Leonard and the NCAA championship match when Smith had to fend off Sean Bormet’s (Michigan) late attacks to earn a 5-3 history-making victory. Much more often that season, Smith was lighting up scoreboards, scoring at least 20 points 11 times and failing to reach double digits in only four matches that didn’t end in falls. His fourth individual crown helped Oklahoma State end a three-year run of titles for Iowa and Pat was named OW.