Center and right photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com, left photo courtesy of Oklahoma State
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 31 to 35. 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.
Alan Fried, Oklahoma State, 142, 1994
Just like Pat Smith, Fried had to sit out the postseason due to the ban Oklahoma State received for the 1992-93 campaign. Unlike Smith, Fried had to eat the 1993 season, leaving him with only 1994 to pursue the NCAA title that had eluded him, thanks to a pair of finals losses to Tom Brands (Iowa). With the Hawkeye no longer in the picture, Fried set to work crushing all challengers. He had just one reasonably close match all season, a 12-9 decision over Justin Ware (Nebraska). 26 of his 31 victories ended in bonus points and he posted five straight major decisions at the NCAA Championship in North Carolina. Fried capped his career and finally claimed that title with a 15-6 handling of three-time NCAA finalist Gerry Abas (Fresno State), helping the Cowboys win the team title.
David Taylor, Penn State, 165, 2012
Taylor suffered the only loss of his freshman season in the NCAA finals, ending 38-1. His sophomore year was more of the same as he dominated the regular season, but there would be no stopping the Nittany Lion in 2012. Taylor glued 15 of his 32 foes, earned nine tech-falls, and scored six majors. Once he got to St. Louis, David looked like a man on a mission. He pinned his way to the finals and remains the only wrestler in the past 20 years to do so. Fourth-seeded Bekzod Abdurakhmanov (Clarion), who has since won a world bronze medal, was the only opponent to make it past the first period, succumbing in 4:44. Though Brandon Hatchett (Lehigh), the 11 seed who upset Andrew Sorenson (Iowa State) among others to reach the final, would not give up the fall, his fate was similar. Taylor rolled to a 22-7 tech completing one of the most dominant runs in NCAA wrestling history. Penn State won the team title for the second year in a row, Taylor was the OW, and he became the third sophomore, after Cael Sanderson (Iowa State) and Brent Metcalf (Iowa) to win the Hodge Trophy.
Ed Ruth, Penn State, 184, 2013
Entering his junior season on a 35 match winning streak, Ruth bumped up to 184 and kept right on going. An early season 11-9 scrap with Robert Hamlin (Lehigh) gave hope to the rest of the field that Ed might not be invincible, but Ruth only got better from there. He was largely unchallenged the rest of the regular season which included a 7-3 decision of Steve Bosak (Cornell), the defending 184 pound national champion. By the time the national tournament rolled around, Ruth was a heavy favorite, though he would have to go through Bosak and Hamlin again to claim his second title. A 4-1 decision over Bosak and a 12-4 major of Hamlin got the job done and pushed the winning streak to 68. Ruth ended the year with 26 bonus point victories including 12 falls as Penn State won their third title in a row.
Jake Herbert, Northwestern, 184, 2009
There is a long list of incredible 34-0 seasons to choose from, but Herbert’s 2009 tops them all. After taking 2008 off from the NCAA to pursue a spot on the Olympic team, the Northwestern senior did not give up a single takedown all year en route to his second perfect season. Herbert pinned 15 and earned 28 bonus point victories in all, flashing a wide array of offense to go with his impenetrable defense. While Jake was away, Mike Pucillo (Ohio State) claimed the 184 pound national title, but the Wildcat beat the Buckeye twice during the 2008-096 season including a 6-3 win in the NCAA final. That was the only match in St. Louis where Herbert failed to earn bonus points, opening with a 53 second fall, then outscoring his next three opponents 37-6. He claimed the 2009 Hodge Trophy and remains the only wrestler from Northwestern to win the award.
Kyle Dake, Cornell, 157, 2012
Despite winning a pair of national titles in his first two seasons at Cornell, Dake had yet to post a perfect campaign entering his junior year and was often criticized for wrestling too many close matches. That changed in 2011-12 as Dake survived just one match winning by a single point and had just one more that ended with a two point spread. He pinned 12 opponents and earned 21 bonus point wins, both career highs to that point. More importantly, he won every time he stepped on the mat including a tournament title at the Southern Scuffle. Dake stormed through the early rounds in St. Louis, pinning his first three foes before shutting out Ganbayar Sanjaa (American), 4-0, in the national semifinals. Kyle clinched his third title at his third different weight class by controlling Derek St. John (Iowa), 4-1.