photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Just over two weeks ago, The Open Mat and Home Mat Advantage’s Fantasy Podcast came together to discuss some of the best wrestlers from 2000-20 to have never won a title. We had some much fun that we’ve decided to collaborate for another project, “The NCAA Champion Duals.”
The NCAA Champion Duals will pit national champions from a particular year up against another year. HMA’s hosts, along with Earl from TOM, will state their case to decide which wrestlers will win at each weight and, in turn, which year will move on in the bracket.
Our last first-round show will feature two separate dual meets. The champions from 2004 taking on the winners from 2014, and then 2017 will meet 2019. This tournament will include the years 2004-19 in order to make a nice, neat 16-team bracket.
Here’s a primer for the last set of first-round duals. Make sure you follow Jacob from HMA’s Twitter account to vote on the individual matchup. Our podcast will stream live, but once it has been recorded, it will be found on the Fantasy – portion of HMA’s website.
2004 vs. 2014
2004: Jason Powell (Nebraska) vs. 2014: Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
On our last show, we discussed a surprising tech fall in the 2007 NCAA finals from Derek Moore after he gave up the first takedown. That situation happened three years prior, as well, when Jason Powell surrendered the first points of the match to Kyle Ott, then went on a roll and with 17 straight points. That put a cherry on top of a career that saw Powell earn All-American honors three times (1st, 3rd, 5th). Strangely enough, the only time he did not all (as a freshman), was when Powell claimed his only Big 12 title. Jesse Delgado went back-to-back and became the first Illinois wrestler to do so since Bob Norman in the 1957 and 1958 seasons. Delgado had about as difficult as a path as you could expect for a one-seed at the national tournament. All five of his NCAA opponents went on to achieve All-American honors, and two became national champions (Cory Clark and Nahshon Garrett).
2004: Zach Roberson (Iowa State) vs. 2014: Tony Ramos (Iowa)
This is a battle between two wrestlers who got over the hump and claimed their only NCAA titles as seniors. Both were three-time All-Americans. Zach Roberson got his championship after taking fourth as a junior and seventh as a sophomore. Roberson got to the NCAA finals in 2004 after disposing of the top-seed Travis Lee, a national champion at 125 the previous season. Zach got his title as the fifth seed and was either the fifth or ninth seed during his four trips to nationals. Tony Ramos just missed the NCAA podium as a freshman and was a national title contender during his final three years of college, finishing in the top-three each year. Ramos gave a scare to Logan Stieber in their semi-controversial 2013 final, but finished on top in 2014 by taking out Tyler Graff in sudden victory. Graff was the opponent that Ramos downed in the Big Ten finals, as well.
2004: Cliff Moore (Iowa) vs. 2014: Logan Stieber (Ohio State)
The biggest match at the 2004 tournament for Cliff Moore came in the semifinals when he majored Virginia’s Scott Moore (no relation). Scott was the top-seed and went into the tournament 49-0 with 31 falls. Cliff was able to take advantage of his strong positioning and won 14-2. A match later, Cliff won his national title by cruising 5-2 against #7 Matt Murray. The Hawkeye was a three-time All-American (1st, 6th, 6th) and captured Big Ten titles during his final two seasons in Iowa City. 2014 was when Logan Stieber won the third of his four titles. Stieber suffered the last loss of his collegiate career in the regular season when he fell to true freshman Zain Retherford. Stieber would avenge that loss in both the Big Ten finals and the NCAA semis. Logan’s 7-3 win over Retherford was his only regular decision of the 2014 national tournament. He also tallied two falls, a tech and a 10-1 major decision against Devin Carter in finals.
2004: Jesse Jantzen (Harvard) vs. 2014: Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern)
The fourth consecutive senior from 2004 who won his first national title was Jesse Jantzen. Jesse became the first Havard wrestler in 66 years to win a national title and for his efforts, he was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the 2004 tournament. Jantzen’s top game, and more specifically his crab-ride, separated him from the rest of the field, at the time. Jesse rewrote the Havard record book finishing as the school’s all-time leader in wins (132), winning percentage (.910), falls (50), and wins in a season (37 – twice). Jason Tsirtsis was on a magical ride as a freshman in 2014. Tsirtsis was on the right side of three consecutive matches that went into extra time against Kendric Maple (quarters), Drake Houdashelt (semis), and David Habat (finals). The Wildcat also was able to win the first of his two Big Ten titles during his freshman campaign.
2004: Matt Gentry (Stanford) vs. 2014: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State)
History was made at the 157 lb weight class as Matt Gentry became the first (and to date, only) NCAA champion for Stanford. Gentry finished the year perfectly, at 41-0, and needed to get by a fellow-undefeated wrestler in Jake Percival. Gentry also picked up wins in St. Louis against Phillip Simpson, a 2005 finalist, and returning champion (and 2005 champ), Ryan Bertin. This year was the first, and only, time that the junior Gentry earned All-American status. The first of three NCAA titles for Alex Dieringer came in 2014 when he majored Dylan Ness, 13-4, in the national finals. Alex went 32-1 (19 coming on bonus points) on the year and suffered the final loss of his collegiate career. He also won the second of his four Big 12 crowns.
2004: Troy Letters (Lehigh) vs. 2014: David Taylor (Penn State)
An NCAA runner-up as a freshman in 2003, Troy Letters improved upon his first season by winning it all in 2004. Letters had a 36-1 season in which his only loss came in a dual meet to four-time All-American Tyrone Lewis. Troy got revenge with a 5-2 win over Lewis in the NCAA finals. The loss to Lewis propelled Troy on a 36-match win streak, which would carry on until the 2005 NCAA semifinals. In each of his first two years with Lehigh, Letters won an EIWA title and was seeded second at nationals. David Taylor put the finishing touches on a remarkable career in 2014 with his second national title and a fourth finals appearance. Taylor was awarded the Hodge Trophy for the second time after putting up bonus points in four of his five NCAA matches. His only regular decision came in the finals against Tyler Caldwell in a 6-0 bout controlled by Taylor. The final tally for Taylor’s career numbers came up to 134-3 with 125 bonus point wins.
2004: Chris Pendleton (Oklahoma State) vs. 2014: Chris Perry (Oklahoma State)
It’s an all-Cowboy matchup at 174 lbs. And between a pair of wrestlers who had remarkably similar careers. Both Chris Pendleton and Chris Perry missed out on placing at a different weight class. Pendleton was down at 165, while Perry was up at 184. Each went on to take third as sophomores before winning NCAA’s during their final two seasons. In 2004, Chris Pendleton was fresh off his only career loss to Ben Askren in the Big 12 finals. It was the only loss of the year for Pendleton and he was still awarded the top seed at nationals. Pendleton ended up bonusing his way to the finals and dropped Askren in the finals 11-4. Perry also suffered a loss to one of his rivals during the 2014 season, Andrew Howe of Oklahoma. The Cowboy turned the tables on the national champion from 2010 in the Big 12 finals and won the tournament for the fourth time. The two met in the NCAA finals and it was all-Perry in a 4-0 win.
2004: Greg Jones (West Virginia) vs. 2014: Ed Ruth (Penn State)
The 2002 NCAA champion Greg Jones looked to be on a collision course with 2003 winner Jake Rosholt, in 2004, but Rosholt was knocked off by Ben Heizer in the NCAA semi’s. Jones proceeded to win his second national title and was not seriously threatened in a 10-5 win. After turning in the first of two undefeated seasons, Greg finished in fourth place in the 2004 Hodge Trophy voting. He would be the runner-up in 2005. In 2014, Ed Ruth closed out his career with a third NCAA title and became the first Nittany Lion wrestler to achieve the feat. Even though Ruth’s 84-match winning streak was stopped midway through the 2014 season by Gabe Dean, Ruth came back to defeat Dean in the NCAA semifinals. Ruth finished his career in Penn State with a 140-3 record and never lost to a Big Ten opponent. As a sophomore and junior, Ed was the runner-up for the Hodge Trophy. Right out of college, Ed immediately made the Senior world team in 2014.
2004: Damion Hahn (Minnesota) vs. 2014: J’Den Cox (Missouri)
One of the biggest recruits of his time, Damion Hahn, finished his career as a four-time All-American (5, 5, 1, 1) and two-time champion in 2004. While Hahn needed last-second heroics to win in 2003, they were not required this time. Damion downed #10 Ryan Fulsaas 6-2 in the 2004 finals. He was also a three-time Big Ten champion and an integral part of the Gophers first two NCAA team titles. J’Den Cox claimed the first of his three NCAA titles in 2014 as a true freshman at a weight class normally dominated by grown men. Cox went 38-2 and it yielded him the second seed at the national tournament. As a sign of things to come, even a young J’Den was incredibly difficult to score on. He gave up a single point in his final three matches of the tournament against Conner Hartmann (quarters), Chris Penny (semis), and Nick Heflin (finals).
2004: Tommy Rowlands (Ohio State) vs. 2014: Nick Gwiazdowski (Minnesota)
Tommy Rowlands was one of the earlier, “new-breed” types of athletic heavyweights. Rowlands was tall and muscular and didn’t resemble the big men from the years prior. Tommy got the best of a young Steve Mocco in 2002 to win his first national title and was injured during the 2003 semis, so he didn’t get the opportunity to win number two that year. Rowlands won in 2004 by defeating the only wrestler to beat him that season in Pat Cummins. Tommy finished his career as Ohio State’s first four-time All-American and their all-time leader in wins (164), career team points (702), and career takedowns (705). Heavyweights like Kerry McCoy and Rowlands paved the way for Nick Gwiazdowski, who went on to become a four-time AA, himself. Gwiazdowski got his first title in 2014 when he unseated another two-time champion Tony Nelson, 4-2. Nelson had defeated him earlier in the season at the Southern Scuffle. Nick picked up 42 wins this year, a total that was the highest in program history, against only two losses. Gwiz also won the first of his three ACC titles.
2017 vs. 2019
2017: Darian Cruz (Lehigh) vs. 2019: Spencer Lee (Iowa)
One of the lasting moments from the 2017 NCAA Tournament is when Darian Cruz pulled an upset over Thomas Gilman in sudden victory during the semifinals. Cruz would go on to beat fellow PA District XI rival Ethan Lizak 6-3 to become a national champion. Darian was 31-2 during his title-winning season and won the second of his three EIWA titles. The Mountain Hawk finished his career in 2018 as a three-time All-American (7, 1, 5). It was two wins in two tries as Spencer Lee captured the 2019 national title at 125 lbs. Lee shook off three regular-season losses, including one in the Big Ten finals, to flourish at the big dance. Spencer reversed one of his setbacks from earlier in the season by downing Nick Piccininni 11-4 in the semifinals. To claim his second title, Lee shutout HMA co-host Jack Mueller 5-0 in the NCAA finals.
2017: Cory Clark (Iowa) vs. 2019: Nick Suriano (Rutgers)
After a pair of crushing defeats in the 2015 and 2016 national finals, Cory Clark finished his career in style with an NCAA title and by tossing Terry Brands. The fourth-seeded Clark had quite the path to a championship as he dropped Stevan Micic 6-4 in the quarters before knocking off 2015’s national champion Nathan Tomasello in the semis. Clark would rally late to beat another HMA co-host Seth Gross 4-3 in the championship bout. Clark was a four-time All-American and three-time national finalist, to go along with a Big Ten title in the 2016 campaign. Another wrestler that came out on top a year after losing in the finals with Nick Suriano in 2019. Suriano became Rutgers’ first NCAA champion when he prevailed 4-2 in sudden victory, during an odd match against Daton Fix. Nick also defeated Micic and Lizak to win a weight class that many regarded as the toughest of the last decade. In addition to his national title, Nick also won the Big Ten and went onto the national podium for a second time.
2017: Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) vs. 2019: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)
The 2017 season saw Dean Heil win his second NCAA title in as many years and earn All-American honors for the third time. Heil survived an NCAA quarterfinal scare against Jaydin Eierman, then got by Anthony Ashnault 4-2, to set up a finals meeting with George DiCamillo. Heil’s defense was able to nullify DiCamillo for a 6-3 win. In both years, Heil won national titles; he was seeded number one after winning a Big 12 title. Heil is also intertwined with Yianni Diakomihalis’ first national title. The pair met in the quarters and Yianni fought through a knee injury to display some of his late-match heroics. Diakomihalis added title number two in 2019 when he outlasted Joey McKenna 6-4 in sudden victory. Yianni also took another round from Eierman, who is responsible for the only loss of his collegiate career in his 67 matches.
2017: Zain Retherford (Penn State) vs. 2019: Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers)
The 2017 season for Zain Retherford was arguably his best year. Zain went perfect for a second consecutive year and won a national title after earning bonus points in 25 of his 28 matches. He would log tech falls in four of his five NCAA matches, a stretch that was only interrupted by a fall against four-time All-American Brandon Sorensen in the semis. After teching Lavion Mayes in the finals, Retherford was awarded the Hodge Trophy, an honor he received in 2018, as well. A few matches after Suriano was Rutgers’ first national champion, Anthony Ashnault became the second. Anthony was also the school’s first four-time All-American and a three-time Big Ten champion. The Scarlet Knight not only finished his career as a national champion, but he was undefeated in doing so.
2017: Joey LaVallee (Missouri) vs. 2019: Tyler Berger (Nebraska)
Since Jason Nolf won titles at 157 lbs in both 2017 and 2019, we have decided to weigh his finals opponents against each other.
Joey Lavallee earned All-American honors for the first and only time in 2017 when he made the finals opposite Nolf. Lavallee made the finals after defeating Dylan Palacio, who had just shocked the entire arena in St. Louis by pinning #2, Michael Kemerer. Joey won the first of two MAC titles in 2017 and finished the year with a 29-2 mark.
Tyler Berger had the misfortune of being in the same weight class as Nolf for all four years of his collegiate career. Berger was a three-time All-American (5,3,2) and also a Big Ten finalist in 2019. During the last three years of his career, Tyler was seeded top-eight at nationals in each season, which saw a high of #2 in 2019.
2017: Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. 2019: Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
Both of these wrestlers shocked the college wrestling world when they won their NCAA titles in 2017 (Joseph) and 2019 (Lewis). Joseph stood toe-to-toe with Isaiah Martinez and derailed his hopes of four NCAA titles by pinning him in the 2017 finals. Vincenzo would get his second title a year later when he stunned IMar, again. The pair crossed paths in 2019 when Lewis upset Joseph to capture an NCAA title as a freshman. That capped an incredible run for Lewis that saw him take down the #1 Alex Marinelli, #4 Evan Wick, and #2 Joseph seeds. The win also made Mekhi the first individual champion in Virginia Tech’s wrestling history. Lewis won the final 19 matches of his freshman season.
2017: Mark Hall (Penn State) vs. 2019: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
We’ve seen this match once or twice. In fact, two of Mark Hall’s six career losses came at the hands of Zahid Valencia. On the other hand, Hall handed Zahid two of his three defeats in a Sun Devil singlet. The pair first met in the 2017 national semifinals and Hall was the victor after a controversial point for a headgear pull. Valencia returned the favor in the next two NCAA finals. The cancelation of the 2020 national tournament prevented Hall from getting a second national title, while a suspension stopped Valencia from becoming ASU’s first three-timer.
2017: Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. 2019: Drew Foster (Northern Iowa)
The main event of the 2017 NCAA finals was the 184 lb final between two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean and sophomore, Bo Nickal. Bo came back on a tear after suffering what would be his final career losses in the Big Ten semis to Myles Martin. He would pin three of his four pre-finals opponents, including returning runner-up TJ Dudley and All-American Sam Brooks. Nickal prevented Dean’s third titles by getting the first of his three with a 4-3 final score. Drew Foster’s national title also came over a Dean, not Gabe, but his younger brother, Max. Foster made the finals after taking another chapter in his rivalry with Zack Zavatsky in the quarters, and then Mr. March, Chip Ness in the semis. Drew’s title made him the first for Panther head coach Doug Schwab and the school’s first since Tony Davis in 2000.
2017: J’Den Cox (Missouri) vs. 2019: Bo Nickal (Penn State)
Get your popcorn ready for this one! A pair of three-time national champions meeting in the senior years. We’ll try to overlook their match in Final X 2019, as Bo Nickal didn’t really threaten J’Den Cox at all. Cox put together his first undefeated season in 2017 when he went 28-0 and ran his career record to 136-5. That made J’Den the first Tiger wrestler to capture three national titles and he was only the second to become a four-time AA. Cox was never in any danger during the 2017 tournament and got to the finals after downing Jared Haught 6-2. Once there, he defeated Brett Pfarr, 8-2. Nickal would earn the 2019 Hodge Trophy after winning his third title and finished the year with a 90% bonus point rate. Bo’s 59 career falls left him just one behind Nolf for Penn State’s all-time mark.
2017: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) vs. 2019: Anthony Cassar (Penn State)
Kyle Snyder’s second NCAA title in 2017 and also registered his second undefeated season. Snyder was able to achieve bonus points in 76% of his 17 bouts, including during three of his five NCAA matches. Kyle fought through injury to get past the much larger Connor Medbery in the national finals, 6-3. Since Snyder wrestled abbreviated schedules his last three years of college, he never finished higher than third in the Hodge Trophy discussion, despite being the most accomplished athlete in college wrestling. Anthony Cassar only had one year as the starter in the postseason for Penn State, but took full advantage of that opportunity. Cassar lost only one match in 2018-19, but was able to avenge it, against Derek White, in the NCAA finals. Anthony also had a pair of wins against super-freshman Gable Steveson and is still responsible for his only two career losses.