Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
With two-time defending NCAA champion Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) taking his fourth loss of the year last weekend and the regular season winding down, the discussion of who can still win a national title is starting to heat up. Many are wondering if Heil can rebound or if anyone outside the top few at each weight can stand atop the podium in Cleveland. That made us wonder, how many losses are too many to overcome in this pursuit? Obviously, any wrestler who advances to the national tournament has a chance, but history tells us that nine losses through the regular season and conference tournaments has been the limit. Three wrestlers, that we were able to find records for, have won titles with nine losses, Jake Rosholt (Oklahoma State, 2003), Mark Branch (Oklahoma State, 1994), and Jeff Walter (Wisconsin, 1996). Six losses seems to be the cutoff point for most with just 21 athletes winning titles with at least that many defeats since 1977. While many might expect younger athletes to represent the bulk of those winning titles after many losses as they tend to improve the most throughout the year, that isn’t always the case. Of those 21, nine were seniors, five were juniors, three sophomores, and four did it as freshmen. Because there were three who did it in 2003, we expanded what was expected to be a last five into the last six wrestlers to win an NCAA Division I title with at least six losses on the season.
Myles Martin, Ohio State, 2016, 174 pounds, 33-6, 11 seed, Freshman
The true freshman already had a couple of losses at open tournaments, one to Mike Ottinger (Central Michigan), the other to future rival Bo Nickal (Penn State) when he was pulled out of redshirt along with Kyle Snyder midway through the season. In Martin’s second dual he stumbled again, falling to Davonte Mahomes (Michigan) in overtime. He also picked up a loss to Jacob Morrissey (Purdue) and another to Nickal as he worked through the Big Ten schedule. As the four seed at the conference tournament, Myles topped Nathan Jackson (Indiana) twice but lost to the Nittany Lion for a third time, this time by fall, in the semi-finals, eventually finishing third. Once he hit Madison Square Garden, though, he took center stage. Some might say his bracket fell apart as the only seeded wrestler he faced prior to the finals was the six-seed Bryce Hammond (CSU Bakersfield), who the Buckeye got past, 5-3, in the second round. However he got there, he saves his best for last. Facing Nickal for the fourth time, Martin made the crowd ooh with a quick takedown when Bo tried to go big. After the Nittany Lion had gained the lead, Martin was pulled up off a shot into a body lock, both wrestlers looked for points on the edge, but it was Myles who won the position for a six-point move. That staked him to a 9-4 advantage and he hung on to win the title, 11-9.
Quentin Wright, Penn State, 2011, 184 pounds, 21-6, 9 seed, Sophomore
After a sixth-place finish as a true freshman in 2009, Wright took his redshirt season before returning to the line-up for the Nittany Lions. Though he was just 8-5 in duals with losses to Robert Hamlin (Lehigh), Grant Gambrall (Iowa), Tony Dallago (Illinois), Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota), and Travis Rutt (Wisconsin). The latter four occurred in late January and early February after Wright had returned from injury and he entered the postseason on a three-match losing streak after falling to Dallago, Steinhaus, and Rutt in the final three duals. Wright was seeded eighth in the Big Ten but avenged each of those three late losses en route to the conference crown. Wrestling from the nine seed in Philadelphia, Wright beat Steinhaus again, upset number one seed Chris Honeycutt (Edinboro) in the quarters, avenged another loss by pinning Gambrall in the semis and completed his revenge tour by defeating Hamlin in the finals, 5-2. In the end, the only one of Wright’s six losses he did not avenge in the post-season was his injury default against Nate Schiedel (Binghamton) from the Nittany Lion Open.
J Jaggers, Ohio State, 2009, 141 pounds, 28-7, 3 seed, Senior
J Jaggers, Ohio State, 2008, 141 pounds, 30-6, 6 seed, Junior
After a seventh-place finish in 2007 as a sophomore, in a season that included 10 losses, Jaggers accomplished this feat twice, the only wrestler I could find ever to do so. In 2008, he was seeded third at the Big Ten tournament, suffered an upset at the hands of Manny Rivera (Minnesota) in the quarters, then stormed back to finish third. Wrestling from the six seed in St. Louis, Jaggers upset Big Ten champion Kellen Russell (Michigan) in the quarters, second-seeded Charles Griffin (Hofstra) in the semis, then dropped the top-seed Chad Mendes (Cal Poly), 5-2, to take his first title. However, a repeat didn’t seem likely as he drifted through the regular season, falling out of the top-10 after compiling a 19-6 record. Then, in a post-match interview on February 15th, Jaggers confidently proclaimed he would the title again. It wasn’t a direct route as he again finished third at the Big Ten tournament. Regardless, he survived a close call against Tyler Nauman (Pitt) in the second round, then pinned Nick Gallick (Iowa State) and Chris Drouin (Arizona State) before handling Ryan Williams (Old Dominion), 10-4, to repeat as champion.
Ryan Bertin, Michigan, 2003, 157 pounds, 21-6, 6 seed, Sophomore
The NCAA champion class of 2013 combined for 31 losses overall despite four of the title winners completing undefeated seasons. These three took 22 of those losses themselves in the only year I found with more than one winner with six or more losses on the year. Just like Jaggers, Bertin never won a Big Ten title, though he was a three-time finalist. His sophomore season was the only time he did not when he avenged an earlier loss to Alex Tirapelle (Illinois) in the quarters, only to lose to Luke Becker (Minnesota) in the semis. He would upset the three seed, Shane Roller (Oklahoma State), and the two seed, Keaton Anderson (Ohio State), in Kansas City before topping Tirapelle again for the title.
Robbie Waller, Oklahoma, 2003, 174 pounds, 31-7, 3 seed, Senior
Waller took nearly half his losses at the hands of Chris Pendleton (Oklahoma State) falling to his Bedlam rival three times in all including in the Big 12 tournament. The senior had finished sixth to earn his only other All-American award in 2002. Despite his losses, he was seeded third behind Pendleton and Greg Jones (West Virginia). Jones would fall in the opening round, then Pendleton was upended by Brad Dillon (Lehigh) in the quarters. Suddenly, Waller was the highest seed remaining and he survived his semi-final against Dillon to earn a spot in the finals. A 7-2 win over Carl Fronhofer (Pitt) sealed the deal as Waller ended his college career atop the podium.
Jake Rosholt, Oklahoma State, 2003, 184 pounds, 22-9, 10 seed, Freshman
It wasn’t quite an unseeded Mark Branch coming into the national tournament with a losing record before claiming the crown, but nine years later another Cowboy freshman shocked the college wrestling world. Rosholt’s career got off to a rough start as he lost four of his first seven matches, including a Bedlam loss to Josh Lambrecht (Oklahoma). He fell in the Reno finals to Greg Parker (Princeton), 10-2. He would avenge that loss to Lambrecht at the Big 8 tournament but fell in the finals to Scott Barker (Missouri), 8-1. Entering the NCAA tournament as the 10 seed, Rosholt upset future MMA fighter Gerald Harris (Cleveland State) in the second round, pinned Parker in the quarters, bested Lambrecht again in the semis, 9-2, then hammered Barker, who had knocked off top-seed Jessman Smith (Iowa) in the top half semis. The title was the first of three for Rosholt.