Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
With Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) falling to Bryce Meredith (Wyoming), the second-longest winning streak in the country was snapped at 55. That means a new addition to the top five longest active winning streaks in Division I as well as some shuffling among those who made this list in the preseason. The number five spot could be traded back and forth among a number of wrestlers the rest of the way as there are several competitors nipping at the heals of the man currently holding down that spot.
Chance Marsteller (Lock Haven) – 19
Whether his winning streak sits at 19, the number of matches he has won this season, or 23, adding in the four he won at the Messiah Open last February before he was allowed back on the team at Lock Haven, Marsteller is the man who gets into the top five with Heil’s loss. Since his return, he has been dominant at 165 pounds, wrestling just one match that ended with Chance ahead by fewer than five points en route to titles at the Clarion Open, Journeymen Classic, Black Knight Invitational, and PSAC Championships. While his opposition hasn’t always been the strongest, his resume does include a 9-3 win over Jake Wentzel (Pitt), an 8-1 handling of Cole Walter (Lehigh), and an 11-3 major decision of John Van Brill (Rutgers). The latter two were 2017 NCAA qualifiers. If Marsteller can get through the Southern Scuffle unscathed, he could run the table and head to Cleveland with a zero in the loss column. That won’t be easy with defending national champion Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) expected to attend.
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) – 30
While Snyder’s last loss at the college level remains Kyven Gadson (Iowa State) in the 2015 NCAA finals, his winning streak is growing at a snail’s pace thanks to his international schedule. The world and Olympic champion had wrestled just two matches for the Buckeyes this season, winning them both to extend his streak to 30. In that time he has seen Jason Nolf (Penn State) race past and Darian Cruz (Lehigh) pull alongside on his way up the charts. It certainly won’t bother Snyder as he has other achievements on his mind. As long as he claims a third NCAA crown en route to pursuing a fourth-consecutive world -level gold medal, the minimal number of matches he wrestled in an Ohio State singlet will remain a footnote to the story.
Darian Cruz (Lehigh) – 30
In the face of Nick Suriano (Rutgers) returning healthy, Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) dropping back to the weight, and an influx of talented freshmen making the lightest class suddenly a deep one, the defending champion has quietly kept on winning. His nine wins to start the season include a 7-0 decision over one of those new faces, 11th ranked Drew Mattin (Michigan). While we haven’t gotten a look at Cruz against one of the other title contenders yet to see if last year’s run was part of the senior jumping to a new level, he has done what has been asked of him to this point. The Southern Scuffle, the last event where Cruz took a loss, looms ahead and this time the Mountain Hawk will be the favorite. Without Suriano or Tomasello on the schedule, this streak should get long.
Jason Nolf (Penn State) – 36
If this article was about the amount of time wrestled since each man’s last loss, Nolf would be at a dramatic disadvantage. The junior who won all 27 of his bouts last season hasn’t gone a full seven minutes with anyone this season, dispatching eight of his foes by fall and the ninth by tech-fall. This is nothing new for Nolf who didn’t wrestle his first full match until January 8th last season when All-American Tyler Berger held him to a 15-7 major decision. While the emergence of Hayden Hidlay (NC State) might add a name to the list of those who could face Nolf in the finals this season, the continuation of this winning streak seems one of the safest bets in the sport, barring injury. Penn State’s return to the Scuffle should see Nolf get over 30 matches this season which gives him a chance to break Ed Ruth’s all-time record for best career winning percentage. If he does it, Nolf should end up winning his last 85+ college matches. Considering it is news when anyone holds him to a decision, who would expect otherwise?
Zain Retherford (Penn State) – 72
If Nolf isn’t the safest bet in the sport, it is only because his teammate has been automatic even longer. Since his last loss at the 2014 NCAA tournament, Retherford has been flawless, running off wins in 72 consecutive bouts with only four of those coming without bonus points. In his last two NCAA tournament appearances, he has been extended to seven minutes just once, in his 10-1 2016 finals victory over Brandon Sorensen (Iowa). This season Ryan Deakin, a redshirt freshman from Northwestern who won a Junior world silver medal over the summer, caused a minor stir battling Zain to a 10-2 defeat. None of Retherford’s other eight wins have taken longer than 4:14. The list of wrestlers who have finished their careers by having three straight perfect seasons is short. It looks for all the world like Retherford will soon add his name to that historic group.