With such a drought in wrestling action in 2020, wrestling fans and media alike have been forced to look back into the history of our great sport. That’s not a bad thing, though. I was recently a part of Home Mat Advantage’s podcast series, where we debated which year’s NCAA champion (over the last 16 years) was best. That forced us to revisit some of the resumes of our sport’s all-time greats. On occasion, we came across three-time NCAA champions and had to figure out who prevented those superstars from winning a fourth. Which got me to thinking…
The old saying goes, “More men have walked on the moon, than have won four NCAA titles.” Currently, there are only four DI wrestlers that have won four (Pat Smith, Cael Sanderson, Kyle Dake, and Logan Stieber). That means there’s a ton of all-time greats and legends that came up a bit short (or a lot short). Winning four is so difficult because of a variety of reasons. First and foremost, is you have to be really, really good. You also have a pool of young talent that is continually replenished with young, hungry competition. Then there’s the injury factor. I was coming into my own as a media member during the early portion of Dustin Schlatter’s career. Dustin was an NCAA champ as a true freshman and looked poised to challenge that sacred mark of four. I would never have predicted in 2006 that he wouldn’t make another final. A big reason why for Schlatter and plenty of others in the injury factor. Then there are just the miscellaneous things you can’t really predict. Spencer Lee was on track for four before the 2020 tournament was canceled. One of Schlatter’s key rivals, Brent Metcalf, was not eligible to wrestle in 2006-07 because of transfer rules that have since been updated.
What we’re looking at today is all of the three-time NCAA champions since 1975 and examined what prevented them from becoming four-timers. Many of them were stopped as freshmen. Others stumbled later on. Either way, we’re combed through the bracket to find just how/where that occurred.
Note - We’ve started at 1975 because freshmen were ineligible for competition up until 1969, so there are three-timers before the 1970’s that never had the opportunity to compete as freshmen. Additionally, freshmen were allowed to compete for a season following the completion of World War II.
Lee Kemp - Wisconsin (1975-78)
We’ll start with perhaps the closest wrestler on this list to capturing four NCAA titles, Lee Kemp. As a freshman, Lee was in the NCAA finals against Iowa’s Chuck Yagla. The match was tied after overtime and, at the time, the tiebreaker was a referee’s decision. Though Kemp had the only takedown of the bout, two of three referee’s ruled in favor of Yagla. Kemp would go on to win national titles in each of the next three seasons and become the first African-American wrestler to accomplish the feat.
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