photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com
In 2009, the Ray Mendoza Award was created to honor the wrestler who scored the most team points at Walsh Ironman. The award, named after the late Major Ray Mendoza, who was killed in combat in Iraq in 2005, is now given three times each year: at Ironman, Beast of the East and National Preps. With the 2018 edition of Ironman just under a week away, we take a look back at each Mendoza Award winner from the tournament and find out what they’re doing now.
2009 – Nick Sulzer, St. Edward’s (OH)
Sulzer was the champ at 160 pounds in 2009 as part of his outstanding high school career for powerhouse St. Ed’s in which he went 138-16. He continued his wrestling career at the University of Virginia where he proved to be the biggest foe for Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer. Sulzer was a three-time All-American and four-time qualifier who went 122-27 for the Cavaliers. He currently serves as an assistant coach for New York University.
2010 – Morgan McIntosh, Calvary Chapel (CA)
McIntosh took home the crown at 189 pounds in his only Ironman appearance. That year was also the second of his three state championships was named the National High School Wrestler of the Year. He went 189-5 in high school and was 148-0 over the last three years before continuing his career at Penn State. McIntosh went on to become a three-time All-American and a one-time national finalist for the Nittany Lions. He is currently in the process of becoming a green beret in the US Army.
2011 – Randy Cruz, Bethlehem Catholic (PA)
Cruz was the 2011 champion at 132 pounds. That same year he captured his first state championship after making the finals two times prior. He was a four-time PA state placer who set the school record for wins at 152-20. Cruz continued his career at Lehigh University with his brother Darian. He finished his career in 2016 by becoming an All-American with an eighth-place finish. Cruz currently helps coach at Weaver Elite Wrestling Club in the Lehigh Valley.
2012 – Zain Retherford, Benton (PA)
Retherford, the champ at 138 pounds, dominated during his high school career, posting a 130-3 record along with two state championships while having to sit out a year. He continued his dominance in college, posting a 126-3 record with all three losses coming in his true freshman year. Zain won three NCAA championships, was a four-time All-American and won the Hodge Trophy in 2017 and 2018. He was a 2017 world team member and currently competes for and trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.
2013 – Spencer Lee, Franklin Regional (PA)
Lee, already a household name among wrestling diehards, won the 106-pound crown in 2013 as a freshman at the start of a prolific high school career that saw him become a three-time state champion with his only loss coming in the championship bout his senior year while wrestling on a torn ACL. He’s also won multiple age-level world championships, and in 2018 he became an NCAA champion at 125 pounds as a true freshman.
2014 – Anthony Valencia, St. John Bosco (CA)
The earlier of the Valencias to bloom, Anthony grabbed his second of two Ironman championships in 2014 at 170 pounds. He was also a four-time place winner at the event. Valencia, a two-time state champ, went on Arizona State University and took an Olympic redshirt in 2015-16 as a freshman. He has yet to place thus far for the Sun Devils, but is a two-time PAC-12 champion and a two-time qualifier. Valencia is redshirting in 2018-19.
2014 – Kevin Vough, Elyria (OH)
Vough, competing in his home state, matched Valencia’s output in 2014 on the way to winning the 285-pound bracket as a sophomore. He went on to become a state champion as well as a UWW Cadet World Team member. Vough initially pledged his college commitment to Boise State but flipped to South Dakota State when the Broncos disbanded their program. After going 16-8 during his redshirt season, Kevin is not currently on a collegiate roster.
2015 – Jack Mueller, Trinity Christian (TX)
Mueller was the 2015 champion at 120 pounds, the last of his four times placing at the Ironman to go along with four National Prep Championships. He spent three years at Trinity Christian and one at Wyoming Seminary. Mueller is both a Cadet and Junior level national champion as well as a U23 national champion in 2018 at 57 kilos. He currently wrestles at the University of Virginia where he was an All-American in 2017 at 125 and made the bloodround at 133 in 2018. He is redshirting during the 2018-19 season.
2016 – Sammy Sasso, Nazareth (PA)
Sasso, a junior at the time, won the Ironman title at 145 pounds. He was four-time place winner in PA and a two-time state champion with a 180-11 record over four years. Sasso was also a Fargo champ in addition to Ironman, Beast of the East, Super 32 and FloNationals. He’s currently 6-1 during his redshirt campaign at Ohio State with his only loss coming to teammate Micah Jordan.
2017 – Michael Colaiocco, Blair Academy (NJ)
The 2017 champ at 120 pounds will be back again this year to defend his crown, albeit up in weight. Colaiocco is currently No. 6 in the country at 132 pounds and is the 26th ranked wrestler in the Class of 2019. In addition to an Ironman title, Colaiocco has won Beast of the East three times and is looking to make it a clean sweep next month. He’ll continue his career at the college level for Penn and head coach Roger Reina.