| NCAA Champion Zain Retherford (Penn State) rides Brandon
Sorensen (Iowa) in the 2016 NCAA finals at 149 pounds.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com.
Nine NCAA champions and 71 All-Americans from years past return to the fold for the 2016-17 Division I season.
Headlining the list of returning champions are Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder of Ohio State and Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox of Missouri.
Snyder set the mark for youngest Olympic champion in USA Wrestling history at age 20 this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is expected to be the first U.S. Olympic champion to compete at the NCAA Championships.
Last year in Madison Square Garden, Snyder stole the show by winning arguably the greatest college heavyweight showdown of all-time against two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski. His thrilling overtime win gave Snyder his first NCAA title as a sophomore for the Buckeyes.
The 21-year-old Cox was equally as impressive this summer as he transformed from a wrestler with no international experience to standing on the Olympic podium. Now in his senior season for Missouri, Cox has amassed two NCAA titles, three All-American honors and three Mid-American Conference championships at 197 pounds.
Snyder and Cox will be just the fourth and fifth U.S. wrestlers to win an Olympic medal in men’s freestyle and return to compete at the NCAA Championships.
Cornell sensation Gabe Dean and Illinois dynamo Isaiah Martinez join Cox in the quest for a third NCAA championship this year.
Dean owns finishes of third, first and first at the NCAA tournament at 184 pounds entering his senior campaign. He is a three-time EIWA champion and holds an overall collegiate record of 117-6.
Only a junior, Martinez captured his first two NCAA titles with relative ease. He holds a 67-1 record and two Big Ten championships entering the season, with his only career loss coming at the hands of Penn State’s Jason Nolf in a dual meet last year. Martinez bounced back to avenge this loss in the finals of the Big Ten Championships and NCAA tournament.
Only 29 wrestlers in the history of the NCAA Championships have won a minimum of three titles at the prestigious event. Prohibitive favorites Cox, Dean and Martinez can push that number up to 32 should all go their way in March.
Runner-up in last year’s Dan Hodge Trophy voting for the best collegiate wrestler, Zain Retherford is seeking his second NCAA title at 149 pounds for the dynastic Penn State squad. Retherford owns a 67-3 collegiate record and holds one of the highest bonus point percentages in all of college wrestling. He is the leader of a Penn State program seeking its sixth NCAA title in the last seven seasons.
Ohio State returns two NCAA champions in addition to Snyder. Nathan Tomasello won the 125-pound NCAA championship two years ago as a freshman for the Buckeyes and will return this year as a junior at 133 pounds. Myles Martin shocked the wrestling world by winning the 174-pound crown as a true freshman last year. Martin is expected to bump up in weight and challenge Dean at 184 pounds.
After a solid freshman season resulting in a fourth-place finish at the NCAAs, Oklahoma State Cowboy Dean Heil was the picture of consistency last year as he went 32-1 to claim the 141-pound NCAA title.
The last NCAA champion in the fold is Jason Tsirtsis, who won the big show as a freshman for Northwestern at 149 pounds in 2014. A tumultuous year for Tsirtsis resulted in his transfer to Arizona State during the offseason. He is not expected to compete for the Sun Devils this year, but is seeking a sixth year of eligibility for a return in the 2017-18 season.
From a team perspective, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech boast the most All-Americans on their rosters with six. However, only five of the six on either team are expected to take the mat this season.
The Cowboys are a consensus preseason No. 1 across the major wrestling polls with All-Americans Heil, Anthony Collica, Joseph Smith, Kyle Crutchmer and Nolan Boyd leading the way. Boise State All-American Geo Martinez made the move to Stillwater this summer, but is not eligible to compete per NCAA transfer rules.
Virginia Tech returns All-Americans Joey Dance, Solomon Chisko, David McFadden, Zach Epperly, Jared Haught and Ty Walz to its impressive lineup. While all are eligible to take the mat, it is expected McFadden will redshirt as a result of injury.
Perennial power Iowa will undoubtedly be in the team race mix come March with five All-Americans on its roster. Missouri, Ohio State and Penn State all have four All-Americans coming back this year.
The college season will culminate at the 85th NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., March 16-18.
NCAA All-Americans by Team
6 – Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech
5 – Iowa
4 – Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State
3 – Cornell, Iowa State, Lehigh, Michigan, Stanford, Wisconsin
2 – Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Rider, Arizona State
1 – Central Michigan, Indiana, Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Oregon State, Penn, Princeton, Rutgers, West Virginia, Wyoming
NCAA All-Americans by Projected Weight Class
Darian Cruz (Lehigh)
Joey Dance (Virginia Tech)
Thomas Gilman (Iowa)
Zeke Moisey (West Virginia)
Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa)
Connor Schram (Stanford)
Cory Clark (Iowa)
Earl Hall (Iowa State)
Eric Montoya (Nebraska)
Zane Richards (Illinois)
Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State)*
Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers)
Randy Cruz (Lehigh)
Jimmy Gulibon (Penn State)
Dean Heil (Oklahoma State)*
Kevin Jack (North Carolina State)
Joey McKenna (Stanford)
Bryce Meredith (Wyoming)
Joseph Ward (North Carolina)
Solomon Chisko (Virginia Tech)
Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State)
Lavion Mayes (Missouri)
Justin Oliver (Central Michigan)
Alec Pantaleo (Michigan)
Zain Retherford (Penn State)*
Brandon Sorensen (Iowa)
B.J. Clagon (Rider)
Mitch Minotti (Lehigh)
Brian Murphy (Michigan)
Jason Nolf (Penn State)
Dylan Palacio (Cornell)
Joseph Smith (Oklahoma State)
Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin)
Daniel Lewis (Missouri)
Isaiah Martinez (Illinois)**
Brian Realbuto (Cornell)
Chad Walsh (Rider)
Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State)
Zach Epperly (Virginia Tech)
Nate Jackson (Indiana)
Bo Jordan (Ohio State)
Casey Kent (Penn)
Alex Meyer (Iowa)
Ethan Ramos (North Carolina)
Lelund Weatherspoon (Iowa State)
Jim Wilson (Stanford)
Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State)
Sammy Brooks (Iowa)
Gabe Dean (Cornell)**
Jack Dechow (Old Dominion)
Pat Downey (Iowa State)
Timothy Dudley (Nebraska)
Myles Martin (Ohio State)*
Willie Miklus (Missouri)
Bo Nickal (Penn State)
J’den Cox (Missouri)**
Brett Harner (Princeton)
Jared Haught (Virginia Tech)
Brett Pfarr (Minnesota)
Amarveer Dhesi (Oregon State)
Michael Kroells (Minnesota)
Connor Medbery (Wisconsin)
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State)*
Ty Walz (Virginia Tech)
Not Expected to Compete
125 lbs. – Ryan Millhof (Arizona State) – Transfer
133 lbs. – Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin) – Injury
149 lbs. – Geo Martinez (Oklahoma State) – Transfer
149 lbs. – Jason Tsirtsis (Arizona State)* – Transfer
165 lbs. – David McFadden (Virginia Tech) – Redshirt
184 lbs. – Pete Renda (North Carolina State) – Redshirt
285 lbs. – Adam Coon (Michigan) – Redshirt
* Denotes NCAA Championship Won