USA Wrestling Cornell’s Gabe Dean ...

Cornell’s Gabe Dean to take over St. Louis in search of NCAA three-peat

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | March 15, 2017, 5 p.m. (ET)

Photo by Richard Immel

Tomorrow morning, Cornell 184-pounder Gabe Dean will step on the mat in front of thousands during his final NCAA Championships, this time looking to make history.

The senior seeks to join an elite club in collecting a third NCAA title, a feat only 29 others before him have accomplished.

Additionally, Dean hopes to become only the second wrestler in Cornell history to win at least three NCAA championships.

“It would mean the world. You sacrifice and put lot of hard work into the year, just like all the other guys. Obviously, you’re ultimate goal is to come out with another national title, but this tournament is crazy. Things happen. You just have to take it a match at a time,” Dean said.

Heading into the tournament, top-seeded Dean has been pegged as the frontrunner for the Dan Hodge Trophy, which is given out each year to the nation’s best college wrestler.

Recently earning his fourth EIWA title, he rides into the national tournament on a 41-match win streak, dating back to the 2015-16 season, and is two wins shy of a school-record 150 wins. So far this year, Dean has compiled a perfect 26-0 record with 24 bonus-point wins, including 18 falls.

He’ll have to battle his way through one of the toughest weights in the country, which features one other 2016 NCAA champion and two other 2016 NCAA finalists.

“I feel as good as I ever will. It’s a tough weight class and it’s the national tournament so all the best guys in the country come,” Dean said. “It’ll be fun and interesting to see how it shakes out. I’m just looking forward to the competition. My mentality is just to enjoy, take it all in and take it one match at a time. I’m going to try to go out there and score points and be fun to watch. That’s what our sport needs, and that’s the way I’m going to approach this weekend.”

Cornell’s associate head coach Damion Hahn, someone who has played a big role in Dean’s development throughout his college career, knows that the two-time champ has what it takes to win a third.

“His preparation is by the book and he does not deviate,” Hahn said. “He is pretty diligent with what he does. He was really resting up after that conference tournament and getting his body where it needs to be health-wise and really preparing mentally. The way he handles and approaches every situation is like no one I’ve ever seen before.”

Dean will open his tournament against Navy’s Michael Coleman, who he last faced in the EIWA finals. The Cornellian earned a 24-9 tech fall with 20 seconds left in the match to win his fourth conference title.

The wrestling world is buzzing for the potential of an NCAA Championships finals match between Dean and Penn State standout Bo Nickal, who many believe poses the biggest threat to Dean.

Nickal was a 2016 NCAA finalist at 174 pounds and finished third at the 2017 Big Ten Championships at 184 pounds.

There is no doubt a show is expected, should the two meet up on Saturday night.

Also in the mix to meet up with Dean is No. 3-seed and two-time Big Ten champion Sammy Brooks of Iowa, sixth-seeded 2016 NCAA champion at 174 pounds Myles Martin and No. 7-seed and 2016 NCAA finalist at 184 pounds TJ Dudley of Nebraska.

With the understanding that he’s wrestling for something much bigger than himself and the accolades, Dean heads into the weekend confident and at peace.

“I think that national titles really represent much more than yourself,” he said. “It represents a lot of people that helped you get there, so you want to accomplish that for them—your family, coaches teammates and everyone else that puts so much time into you as an athlete. I’ve been lucky. I have an incredible support system. We’re going to walk away this weekend, no matter what, happy.”

The 2017 Division I NCAA Championships kick off Thursday morning at 11 a.m. CT. Themat.com will provide complete coverage, and all sessions of the event will be broadcast on one of ESPN’s channels.