How would you define a dynasty in college wrestling?
In terms of sports, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a dynasty as “a sports franchise which has a prolonged run of successful seasons.”
Wikipedia offers this definition of a sports dynasty: “In sports, a dynasty is a team or individual that dominates their sport or league for an extended length of time … This can result in a frequent topic of debate among sports fans due to lack of the consensus and agreement in the many different variables and criteria that fans may use to define a sports dynasty.”
Why bring up the issue of college wrestling dynasties now?
In the first month of 2019, I came across two articles that addressed the topic of dynasties in college wrestling. The first — written before the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship — declared the football program at University of Alabama as a leading sports dynasty … and included the Iowa Hawkeye wrestling program under coach Dan Gable among the handful of other collegiate dynasties.
More recently, NCAA.com had a feature article listing NCAA Division II wrestling dynasties, based on the number of NCAA championship team titles.
Seeing how other writers took on the topic of dynasties in college wrestling in a limited way, it seemed like a good time to offer an expanded view of some of the elements which might be considered in determining which college mat programs might be worthy of dynasty status.
For starters, it made sense to me to expand the presentation beyond NCAA Division II to also incorporate possible mat dynasties in NCAA Division I and Division III. And, while we’re at it, why not go beyond the number of team titles won at Nationals to include tallies of individual champs and NCAA All-Americans for each college program which has earned a minimum of five national titles.
When possible, we’ve also included the names of the coaches who headed up the teams that earned national team titles … because, in many cases, one or two coaches can take credit for guiding their wrestlers to that program’s greatest success.
NCAA Division I
In the nearly 90-year history of the NCAA Wrestling Championships, only a dozen colleges can claim an NCAA team title. Half of those have a single national team championship. Five programs have at least five team titles. Here are some basic facts about those D1 programs that could be considered to be worthy of being called a dynasty.
It’s been a dozen years or so since the Cowboys have won a NCAA team title … but the program can claim the most impressive stats over the years in terms of team titles, All-Americans and individual champs of any Division I mat program. Oklahoma State was arguably the dominant college mat program in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and into the 1950s. — first with legendary head coach Ed Gallagher up until World War II, then with Art Griffith until the late 1950s — though the Cowboys have claimed at least one team title in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and into the first decade of the 21st century.
Team titles: 34 (1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)
NCAA All-Americans 462
Individual NCAA champs: 142
It may be hard for many wrestling fans to realize that Hawkeyes were not always one of the leading college mat programs in the nation. However, in the past 45 years, the Iowa City-based program has more than made its impact felt, first under Gary Kurdelmeier (coach responsible for the school’s first two NCAA team titles), then Dan Gable, who racked up 15 team titles as coach from 1976-1997. Gable’s immediate successor, Jim Zalesky, claimed three national titles. Under current head coach Tom Brands, the Hawkeyes have added three more NCAA team crowns.
Team titles: 23 (1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2008, 2009, 2010)
NCAA All-Americans 329
Individual NCAA champs: 83
Although the wrestling program located in Ames, Iowa has produced a number of top wrestlers over the decades — Cael Sanderson’s perfect 159-0 career from 1998-2002 immediately comes to mind — arguably the Cyclones’ most impressive era was from the mid-1960s until the late 70s, under the command of Harold Nichols.
Team titles: 8 (1933, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1977, 1987)
NCAA All-Americans 294
Individual NCAA champs: 69
The Nittany Lions won their first NCAA team title in 1953 in their home gym, Rec Hall, with Charlie Speidel as head coach. Then, nearly six decades later, Penn State claimed its second national crown in 2011, and has added six more team championships in rapid succession under coach Cael Sanderson to become the dominant Division I program of this decade.
Team titles: 8 (1953, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
NCAA All-Americans 214 (55 of those under Sanderson)
Individual NCAA champs: 41 (20 under Sanderson)
The Sooners were one of the most powerful collegiate programs from the early 1950s into the mid-1960s. The coaches at the helm of the program during this era: Port Robertson and Tommy Evans. Arguably the greatest Sooner mat star of that time: Dan Hodge, who built a perfect 46-0 record and snared three NCAA titles from 1955-1957.
Team titles: 7 (1936, 1951, 1952, 1957, 1960, 1963, 1974)
NCAA All-Americans 273
Individual NCAA champs: 67
NCAA Division II
In January 2019, NCAA.com provided statistics for the Division II wrestling programs which had multiple national team titles since the formation of the division in 1963. Here are the ones which had more than five team championships as D2 schools.
Located in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Cal Poly was a Division II school up through 1974, with an incredibly successful stretch from 1968 to 1974 when Vaughn Hitchcock served as head coach. Here are the stats when the Mustangs were competing in D2.
Team titles: 8 (1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
NCAA D2 All-Americans: 67
Individual NCAA D2 champs: 18
The Roadrunner wrestling program competed in Division II up through 1987 … with its greatest success under head coaches Joe Seay, then T.J. Kerr. These are the stats for CSUB while in D2.
Team titles: 8 (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985)
NCAA D2 All-Americans: 85
Individual NCAA D2 champs: 29
Under head coach Mike Denney, the Mavericks racked up all their D2 team titles … being the dominant program in the first decade of the 21st century. Sadly, when Nebraska-Omaha moved Division I, the mat program got the axe.
Team titles: 7 (1991, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011)
NCAA D2 All-Americans: 181
Individual NCAA D2 champs: 46
This Edmond, Okla.-based school had two very strong eras of mat dominance: the early 1990s … and a three-year streak from 2009-2011. Head coach for those championship series: David James.
Team titles: 7 (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2007)
NCAA D2 All-Americans: 150
Individual NCAA D2 champs: 40
NCAA Division III
Since NCAA Division III wrestling was launched in 1974, four D3 mat programs can claim at least five national team titles … with two Midwest mat powers have at least a dozen championships each.
The school located in Waverly, Iowa just north of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, has a rich history of success in wrestling on the national stage. Here are a couple impressive stats for the Knights: Team champions in seven of the past eight years … placed first or second in the nation in 22 of last 26 years … with two or more individual national champions in 11 of the last 15 seasons. The two head coaches who can take credit for this success: current coach Eric Keller, with four team titles … and his predecessor, Jim Miller, whose teams netted ten national crowns during his tenure from 1991-2013.
Team titles: 14 (1996, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
NCAA D3 All-Americans: 210
Individual NCAA D3 champs: 48
Some have joked that, since the early 1990s, the two dominant wrestling programs in Division III have “burg” as part of their names. Minneapolis-based Augsburg can boast a dozen team titles … and other indicators of dominance going back nearly 30 years. Coaches of those titlewinning teams: Jeff Swenson (ten titles from 1991 through 2007), Mark Matzek (2010) and Jim Moulsoff (2015).
Team titles: 12 (1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2015)
NCAA D3 All-Americans: 192
Individual NCAA D3 champs: 46
College at Brockport
Once called SUNY-Brockport (State University of New York at Brockport), this four-year school near Rochester, N.Y. can claim a total of five NCAA Division II team titles from the late 1970s into the early 1990s … all under Don Murray who remains the Golden Eagles’ head coach.
Team titles: 5 (1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1992)
NCAA D3 All-Americans: 131
Individual NCAA D3 champs: 26
The College of New Jersey
Located in Ewing, N.J., TCNJ secured five Division III team titles from 1979 to 1987. Heading up the Lions mat program during those championship seasons was David Icenhower.
Team titles: 5 (1979, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1987)
NCAA D3 All-Americans: 156
Individual NCAA D3 champs: 19