NCAA D1 All-Decade Team (2010-2019)
It’s hard to believe that another decade has come and gone, isn’t it? And man – what a decade the 2010’s were in the college wrestling world! We saw multiple four-time NCAA champions, the rise and flourishing of Penn State’s dynasty, unprecedented success by true freshmen, and so much more. It would take an enormous amount of time to go through all of the story lines, great teams, and amazing individual efforts that took place in the 2010’s, so I decided to narrow it down (for now) to putting together an all-decade team. Before I dive into the lineup, there are a couple of rules that I used that need explaining to make sure that we are all on the same page: each wrestler can only appear on the list once and they had to win an NCAA title at the weight to be considered for the spot. For example, Kyle Dake can only appear on the list once, even though he won titles at four separate weights and David Taylor is only eligible at 165 because he didn’t win a title at 157. With that said, here are my choices for the NCAA D1 All-Decade Team of the 2010’s!
125 – Anthony Robles (Arizona State)
This may seem like an odd pick with three wrestlers having won multiple titles at this weight in the 2010’s, but nobody matched the sheer dominance of Robles’s 2011 campaign. In his final season, Robles went 36-0 with 24 tech falls and 31 bonus point victories. He was seldom tested over the course of a season that was capped off in style by beating defending champion Matt McDonough in convincing fashion to claim that ever elusive national title. Robles was skilled in all three positions, but his light shone brightest from the top position where he used a tilt series that devastated his opponents and lit up the scoreboard in an electric fashion. Robles is remembered as arguably the most inspirational figure in college wrestling, if not college athletics, history – and rightfully so – but what gets lost in that conversation is how dominant he truly was. Anybody that wrestled Robles that year walked off the mat shaking their head and wearing a facial expression of pure befuddlement, much like the gif of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation asking, “what the hell just happened?” There were certainly more credentialed wrestlers than Robles, but none were as dominant as the Arizona native which is why he is my choice for first team all decade.
133 – Nahshon Garrett (Cornell)
This weight was unique for me to break down because I watched the guys in the early part of the decade as a fan, competed against the ones in the middle of the decade and watched those at the end of the decade from a former athlete and coach’s point of view as well as that of a fan. With that said, I don’t think anyone decimated the field quite like Nahshon did in 2016 – and it was a stacked field at that! The Chico, California native went 37-0 with 25 bonus points victories in his lone season at 133 en route to winning his sole national title for the Big Red. In the NCAA Tournament ALONE, he beat five All Americans, four multiple-time AA’s, and two NCAA champions and was never in a genuinely competitive match. His semifinal against defending NCAA champ Cody Brewer will forever be one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen on a wrestling mat – it took Nahshon all of 21 seconds to score a takedown, secure a full set of back points, and drive Brewer to his back a second time to secure the fall. Twenty. One. Seconds. When you widen the scope and look at the entirety of Nahshon’s 2015-2016 season, it doesn’t get any less impressive. He gave up a six point lateral drop to Brewer in the CKLV finals and still cruised to an easy win. I can speak from personal experience as to how outrageously good Nahshon was that year – I had the fortune of getting smashed by him in back to back matches in the EIWA finals and first round at the NCAA Tournament. Garrett is similar to Robles in that he may not have won multiple titles, but his incredibly dominant senior campaign earned him the nod for first team all decade.
141 – Logan Stieber (Ohio State)
Simply put, Logan Stieber is one of the greatest NCAA wrestlers of all time. The Monroeville, Ohio native won four national titles, four Big Ten titles, and basically everything else under the sun during his time at Ohio State. Stieber won the Hodge Trophy in his final collegiate season and will go down as one of the most dominant wrestlers of our time. He was elite in all three positions, often scoring with a low double or an over-collar slide-by on his feet and transitioning right into his brutal bar series on top. I speak from firsthand experience when I say that his bar series was just downright painful and wrestling Logan was not a fun experience. The man known as Logie Bear finished his career with just three losses, two of which came in his freshman year, is one of four wrestlers to win four NCAA titles, and will live forever in college wrestling lore as both a prolific pinner and one of the best to ever step on the mat. He is a clear choice for first team all decade and a strong candidate for an all time team. I wish that I had more to say about Stieber, but no amount of words can do his career justice so I will just leave it at that.
149 – Zain Retherford (Penn State)
Speaking of incredibly dominant, Zain Retherford put together a three year run that rivals any the sport has ever seen. The Zain Train rattled off 94 consecutive wins to finish his career and twice won the prestigious Hodge Trophy at season’s end. All three of Zain’s career losses came in his freshman season with two of them being to the aforementioned Logan Stieber (who he also beat) and the third being an OT loss to Mitchell Port, who is one of the best wrestlers to never win a national title. Retherford was punishing with his handfight and extremely efficient both offensively and defensively on his feet. Few wrestlers in my memory transitioned from a go-behind into a high single as well as Zain and when he got on top, things had a tendency to get ugly. His leg ride was downright brutal and he had a variety of ways to both turn and pin his opponents, much like Stieber. Zain delivered one of the most impressive performances in NCAA finals history in 2017 when he won via tech fall over Missouri’s Lavion Mayes, a win that is even more impressive when you take into consideration the fact that Mayes scored the first takedown. For my money, that and Derek Moore’s tech fall over Ryan Lang in 2007 are the most dominant performances that have taken place in the NCAA finals when you look at all three phases of wrestling. Zain was not tested often but when he was, he always seemed to find a way to win. Retherford’s win over Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in Carver Hawkeye Arena in January of 2017, a match where he needed an escape and a takedown in the final 45 seconds to force overtime, really stands out as a testament to his mental toughness. In an era where Penn State dominated the sport, Zain has a serious argument to be the best Nittany Lion of the bunch and that in and of itself shows just how great he was.
157 – Kyle Dake (Cornell)
The Kid. Kyle Dake’s list of accomplishments is as long and impressive as anyone you will ever come across. Winning four national titles at four different weight classes and being named as the Hodge Trophy winner in 2013 are just the beginning of Kid Dynamite’s legacy. Not necessarily known for lighting up the scoreboard or dominating his opponents the way that some fans may have liked, Dake was the consummate positional wrestler with a lot of freak genetics thrown into the mix. He was borderline impossible to score on and even when someone did find a way to get to his leg or to an advantageous position on the bottom, Dake’s freakish flexibility and athleticism kicked in and he almost always came out on top. Take the NCAA final match against Montell Marion his in freshman year, for example – Marion hit a beautiful lefty high crotch and changed off to a double like he was drilling. Marion ran his feet and it looked like he was going to plant Dake on the mat for the bout’s opening takedown, but Dake just couldn’t accept that so he found a way to land flat on his back, pull Marion over top of him, and come out the back door for a takedown of his own. That sequence not only encompasses Dake’s freak athleticism and body awareness, but also his unmatched competitive drive that has since become the stuff of legend in the wrestling world. Looking for another example of Dake pulling a Houdini out of dire straits? Go find the video of his 2010 NCAA semifinal with Reece Humphrey and skip ahead to overtime – how Dake doesn’t get taken down in that sequence is just mind boggling. Dake could have easily been the choice for first team all decade at each of his four weight classes, but I chose this one both because it was his first undefeated season and it allowed me to fit the next guy into the lineup along with KD. If only we could do that for Tokyo…
165 – Jordan Burroughs (Nebraska)
Jordan Burroughs has spent the majority of the past decade winning world and Olympic titles and cementing himself as one of USA Wrestling’s all time greats, but that run started with his senior year at Nebraska. Burroughs came into 2011 having missed the previous year with a knee injury and there were a lot of people that thought Andrew Howe would remain the top dog at this weight even after Burroughs’s return. Well, that just wasn’t the case. Burroughs ran through the competition all year long, including a win over Howe in the Midlands final that was never really as close as the score may indicate. The Cornhusker senior scored 71 point in four bouts at the NCAA Tournament to go along with a win by default in the second round, and he won each bout by bonus points and was later named as the Hodge Trophy winner for that season. Not long after the conclusion of his collegiate career, Burroughs shocked the world and won his first world title and set the stage for what has become a legendary international career. When you look past high seemingly countless highlight reel double legs, Burroughs scored in a variety of ways and consistently showed that he was one of the smartest wrestlers in America. He transitioned from one position to another seamlessly and took care of the little things (like finishing periods in the top position and securing riding time) beautifully which is why his wrestling often seemed so effortless. His hands were deceivingly heavy and his speed and power remain unmatched. Few wrestlers in the history of our great sport have combined elite technique, wrestling IQ, speed, power, and slickness like Burroughs, and that’s why he is the choice for first team all decade.
174 – Ed Ruth (Penn State)
We may never see another person come through our sport with the level of talent that Ed Ruth possessed. The Susquehanna, PA native hit the ground running as a redshirt freshman at Penn State and put the entire country on notice when he dominated the field at the Southern Scuffle, including a semifinal drubbing of returning NCAA runner-up Mack Lewnes of Cornell. Ruth finished third at NCAA’s that year and suffered only one loss in his final three years of competition, a loss that he avenged later that year in the national semifinals. Ruth had a flare for the dramatic and was always a crowd pleaser with his wide variety of leg attacks ranging from a blast double to misdirection singles that looked impossible for anyone else. His scrambling was otherwordly good when he needed it to be and his top wrestling was deadly. Ruth finished his career with just three losses to stand against 46 falls, 25 tech falls, and 136 total wins. Ruth was a generational wrestler that drew the attention of every fan in whatever arena he was wrestling every time he stepped on the mat. Maybe the most amazing thing about Ruth was how effortless his greatness appeared to be. He often warmed up by playing some sort of game (like volleyball with a paper cup) with one of his coaches and his body language on the mat was akin to that of a normal individual on a leisurely Sunday stroll. A number of truly special talents took the mat at 174 in the past decade, but Ed Ruth stands alone above them all.
184 – Bo Nickal (Penn State)
Speaking of unique and special talents, it’s hard to imagine a more dangerous wrestler than Bo Nickal. The man that stands second all time on the Penn State career fall list with 59 (Jason Nolf has 60, if you’re wondering) wrestled in the NCAA finals in all four of his collegiate seasons and came away victorious, usually in grand fashion. His first title came against another giant of the sport, Cornell’s then two-time defending NCAA champion Gabe Dean. Nickal won the marquee bout of the night 4-3 and immediately cemented his place in history simply by knocking off one of the best collegiate wrestlers of the era, but he didn’t stop there. Nickal would not lost a match in his final two years as a Nittany Lion and, in the process, deliver one of the most electrifying moments in both Penn State and NCAA Tournament history by pinning Myles Martin the 2018 national finals in a match that decided the team title between Penn State and Ohio State. In true Bo Nickal fashion, he secured the fall with his patented elevator/flying cement job and sent the PSU crowd into an absolute frenzy. Bo had a style all his own and was always exciting to watch because he could seemingly pin his opponent from any position at any time, and that is a big part of why he is first team all decade.
197 – J’den Cox (Missouri)
Singer, sing language aficionado, and all time great at the sport of wrestling – who else but J’den Cox? The homegrown Missouri product came out of redshirt halfway through the 2013-2014 season and won his first of three NCAA titles later that year in Oklahoma City. His only two career losses at NCAA’s came in back to back matches as a sophomore against Kyle Snyder in the semis and Morgan McIntosh in the consolation semis. Those were two of Cox’s five career losses in a career that saw him win 136 matches, 78 by bonus points. Cox’s dominance didn’t always translate to the scoreboard, either; he was (and still is) one of the most difficult people to take down and he almost always found a way to win scrambles when he needed to do so. Cox’s signature single leg was borderline automatic when he pulled the trigger and his ability to ride his opponents for extended periods of time was a big part of his dominance. J’den may not have always been the most exciting wrestler in terms of lighting up the scoreboard but his position and dominance in all three phases was beautiful to watch. He was rarely out of position and if someone did break his position, the fight had just begun because (as I mentioned earlier) his scrambling abilities were phenomenal and he did an exceptional job of using them to get back to good position and oftentimes score. It was difficult to pick just one guy for a lot of these weights, but 197 was cut and dry – J’den is/was just that good.
285 – Kyle Snyder (Ohio State)
Arguably the greatest big man in the history of college wrestling, Kyle Snyder was a no brainer for this spot on the all decade team. Even in a decade where multiple others won a pair of NCAA titles in Tony Nelson and Nick Gwiazdowski, Snyder stood alone atop the mountain by winning three national titles along with a world and Olympic title before he finished his collegiate career. Kyle made his way to the NCAA finals in all four of his years as a Buckeye and won titles in the final three with each title coming at heavyweight and the lone runner-up finish coming at 197. Snyder’s offensive output was astonishing, let alone for a heavyweight. His high crotch and low ankle attacks were most common, but he had numerous ways to attack both sides of the body and his relentless handfight often wore opponents down as the match progressed. Along with displaying perfect technique time after time, Snyder proved to be one of the strongest guys at the weight even though he was undersized at a whopping (rough guess) 230 pounds. Kyle wrestled an abbreviated schedule in each of his final three seasons (only 46 matches in three years) due to his regular trips overseas to compete internationally, but when he did step on the mat in a Buckeye singlet it was a sight to behold. His NCAA final win over Gwiazdowski in 2016 was prime Snyder – never quitting on a seemingly lost match and gritting out a win against one of the best heavyweights of all time. That win prevented Gwiz from winning his third title and being the heavyweight of the decade and helped propel Kyle to the front of that same discussion and to a spot on this all decade team.
125 – Matt McDonough (Iowa)
McDonough was as consistent as could be when he was healthy and even found a way to come within one win of the NCAA semifinals and a fourth All American with a serious injury as a senior. The two time NCAA champ and three time finalist was relentless in every position, finished leg attacks from bad positions better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and had a lefty headlock from hell when he needed it (just ask Brandon Precin). The native Iowan was borderline unbeatable when he was healthy and collected wins over numerous other NCAA champs throughout his career, earning him a spot on the all decade second team.
133 – Jayson Ness (Minnesota)
Jayson Ness’s senior season in 2009-2010 is one of the most dominant campaigns that most wrestling fans seem to forget about, but not this time. The Golden Gopher was 31-0 with 19 falls and a Hodge Trophy winner in his final collegiate campaign, one that most remember for that miraculous duck under to a body lock in the waning seconds of his NCAA final bout against Daniel Dennis that secured his national title. That sequence will undoubtedly live forever as one of the most dramatic finishes to a national final, but it was one of the only times that Ness was pushed that year in a field of 133’s that had an incredible amount of depth and top end talent.
141 – Kenric Maple (Oklahoma)
Similar to Ness’s senior year, Kendric Maple’s junior year at Oklahoma was a scorched earth campaign that resulted in a national title for the Wichita, KS native. Maple’s blend of flawless technique and blinding speed made him a match-up nightmare for anyone he faced and is a big part of the reason why he was never truly pushed all year. Maple could attack legs from space and his lateral motion in a tie up and front headlock made him almost impossible to stay with when he got his motion going. The three time All American may have only finished in the top three at NCAA’s once, but his 2012-2013 campaign was more than enough to merit a spot on this team.
149 – Jordan Oliver (Oklahoma State)
It seems like a lifetime ago that the wrestling world wondered how Jordan Oliver would handle moving up from 133 to 149. Well, any questions about the weight change were answered quickly and forcefully as JO went on a season long tear to win his second NCAA title in three years and cement his place in Oklahoma State history. Oliver was never seriously tested in his final season as a Cowboy and not cutting massive amounts of weight every week allowed him to show everyone just how deep his arsenal of attacks was. Few wrestlers have ever had both the wrestling IQ and natural ability that Jordan Oliver possessed, and that is why he landed a spot on this team.
157 – Jason Nolf (Penn State)
Every so often, a wrestler will come through the college ranks that materially changes how we as a community view the sport; Jason Nolf was one of those wrestlers. The native Pennsylvanian made four national finals, won three titles, and ended his career with just three losses, one of which was an injury default. It wasn’t just that Nolf won everything under the sun that landed him on this team, though, it was how he did it. Nolf is the all time pins leader at Penn State (60) and had a flair for the creative and dramatic even on the biggest of stages. Nolf was as innovative as he was dominant and fans of every team grew to appreciate what they were watching, even if he was dominating one of their favorite wrestlers. His dominance and creativity will be the stuff of college wrestling lore for a long time and putting him on this list was the definition of a no brainer.
165 – David Taylor (Penn State)
Much like Nolf, David Taylor’s dominance and exciting style will go down in college wrestling history. The St Paris Graham product alternated between finishing his season as a runner-up and champ at the NCAA Tournament during his four years and won the Hodge Trophy both times he claimed an NCAA title. Taylor’s attack-heavy style reminded fans of his head coach and mentor Cael Sanderson, especially when David started dominating opponents with a collar tie to ankle pick series on his feet. Taylor is at or near the top of every major record list in Penn State history and it should come as no surprise that his name is on this list as well.
174 – Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
The only currently active collegiate wrestler to make this list, Zahid Valencia is as exciting as they come and is a few months away from capping a legendary career. Zahid has already won a pair of national titles to go along with a third place finish as a freshman and his ability to put up points in bunches against the best guys in the country is what has made him elite from the start. He is the definition of a volume shooter and his elite technique combined with unbelievable speed and power makes him almost impossible to stop. His patented lefty single is as good of a shot as you will see in college wrestling right now and fans should take advantage of every opportunity they get to watch this young man wrestle in an ASU singlet while they still can, because he is one of the best to ever do it.
184 – Gabe Dean (Cornell)
When I think about Gabe Dean, the first word that comes to mind is punishing. His perfect position, constant forward pressure, and heavy hands made him extremely difficult to deal with for a full seven minutes and carried him to a pair of national titles and four All American finishes. It speaks to Dean’s greatness that his only two losses at the national tournament came to Ed Ruth and Bo Nickal, both of whom are on the all decade first team. Consistent, punishing, and a genuinely likable guy – Gabe Dean was an easy choice for this spot.
197 – Quentin Wright (Penn State)
Cael Sanderson is obviously the main reason that Penn State made a massive jump and dominated the 2010’s as a program, but not many people remember that the original face of the program was already in State College when Cael arrive. Quentin Wright had already finished as an All American in his true freshman year for Troy Sunderland when Cael arrived in Happy Valley, and the pair flourished together in Q’s final three seasons. Granted, Wright’s redshirt sophomore year did not have a spectacular regular season, but something clicked at the NCAA Tournament that year that propelled him to three straight NCAA finals and a pair of titles. Dangerous, funky, and extremely savvy are all great ways to describe the State College native who lands a spot on the second team all decade.
285 – Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State)
Rounding out the second team all decade is the man who spearheaded North Carolina State’s rise to prominence, Nick Gwiazdowski. The Binghamton transfer was a four time All American (thrice for the Wolpack) and two time NCAA champ with his final season ending in a runner-up finish to Kyle Snyder. Gwiz may have been one of the bigger guys at the weight, but he moved like a lightweight and was know to attack legs at a high rate and scramble like a wrestler 100 pounds below his weight class. Had Gwiz been able to hold on and defeat Snyder for his third title in 2016, he would have been the best heavyweight of the decade and, arguably, all time. Alas, Snyder found a way to win that night in Madison Square Garden, but Gwiz still has a place among the all time greats and on the second team all decade for the 2010’s.
2 thoughts on “NCAA D1 All-Decade Team (2010-2019)”
Jason Nolf never won the Hodge. Great list though with a couple of insightful picks.
Yeah, that’s on me. I had Zain on the brain. I edited it to correct that error – thank you!