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Looking back at 2016: NCAA Championships

After months of grueling practice, making weight, and competing in dozens of dual meets and tournaments, the season for college wrestlers concludes with the national championships. By any measure, the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships in all three divisions were especially exciting, with some moments that will earn a place in the history books.

NCAA Division I

New York City's Madison Square Garden has long been a mecca for professional wrestling. However, for the first time in its long and storied history, the "world's most famous arena" played host to the ultimate event in college wrestling, the 2016 edition of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships held March 18-20.

Some elements of the 2016 D1 mat championships had some of the showbiz elements one might expect at MSG ... including a first-ever finals weigh-in show on Saturday afternoon that seemed like a family-friendly version of an MMA event, with the collegiate finalists fully clothed (in school warmups), and on their very best behavior (no pushing or shoving, no trash talk).

No one could have scripted the excitement of the championship matches later that night. A number of wrestling fans and journalists proclaimed it to be "the best NCAA finals ever" -- and it's hard to argue otherwise.

To add to the drama: Two finalists were riding incredibly long win streaks as they sought their third NCAA titles.

Alex Dieringer completed his Oklahoma State wrestling career winning the 165-pound championship -- his third NCAA title -- while maintaining an incredible 82 straight victories.

Ohio State's Kyle Snyder denied NC State's Nick Gwiazdowski a third NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

The other -- North Carolina State heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski -- was denied his third title, and had his 88-match win streak snapped by Kyle Snyder of Ohio State in a highly-anticipated, top-of-the-card bout between two agile, active big men that more than lived up to the advance hype.

Snyder's come-from-behind scoring knotted up the match in the closing seconds of regulation ... then the Buckeye scored another takedown to wrap up the title in sudden victory. (Afterwards, Snyder -- named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler -- said, "I think it will go down as one of the most exciting heavyweight matches in NCAA history.")

Three top-flight wrestlers left the Garden with their second NCAA titles: lllinois' Isaiah Martinez at 157 pounds ... Gabe Dean, a junior at Cornell University, at 184 ... and Missouri's multi-talented J'Den Cox, crowned champ at 197.

In addition to Kyle Snyder, five other finalists earned their first individual national championships. Seniors Nico Megaludis of Penn State and Cornell's Nahshon Garrett, who concluded their careers with individual championships at 125 and 133 pounds, respectively. Two sophomores also won titles: Oklahoma State's Dean Heil at 141 pounds, and Penn State's Zain Retherford, at 149. Ohio State freshman Myles Martin upset top-seeded Bo Nickal of Penn State to win the championship at 174 pounds.

One more fun fact: two of the collegiate champs crowned at Madison Square Garden in March went on to earn medals in men's freestyle competition five months later at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: Kyle Snyder, winning the gold medal at 97 kilograms/213 pounds ... and J'den Cox, claiming a bronze medal at 86 kilograms/189 pounds.

When the 2016 Division I championships were concluded, Penn State claimed its fifth team title in six tournaments, with 123 points, and two individual champs in Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford. Oklahoma State placed second, with 97.5 points, and Alex Dieringer's individual title. Defending team titlist Ohio State came in third with 86, on the strength of Buckeye champs Myles Martin and Kyle Snyder.

Finals Results:
  • 125: Nico Megaludis (Penn State) dec. Thomas Gillman (Iowa), 6-3
  • 133: Nahshon Garrett (Cornell) dec. Cory Clark (Iowa)
  • 141: Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) dec. Bryce Meredith (Wyoming), 3-2
  • 149: Zain Retherford (Penn State) maj. dec. Brandon Sorensen (Iowa), 10-1
  • 157: Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) dec. No. 3 Jason Nolf (Penn State), 6-5
  • 165: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) dec. Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin), 6-2
  • 174: Myles Martin (Ohio State) dec. Bo Nickal (Penn State), 11-9
  • 184: Gabe Dean (Cornell) dec. Timothy Dudley (Nebraska), 5-3
  • 197: J'den Cox (Missouri) dec. Morgan McIntosh (Penn State), 4-2
  • Hwt: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) dec. Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State), 7-5 SV1

    Team Standings (Top Ten):
    1. Penn State 123
    2. Oklahoma State 97.5
    3. Ohio State 86
    4. Virginia Tech 82
    5. Iowa 81
    6. Missouri 74.5
    7. Cornell 67
    8. Nebraska 58
    9. Illinois 50.5
    9. Michigan 50.5

    NCAA Division II

    Days after having survived school-mandated cuts that eliminated four other intercollegiate sports programs and reduced its own roster, the St. Cloud State University wrestling team managed to successfully defend its team title at the 2016 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. on March 13.

    The Huskies won its second consecutive team championship with 90 points and one individual champion, redshirt freshman Brett Velasquez, who won the 125-pound title. SCSU head coach Steve Costanzo was named the 2016 NWCA Coach of the Year.

    Ohio's Notre Dame College came in second in the team standings, with 82 points. The Falcons' Joey Davis won the 184-pound title -- his fourth national title -- at the 2016 NCAAs, completing his collegiate mat career with a perfect 131-0 overall record. With that championship, Davis became only the third college wrestler in decades of NCAA-sanctioned competition to compile four national titles along with a perfect record ... and the first in Division II. (The other two flawless four-timers: Cael Sanderson, who earned four Division I titles for Iowa State in 1999-2002, and a 159-0 mark ... and Marcus LeVesseur of Augsburg College, tallying four D3 crowns from 2003-05 and 2007, and a 155-0 record.) Since then, Davis embarked on his professional mixed martial arts career, earning a unanimous decision over Keith Cutrone in his debut at Bellator 160 in August.

    In third place was University of Nebraska-Kearney, with 78.5 team points, and two individual champs: Destin McCauley at 149 pounds, and at 197, Romero Cotton. University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown came in fourth in the team title race with 71.5 points, with two wrestlers winning titles of their own: Nick Roberts at 133, and Tyler Reinhart at 165.

    Finals Results:
  • 125: Brett Velasquez (St. Cloud State) dec. Willie Bohince (Mercyhurst), 5-0
  • 133: Nick Roberts (Pitt-Johnstown) dec. Nick Crume (Indianapolis), 4-3
  • 141: Darren Wynn (McKendree) dec. Joseph Alessandro (Seton Hill), 12-8
  • 149: Destin McCauley (Nebraska-Kearney) dec. Isaac Dulgarian (Notre Dame of Ohio), 9-4
  • 157: Terrel Wilbourn (Lindenwood) dec. Brady Bersano (California Baptist), 5-4
  • 165: Tyler Reinhart (Pitt-Johnstown) pinned Nick Fishbeck (Wisconsin-Parkside), 2:42
  • 174: Nick Becker (Wisconsin-Parkside) dec. Blaze Shade (UNC-Pembrooke), 9-3
  • 184: Joey Davis (Notre Dame of Ohio) dec. Travis McKillop (Pitt-Johnstown), 3-1
  • 197: Romero Cotton (Nebraska-Kearney) dec. Joe Gomez (Northern State), 4-1
  • Hwt: Joseph Fagiano (California Baptist) dec. Malcolm Allen (Minnesota State-Mankato), 6-3

    Team Standings (Top Ten):
    1. St. Cloud State 90
    2. Notre Dame of Ohio 82
    3. Nebraska-Kearney 78.5
    4. Pitt-Johnstown 71.5
    5. Maryville 65.5
    6. California Baptist 63.5
    7. Wisconsin-Parkside 59.5
    8. McKendree 42.5
    9. Mercyhurst/Minnesota State-Mankato (tie) 42

    NCAA Division III

    Having been denied a fifth straight team title at the 2015 NCAAs in Hershey, Pa., Wartburg College won that elusive championship at the 2016 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships a bit closer to their campus in Waverly, Iowa, at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids March 13.

    The Knights ran away with the title with 129.5 points, putting five wrestlers into the finals ... with Kenneth Martin winning the 149-pound crown. With exactly 100 points, Messiah came in second in the team standings, with two of its wrestlers earning championships: Lucas Malmberg at 125 pounds, and Ben Swarr at 174. Luther College left Cedar Rapids in third place, with Drew VanAnrooy taking the title at 141.

    Wabash College placed fourth, with Devin Broukal and Riley Lefever winning titles at 133 and 184 pounds, respectively. Each champ for the all-men's school located in Crawfordsville, Ind. had a unique aspect to his title win. Broukal was the first unseeded wrestler to win an Division III mat title in three years ... while Lefever racked up his third consecutive championship as a junior, becoming only the 16th wrestler to earn a trio of titles. As a junior, Riley Lefever has the opportunity to join the ultra-exclusive four-time champs club at the 2017 NCAA Division III championships, joining Marcus LeVesseur who did it a decade ago for Augsburg.

    Finals Results:
  • 125: Lucas Malmberg (Messiah) maj. dec. C.J. Pestano (Iowa Central), 14-6
  • 133: Devin Broukal (Wabash) dec. Nathan Pike (New York Univ.), 8-5
  • 141: Drew VanAnrooy (Luther) dec. maj. dec. Jimmy Nehls (Elmhurst), 10-2
  • 149: Kenneth Martin (Wartburg) dec. Trevor Engle (Cornell Col.), 7-5
  • 157: Robert Dierna (SUNY-Cortland) dec. Drew Wagenhoffer (Wartburg), 7-5
  • 165: Logan Hermsen (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) dec. Nicholas Michael (Wartburg), 5-3 SV1
  • 174: Ben Swarr (Messiah) dec. Eric Devos (Wartburg), 3-1
  • 184: Riley Lefever (Wabash) maj. dec. Josh Thomson (Messiah), 12-4
  • 197: David Welch (Roger Williams) dec. Gerard Roman (Wartburg), 5-4
  • Hwt: Zachery Roseberry (Delaware Valley Univ.) dec. Donald Longendyke (Augsburg), 5-4

    Team Standings (Top Ten):
    1. Wartburg 129.5
    2. Messiah 100
    3. Luther 64
    4. Wabash 55.5
    5. Augsburg 46.5
    6. Wisconsin-La Crosse 37
    7. SUNY-Cortland 35
    8. Stevens Institute of Technology 34
    9. Elmhurst 33
    10. Cornell College 30.5
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