2018: A year of wrestling news worth celebrating

Penn State claimed its third straight NCAA team title (Photo/Tony Rotundo,

Most of us are inundated with what seems like never-ending waves of negative news stories 'year round. However, as we look back at 2018, there were news events in amateur wrestling definitely worth remembering ... and celebrating.

Growth of high school wrestling

Participation levels for both boys and girls in high school actually went up this past year when compared to the previous year.

According to the NFHS, a total of 262,126 student-athletes participated in high school wrestling in the U.S. -- 245,564 boys, and 16,562 girls -- for the 2017-18 school year. By comparison, during the 2016-17 academic year, a total of 259,391 high school students wrestled nationwide --14,587 girls, and 244,804 boys. That translates into an overall increase of 2,735 more athletes involved in wrestling this year vs. last year, with 760 more boys and 1,975 more girls taking to the mat.

Growing numbers of college wrestling programs ...

High school athletes wishing to continue wrestling in college will find more opportunities in the new year, thanks to decisions made by a number of schools to add wrestling to their varsity sports roster -- including a handful of women's wrestling programs. Here are the new programs InterMat reported on in 2018 which are expected to take to the mat in fall 2019:

  • Arizona Christian University, an 800-student private school located in Phoenix, not only announced the formation of a new men's mat program, but also has hired a coach to head up the program, Travis Patrick.

  • Davis & Elkins College, a private 850-student school in Elkins, West Virginia, will establish a new men's program.

  • Delaware Valley University, a private, 2,000-student school situated in /Doylestown, Pa., will now have a women's wrestling program.

  • East Stroudsburg University -- part of the Pennsylvania public university system, with 7,300 students -- will add a women's program to join the existing men's program.

  • Gannon University, a Catholic school with approximately 4,500 students located in Erie, Pa., announced in January 2017 it would be adding a new women's program to accompany the already-active men's mat program.

  • North Central College, a four-year liberal arts college with 2,600 students located in Naperville, Ill. just west of Chicago, will now have a women's program to join the existing men's program.

  • Texas Wesleyan University, a private university in Ft. Worth with an enrollment of approximately 3,400 students, is adding both men's and women's programs.

  • University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a four-year public school in north-central Wisconsin with a student enrollment of nearly 10,000, will now have a women's program to go with the existing men's wrestling program.

    … including new programs in Division I

    This spring, the wrestling community was understandably upset with Eastern Michigan University's decision to axe its wrestling program, effective immediately. However, as Gary Abbott pointed out in his year-in-review feature for the official USA Wrestling website, that bad news was offset with the establishment in 2018 of men's and women's programs at Presbyterian College, a private four-year NCAA Division I school located in South Carolina, with Mark Cody coaching both programs. Abbott also mentioned California Baptist which is now in the process of transitioning from NCAA Division II to D1, and while not eligible to send wrestlers to the NCAA D1 championships, is currently competing at the Div. I level. Two other schools -- Augustana of South Dakota, and Long Island University in New York -- announced this fall their plans to move from D2 to D1. Lastly, Abbott reminded readers that the new Div. I program at University of Arkansas-Little Rock will begin competing in fall 2019.

    Repeat team title winners at 2018 NCAAs

    The three team champions in each Division of the 2018 NCAA wrestling championships found themselves in familiar territory -- at the top of the final standings.

  • Penn State wins third straight Div. I title: The Nittany Lions found themselves in familiar territory at the top of the team standings at the conclusion of the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. However, the title race between Cael Sanderson's team and Big Ten rival Ohio State was not decided until the 184-pound finals. Penn State had four individual champs: Zain Retherford at 149 pounds (his third title), Jason Nolf at 157, Vincenzo Joseph at 165, and, at 184, Bo Nickal. There were two freshman champs: Iowa's Spencer Lee at 125, and Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis at 141. Ohio State's Kyle Snyder became only the fifth three-time heavyweight champ.

  • St. Cloud State claims third Div. II crown in four years: The Minnesota-based program managed to take the team title in Cedar Rapids' US Cellular Center at the 2018 NCAA Div. II championships despite going 0-3 in the finals. Cleveland's Notre Dame College placed second. A total of 36 schools managed to have at least one wrestler who earned All-American honors.

  • Wartburg wraps up seventh Div. III title in eight years: Iowa's Wartburg College claimed its 14th national D3 team title at Cleveland's Public Auditorium. The Knights left with three individual champs: Brock Rathbun at 133 pounds, Cross Cannone at 149, and, at 197, Kyle Fank.

    Celebrating significant honors in 2018

    Among the honors bestowed upon individuals in the US amateur wrestling community in 2018 ...

  • 2018 Hodge Trophy, presented by WIN Magazine and Culture House publishing to their choice for top collegiate wrestler of the year, went to Zain Retherford of Penn State. It was the second straight year Retherford had been presented with the award, named in hour of Dan Hodge, all-time great college and Olympic wrestler of the 1950s.

  • 2018 AAU Sullivan Award, presented each year since 1930 to the nation's top amateur athlete by the Amateur Athletic Union, went to Ohio State heavyweight Kyle Snyder. Snyder is the fourth wrestler to have earned the Sullivan, joining John Smith, Bruce Baumgartner, and Rulon Gardner. In addition, Snyder was named Ohio State Male Athlete of the year, and Big Ten Male Athlete of 2018.

  • 2018 ESPY Best Coach Award was presented posthumously in July to Chris Hixon, wrestling coach and athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, along with fellow coaches Aaron Feis and Scott Beigel. All three were among the 17 killed in the mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla. school in February 2018. It is the first time in the 25-year history of ESPN's sports award show that the coaching honor had been presented to a deceased coach.
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