The Most Dominant Wrestler award is one that any athlete would like to own, but what does the process look like to accomplish such a goal? How competitive is the race to be the best, and who is leading the standings right now?
First, let's consider how the winner is determined.
Most Dominant Wrestler standings rank athletes based on how many team points they average per match. Wrestlers earn six team points for a pin and five team points for a technical fall. Four team points are awarded to wrestlers who earn a major decision (a win of more than eight points over an opponent in a dual), while three points are given out for a decision (a win by less than eight points). A fall may earn a wrestler the most points, but it's not enough to necessarily earn him a spot on the Most Dominant Wrestler list. This year, the two wrestlers with the most pins are both absent from the Top 10 Most Dominant Wrestler standings, demonstrating the added importance of tech falls and major decisions in the race to be the best.
The Most Dominant Wrestler award was first presented at the 2012 wrestling championships and is awarded every year at the national tournament. The standings are released weekly by the NCAA starting in January of every championship year.
MOST DOMINANT WRESTLER STANDINGS: Nickal and Nolf top the standings, each averaging over five team points per dual
Zain Retherford took home Most Dominant Wrestler honors at the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Championships after averaging more than five team points each match throughout both seasons. Retherford also earned three national titles during the course of his career at Penn State, and now, after graduating in 2018, he's passed the leadership baton to senior Bo Nickal and his teammate/fellow senior Jason Nolf, the two athletes holding the top spot in this year's Most Dominant Wrestler race.
This year, Nickal and Nolf stand as the only two athletes in Division I wrestling averaging more than five points a match, with Nickal leading the way at 5.38 and Nolf at 5.23. Retherford won his second honor last year with 5.19 points, while Nickal finished second, averaging just .37 points less than his national champion teammate.
Retherford hopes these current athletes gained as much from training with him as he gained from working out with them in the Penn State wrestling room.
NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works
"I think I can speak for all of my previous teammates when I say that we learn from each other," Retherford said about his time training with Nickal, Nolf and company at Penn State. "Everyone in our room has something positive to offer if you have an open mind."
Nickal, Nolf, Retherford and teammate Vincenzo Joseph all took home national titles last year in their respective weight classes, and with Nickal, Nolf and Joseph included in the Most Dominant Wrestler standings this year, Penn State continues its hold over college wrestling rankings.
Retherford said the enthusiasm and gratitude of the Penn State wrestlers is what has kept them on top of the standings so consistently. The race for the Most Dominant wrestler will intensify as the championship tournaments begin.
The race for dominance remains tight between the top Nittany Lion athletes, but a different standings criteria, the pin race, remains a little more open. The pin, the most valuable and forceful win in college wrestling, can be the difference maker in the Most Dominant Wrestler standings, so here's how the race to become the most successful pinner has shaped out this year.
Regular Season Gorrarian leaders (Number of Falls and Average Time)— Just a Wrestling Friend (@CauliFriend) February 25, 2019
1. Matt Stencel - 17 (2:18)
2. Colston DiBlasi - 16 (4:01)
3. Bo Nickal - 15 (2:08)
4. Jaydin Eierman - 14 (4:11)
5. Jason Nolf - 13 (3:32)
[data credit: @wrestlingbypir8 ] pic.twitter.com/KMWpw5bWTO
When the NCAA first released its pin standings of the 2018-2019 season, Central Michigan's Matt Stencel and George Mason's Colston DiBlasi topped the list with 12 pins each, and they have maintained the top two spots all year, with the lead changing just once. Both wrestlers have a history of posting high fall numbers, as Stencel picked up 15 pins last year, and DiBlasi has recorded 15 and 17 respectively in his previous two seasons. The ability to put an opponent on his back, DiBlasi said, comes from patience and the willingness to wrestle each dual thoughtfully.
NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works
"I think a lot of people when they watch me wrestle, they call me funky and unorthodox in that I just kind of roll around a lot," DiBlasi said. "But it really is, in order for that to happen and be successful at this high of a level, you have to know how your body works and how the other person’s body is going to move, like a chess match. I’ve spent thousands of hours rolling around and getting in the right position. I think I’ve been in every wrestling position at least a handful of times, and that really just helps you figure out exactly how the person is going to react."
DiBlasi took the lead in the fall standings in early January for the first time when he picked up two pins back to back, one over Laurence Kosoy of Columbia on Jan. 10 and one over Dazjon Casto of The Citadel on Jan. 13, with the Columbia pin coming in the final 11 seconds of the match.
Stencel, however, is back on top now with 17 pins to DiBlasi's 16. His most recent pin came against Chase Beard of Michigan State on Feb. 22 after just 1:34 of wrestling. Stencel will wrestle in the Mid-American Conference Championships this weekend, where he is expected to be the top-ranked heavyweight. Unranked DiBlasi will compete in the EWL Championships where he could meet ranked 165-pounders including No. 4 Chance Marsteller from Lock Haven or No. 15 Jesse Dellavecchia of Rider.
In the Big Ten, one of the most competitive conferences in the country, Bo Nickal is also ranked on the Top 10 list of most pins. Since the first ranking on Jan. 9, he has jumped Kent State's Andrew McNally to move into the No. 3 spot with 14 pins. Missouri junior Jaydin Eierman stands in fourth with one pin more than Penn State’s Jason Nolf and two more than Nolf’s teammate Joseph. Eierman’s teammate Daniel Lewis sits between the two Nittany Lions in sixth while Michigan State's Drew Hughes controls the eighth spot with 11 pins. McNally now sits in ninth with 12 pins with Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia is just below him, rounding out the Top 10 list with ten pins.
For Nickal, Nolf, Joseph and Lewis, the pins have helped them in the Most Dominant Wrestler standings, and they are the only four athletes to earn Top 10 spots on the falls and dominant rankings. They are joined in the Top 10 Most Dominant List by by Iowa’s Alex Marinelli, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis, Rutger’s Anthony Ashnault, Oklahoma State’s Nicholas Piccininni, Minnesota’s Gable Steveson and Ohio State’s Myles Martin. These athletes and their pins, combined with the second criteria of tech fall (scoring more than 15 points than any opponent and ending the match) create the competitive race for dominance, but the Nittany Lions still remain on top.
With just two tournaments left in the season, Nickal and Nolf remain the Most Dominant Wrestler top contenders, as they have been for most of the season, and as they chase their goals, alumnus and two-time Most Dominant Wrestler Retherford will be watching with pride and excitement.
"At the NCAA tournament, we get to test our abilities and willpower on the nation's largest stage. The culture is focused on being excited to compete hard," Retherford said. "I'm excited to watch them compete hard and enjoy the experience."