NCAA Season Awards
Christian Pyles, College Analyst
Wrestler of the Year: Kyle Dake
- Ok, so this isn't exactly revolutionary thinking, but Dake is absolutely deserving of as many accolades that can feasibly be given out. Watching Kyle's transformation from the baby-faced champion 4 seasons ago, to the muscle bound 165 lb champion has been very fun to watch. Dake finishes his last two seasons undefeated, none more impressive than this year. Dake upped his bonus point production with a whopping 18 pins, 8 Major decisions and 2 tech falls. He was a prohibitive favorite to repeat at 157 should he decide to stay there. Dake had other plans.
Going up to 165 gave wrestling fans the answers to the hypothetical "Dake v. Taylor" questions. He put history at risk in the eyes of many (myself included) for the sake of his team, and the sake of a challenge. He's just got guts, and tremendous belief in his self. I recall last year thinking that Taylor could beat Dake if they ever had the chance to wrestle. I was wrong on that assessment. Dake won his way; he didn't blow people out of the water like Taylor, and it was that point differential that lead me to my initial errant conclusion. Dake just wins. His ability to manage matches and win in a variety of ways is part of what makes him amazing. His suffocating top game won each match against Taylor. He got the ride out against Taylor in the All Star, the ride out in the closing seconds of the Scuffle, and the riding time point in the NCAA finals.
His mind and his confidence are what make him a transcendent star. He doesn't get nervous, he get's excited, he get's happy. He seems genuinely elated to compete and compete against the best. He's an example for young wrestlers and an ideal role model for how to win. Train hard, believe in yourself, and don't subscribe to any one weight class.
He may have hit growth spurts throughout his 4 years of varsity competition, but his ability to put on muscle is astounding. As someone who dabbled with competitive weight lifting, and getting bigger, let me tell you it is not easy to put on even 5 pounds of muscle. For him to go from a nice sized 141 to a jacked 165 in 4 years is something that even the most elite body builders are incapable of doing. Dake gaining 24 pounds of muscle while going through intense wrestling training is incredibly difficult when you consider the amount of calories that are burnt with each workout. I'm sure he got a bit taller, but let's face facts, he put on lots of muscle. Instead of fighting the scale to stay small, he embraced the challenge of building his body the right way. He put on effective and useful muscle, and it shows in his grip, mat returns, and incredible hips. I can't get over what a complete anomaly he is in so many ways. He didn't dedicate simply to refining technique, or cardiovascular training. He worked on the entire body and building a better athlete. It is one of many reasons Dake has put himself in the argument for greatest collegiate wrestler of all time.
When I was explaining to my father what exactly Dake had done, I had to stop and think of how ridiculous it sounded: "Well he goes to an ivy league school, and he won NCAA's as a true freshman, when nearly every wrestler has a redshirt year their first season. He went up a weight each year, and won every year, now he's gone up another weight to take on the reigning Hodge Trophy winner who just went pin,pin,pin, tech fall in his NCAA bracket. He beat a 2 time finalist (Montell Marion) A 4x All American and National Champ (Frank Molinaro) a 3x All American, 2 time finalist and National Champ(Derek St. John) and the reigning Hodge Trophy winner (David Taylor )." I have (and probably many others have) lost perspective at times because Dake just wins. Take a step back and just say out loud everything he's done and I think it helps you to appreciate his greatness a little bit more.
While I won't speak about the future and his international prospects(for fear of publicly picking against Dake again) moving forward. His future is bright regardless of who stands in his way and if there's one thing I've learned it's this: Count on Dake.
Coach of the Year: Cael Sanderson
- In sports oftentimes this award confuses me. I'm an NBA fan as well, and it's always been hilarious to me that Phil Jackson, who has won 11 rings has 1 coach of the year award. Mike D'antoni, Avery Johnson, Scott Brooks, Byron Scott (many of these coaches have been fired, none have won titles) all have won the same amount. Too often in sports we reward coaches for going from bad to decent. While that gap always looks the most impressive, I believe going from good to the best, while it may look only slight in the wins column, is the toughest jump to make.
Cael has shown he's the best in the business right now at getting his guys ready for the big stage. Five in the finals is an incredible accomplishment, and when you consider the paths that Brown, Megaludis and Quentin had to get there, it is even more impressive. At times you read nay-sayers of Cael claim he doesn't really develop talent, and that he just is a great recruiter who turns his studs loose. From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Matt Brown avenged losses to Mike Evans, Nick Heflin and Logan Storley from earlier in the year. He looked to be well prepared and equipped with a great strategy for both of those guys. You don't go from losing to guys, to beating them just because you're a stud, you do it with help. Quentin Wright went into his NCAA finals match a significant under-dog. Quentin, who looked pretty marginal in the earlier stages of the tournament executed a textbook gameplan and picked apart the once-thought invincible Kilgore. You don't take down Dustin Kilgore 3 times because you're a stud. You do it with help. He took Jordan Conaway from an undersized 133 who looked to be a borderline national qualifier to a round of 12 performance as a Freshman. Jordan Conaway isn't a stud. He had help.
Cael is a big part of that help. He melds the unique combination of hard work, understanding how to peak his guys, keep them having fun, and having them tactically prepared for their matches. Did he catch some breaks? Sure. The cupboard was far from bare when he entered PSU. Ruth and Wright were not recruited by Cael, and it's not often you have two transcendent talents waiting for you at your new job. That being said, they were very good wrestlers when Cael entered the fold. He helped to make them great. His accomplishments are great, and PSU is going to be tough to dethrone. However, it won't always be like this, I don't believe PSU can go on a run like Iowa did with Gable ripping off 9 straight. The D1 game is different. There are so many great talents, and they don't all go to the same schools. While NCAA team success still contains the "usual suspects" of PSU, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Iowa, these things go in cycles. Not long ago Coach Brands and Iowa were on a similar run. These guys graduate, and you don't replace Metcalf and Borschel over-night. Nor do I think Cael can replace Ruth, Taylor and Wright that easily. He will keep the blue chippers coming, and he will develop studs and champions. How he does post Ruth and Taylor will be very interesting to watch. That transition is one of the hardest for a coach to make. Those guys don't come along often. Congrats to Coach Sanderson for making good wrestlers great, and thanks for encouraging an exciting style of wrestling that sets a great example for young wrestlers.
Freshman of the Year: Nahshon Garrett
- Coming into this season there were some serious questions as to who would be the 125 starter for the Big Red. Would it be Caleb Richardson? Bricker Dixon? Nahshon Garrett? Garrett proved he was the better guy for Coach Koll, and he also proved to be the best Freshman in the country. There were a few other contenders for this award, but none matched both Nahshon's success and his quality of wins.
Nahshon didn't have that "I have arrived" win early in the season. He made a living beating quality competition. Wins over Bonanno, Cullinan, Martinez and Cox helped to land him in the conversation and in the rankings. He slowly worked his way up, losing only to Waters(twice), McDonough, Delgado and Megaludis. At NCAA's Coach Koll got another Freshman All American. His run was phenomenal and his progression was fun to watch. He's got a great style and will definitely be in the mix for a title next year. He's got great speed and surprising power for someone who was once considered "undersized" for his weight. He has a variety of takedowns and a strong ability to finish for a Freshman. Like many Cornell wrestlers, he's also tremendously gifted on top(an area he improved throughout the season). He put his tilting ability on full display against Jarrod Garnett, and he was also able to ride Alan Waters extremely tough. His wins over Matt McDonough, Jarrod Garnett and the 1 seed Alan Waters is an astounding run for a Freshman. His draw was tough, and he was tougher. Congrats to a great Freshman with a bright future.
Most Improved: Steve Santos-Columbia
- It cannot be easy to run a Division 1 program in the middle of New York City, and it has to be tough to balance the academics and training aspect. Santos had always been a fairly solid guy. Not a household name, and someone I only knew through (nerd-alert) fantasy wrestling (if you want to learn more about the sport, get in a fantasy wrestling league, they're fun and VERY educational). I took a flyer on Santos (late) because he had a few decent wins (I remember his suck-back pin over Mason). He would be a solid point scorer, but his ceiling wasn't but so high. Last year he was 22-11 with losses to: Habat, Alton, Villalonga, Stephen Robertson(twice), Accordino, Cole Von Ohlen and Nick Lester. 5 of those 7 guys were in NCAA's this year and he out-placed them all.
Santos went from a solid d1 wrestler to a bona-fide stud with quite a few wins over D1's elite in the span of 1 season. He lost 1 match at NCAA's: Oliver. He beat Ness, Sakaguchi, Grajales, and Von Ohlen. He was tested nearly every step of the way on the big stage and he proved to be the better man against some great competition. He ended the year 31-2 with losses only to Oliver and Vinson. Some other quality wins Steve had earlier this season included David Habat, Eric Grajales and Nick Lester. His 3rd place finish ended a fine career on a very high note. Congratulations to Steve for his big turnaround, and Coach Fronhofer for helping get Columbia's highest place winner in the programs history.