After the dust has settled from the NCAA wrestling tournament, one more question remains before the 2017-18 season can be officially wrapped up: Who will be this year’s Hodge Trophy winner?
The WIN Magazine/Culture House Dan Hodge Trophy, the equivalent of football’s Heisman, is given each year to the nation’s best college wrestler.
This year, Penn State has two finalists — defending Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford and junior Bo Nickal. They are joined on the list by fellow national champions Seth Gross of South Dakota State and Zahid Valencia of Arizona State. Among them, Retherford is the lone senior.
Criteria for the Hodge include the wrestler’s record, number of pins, dominance on the mat, quality of competition, past credentials, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart. The first four are the primary criteria.
Retherford finished his career at Penn State on Saturday riding a 94-match winning streak and earning his third national title. The four-time All-American finished the season with 17 pins and an average of 5.19 out of six points per match to be named the NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler for the third year in a row. He was also named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year.
If Retherford were to win the honor again, he’d become the second two-time winner in Penn State history (as David Taylor did it in 2012 and 2014) and the first back-to-back winner since Missouri’s Ben Askren in 2006-2007. Penn State coach Cael Sanderson is the only wrestler to have won the award three times, winning the honor from 2000-2002 while wrestling for Iowa State.
Like Retherford, Nickal also put together a dominant, undefeated season, finishing with 16 pins, a technical fall and six major decisions. His final pin of the season — over Ohio State’s Myles Martin in the NCAA finals — was the most thrilling, as it locked up the tight team race for Penn State in stunning fashion as Nickal rolled off his own back into a reversal, then stuck him in a headlock for the fall. For that finish, he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
He also capped off the dual season with another memorable pin — when he stuck Buffalo’s Brett Perry in just 0:11, tying for the second-fastest pin in Penn State history.
Meanwhile, Gross and Valencia also have put together impressive seasons. Gross became the first Division I national champion in South Dakota State history last weekend with a dominant 13-8 decision over Michigan’s Stevan Micic. He has an 80 percent bonus-point record, and his only loss was incurred when he bumped up a weight to wrestle No. 1 Bryce Meredith of Wyoming at 141 pounds in their dual.
Valencia ended his season with a number of impressive wins, including two over Michigan’s Myles Amine, two over Ohio State’s Bo Jordan, one over Lehigh’s Jordan Kutler and one over Penn State’s defending national champ Mark Hall in the NCAA finals for this year’s title at 174 pounds.
Retherford, Nickal, Gross and Valencia were the only national champions this year to finish their seasons undefeated in their weight classes. Penn State’s Jason Nolf was having a Hodge-like year, leading the nation in pins and among the best in terms of bonus points, when he suffered an injury and defaulted against Rutgers’ John Van Brill in January — counting as a loss. The injury caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and to medical forfeit out of the Big Ten tournament.
The winner is decided by a group of formal voters, which includes past winners, national media, representatives of national wrestling organizations and retired coaches, as well as a fan vote. The winner of the fan vote will earn two first-place votes.
Fans can decide whom they think most deserves the honor by going to https://www.win-magazine.com/2018/03/2018-win-magazineculture-house-dan-hodge-trophy-presented-by-asics-fan-vote/ and casting their vote by 5 p.m. Friday. The winner will be announced March 27.
How to vote for the 2018 Hodge Trophy winner
When: by 5 p.m. Friday