Penn State Wrestling has a long and proud tradition of excellence.
Just last week, we highlighted the Top 5 Nittany Lions of the 1950s. This week, we’re going to continue our journey down memory lane as the attention turns to the talented and storied Penn State grapplers of the 1960’s.
For the Nittany Lions, the 1950’s proved to be a bit of a renaissance as they crowned 19 EIWA Conference champions, 25 NCAA All-Americans, five NCAA champions, and took home the program’s first team title in 1953.
These 10 years of wrestling put Penn State Wrestling on the map nationally, and proved there was top tier wrestling outside of Oklahoma and Iowa.
Moving forward to the 1960’s, the Nittany Lions took a slight step back nationally as they were unable to secure an individual NCAA champion.
But, make no mistake about it, as evident by their 15 EIWA Conference champions and 13 NCAA All-Americans, they were still a force to reckon with.
So with that, let’s continue this on-going series and breakdown my top five Nittany Lion wrestlers of the 1960s!
Penn State Wrestling: Top-10 Grapplers of the 1960s
Conference titles: 0
NCAA finish: 3rd (1964)
Conference titles: 0 (2nd 1964)
NCAA finish: 5th (1964)
Conference titles: 0 (3rd 1963)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1963)
Conference titles: 1 (1966)
NCAA finish: DNP (1966)
Conference titles: 1 (1967)
NCAA finish: DNP (1965-1967)
Conference titles: 1 (1968)
NCAA finish: 4th (1968)
Conference titles: 1 (1967)
NCAA finish: DNP (1967)
In no order other than based on the years they wrestled in Happy Valley, I present to you the longest list of Honorable Mentions in Nittany Central history.
Before I humbly accept the award for the 2023 Laziest Wrestling Writer, I would like to point out that this was one of the hardest lists I’ve had to break down in my mediocre writing career.
To not acknowledge each of the above guys would be an insult to the Penn State Wrestling program and an insult to the shear amount of blood, sweat, and tears they poured out during their time as a Nittany Lion.
Between Mark Piven, Tom Balent, Dick Dewalt, and Mike Reid, they wrestled a total of four full time seasons at Penn State. But what each of those guys did in their one season of action landed them on this list.
Mark Piven took part in a handful of matches his sophomore and junior seasons. And when he was finally unleashed his final year, Piven made the best of the opportunity.
Riding a 7-3 record going into the 1964 EIWA Conference Championships, Piven looked to make a deep run to gain momentum going into the NCAA Championships. But just like in the previous EIWA Championships, Piven was ousted in his first and only match.
Something clicked though and after losing his second round match in the 1964 NCAA’s, Piven rolled through three straight opponents and finished on the podium with a third place finish.
Tom Balent and Mike Reid had similar careers on the mat as each only wrestled essentially for a single year.
But, this is where the similarities end as Balent was a lightweight grappler for one season and Reid was an All-American defensive lineman for the Nittany Lions who went on to get drafted in the first round of the 1970 NFL Draft.
Wrestling full time his first eligible season for Penn State, Balent compiled a record of 10-3, finished third in the 1963 EIWA Championships, and was crowned an All-American with his third place finish in the 1963 NCAA Championships.
The following season (1963-1964), Balent wrestled two matches, going 1-1, and never competed for the Nittany Lions again.
Reid occupied the Unlimited weight class for Penn State during the 1966-1967 season, and following a slow 1-1-1 start, he went out swinging the rest of the year.
Mike Reid proceeded to rip off a 12 match winning streak which landed him a 1967 EIWA Conference title and a trip to the third round of the 1967 NCAA Championships. But unfortunately this is where Reid’s fairytale season ended as he was pinned by his Oklahoma foe.
As mentioned in the 1950’s article, college wrestling and in particular the conference and NCAA championships were much different. One loss could end your tournament right there and then.
But for Reid, college wrestling was just a side hustle. For the Cincinnati Bengals, Reid was a First-team All-Pro in 1972, a Second-team All-Pro in 1973, and was named to two Pro Bowls in 1972 and 1973.
The nimble big man also had a passion for music. Reid performed as a pianist for the Utah Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Reid won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1984 (“Stranger in My House”) and went on to write 12 No. 1 singles.
Dick Dewalt suited up for 10 bouts his sophomore and junior seasons and put together a combined record of 6-4. He was then sent loose his senior campaign where Dewalt piled up 11 straight wins, and like Reid, an EIWA Conference title and a ticket to the third round in the 1966 NCAA Championships.
And just like Reid, Dewalt was tripped up and his tournament and college career were over.
Jerry Seaman was a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions and if several gut-wrenching losses in the NCAA Championships were flipped, he could have been much higher on this list.
Seaman’s sophomore year was a bit of a roller coaster ride with Jerry starting 0-2 and then following that up with two straight pins. Seaman plowed his way to the finals in the 1965 EIWA Championships but was upended in a razor-thin decision in overtime. He then lost in third round of the 1965 NCAA Championships which ended his year.
Going a perfect 9-0 heading into the 1966 EIWA Championships, Seaman was flying high. But after pinning his foe in the opening round and cruising to a 10-0 win in the second round, Seaman dropped back-to-back matches and did not place. His 1966 NCAA’s were then one-and-done with a loss in the first round.
Seaman finally got the EIWA monkey off his back when he took home the conference title in 1967. But another soul-crushing defeat early in the 1967 NCAA’s ended his collegiate career and his goal of an All-American finish.
George Edwards and Matt Kline had careers that mirrored each other in many different ways.
Both grapplers were three year starters with George competing in 47 career matches and Matt taking part in 45 matches. Edwards finished with a 79% win percentage while Kline held a 76% win percentage. And both of the talented wrestlers earned All-American honors with top five finishes their senior years in the NCAA Championships.
Edwards finished second in the 1964 EIWA’s and came out with a fifth place finish in the 1964 NCAA Championships.
Kline had a little more success in the conference tournaments as he finished fourth in 1967 and won an EIWA title in 1968. Kline then went on to lose his fourth round match in the 1968 NCAA’s. And following a win and a loss, Matt secured a fourth place finish in the NCAA’s and his name etched in stone as a Nittany Lion All-American.
Conference titles: 1 (1964)
NCAA finish: 5th (1965)
Jay Windfelder only wrestled two seasons for the Nittany Lions, but holy cow were they both incredible.
Kicking things off his junior campaign, Windfelder was unbeaten with a 5-0-2 record heading into the 1964 EIWA Championships. And let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest of paths facing Jay and his quest for a conference title.
After downing his opening round opponent 5-2, Windfelder pulled off a thrilling 5-3 win in overtime to advance to the semifinals. And there Jay once again went to his bag of tricks by besting his Army opponent in a back and forth 9-6 win.
It was on to the finals where Windfelder would put his unbeaten record on the line against the rising youngster Warren Crow of Cornell.
In perhaps the match of the tournament, Jay Windfelder survived the offensive onslaught put on by both of the talented grapplers. When the dust finally settled it was Windfelder who had his hand raised at the center of the mat following the 9-8 win.
So not only was Windfelder still unbeaten on the year, he was just crowned the 1964 EIWA Champion at 123 pounds. Confidence had to be at an all time high going into the 1964 NCAA Championships.
The Houdini act continued as Jay slipped past his opening round foe in overtime. But when your back is continually up against the wall, it’s just a matter of time until the house of cards crumbles.
Which is exactly what happened to Windfelder when he lost his second round match 4-2. One loss on the year and Windfelder’s entire season was over.
Jay knew he had missed an opportunity in the NCAA’s and he trained his tail off in the offseason. Turning the page to the final chapter in his collegiate wrestling career, Windfelder got the train rolling after suffering a 7-5 loss in his third match.
Windfelder then peeled off 10 straight wins which landed him in his second straight EIWA Conference finals match.
That was obviously the good news.
The bad news? Lehigh’s all-time great Michael Caruso just so happened to be his opponent.
Caruso crushed Windfelder 10-4 in a completely one-sided match and it was now up to Jay to lick his wounds and get ready for the 1965 NCAA Championships.
Jay snuck by his first opponent 6-4, but just like the prior season, he was on the wrong end of a super tight match. However, this time his tournament wasn’t over. Oklahoma State’s Tadaaki Hatta, who beat Windfelder, continued to win and this gave Jay another chance to hit the mat.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Windfelder went 2-1 the rest of the way and finished in fifth place to earn All-American honors.
Conference titles: 1 (1968)
NCAA finish: 4th (1968)
When the Penn State Wrestling room is named after you, then there’s a pretty darn good chance you’re going to make my top five list.
And yes, was Rich Lorenzo an incredible college coach during his 14 years in Happy Valley?
Lorenzo had a career record of 188-64-9 (72% winning percentage) before retiring in 1992. And during that span Rich Lorenzo coached 47 conference champions, 53 All-Americans, and five NCAA champions.
So it should be no surprise that Rich Lorenzo was also a force on the wrestling mat.
Following an up and down sophomore campaign where Lorenzo went 9-8 and a fourth place finish in the 1966 EIWA Championships, Rich racked up an 11 match win streak that included four pins.
The unbeaten streak landed Lorenzo a place in the 1967 EIWA finals were he ultimately lost a tough 7-6 decision to Army’s Jim Harter.
Rich picked himself up by his bootstraps and forged ahead to the NCAA Championships. Things were looking up for Lorenzo as he won his opening round match 7-2 and then his second round match 4-0.
But a 5-3 loss in the third round ended his tournament and the year.
Rich Lorenzo had one final year to prove to himself and to prove to the rest of the nation just how good he could be. It was put up or shut up time.
Let’s just say Lorenzo decided to go with the former rather than the latter.
Leading into the 1968 EIWA Championships, Rich was 9-0 with four pins and he outscored his opponents 43-5. So to say he was dominant is a gross understatement.
In the EIWA’s, Lorenzo barely broke a sweat in his first two matches. He pinned his first foe 41 seconds into the bout and his second opponent 1:03 into the match. Temple’s Baretz gave him the toughest fight as Lorenzo pinned him after six minutes and seven seconds of action.
And in the finals it was Rich Lorenzo time yet again. He pinned his Colgate opponent at the 2:35 mark. So in the 1968 EIWA Championships, Rich Lorenzo faced four incredibly tough opponents and he walked away with four pins and a conference title.
The 1968 NCAA Championships were Lorenzo’s last ride before heading into the college sunset. And things got off great with a 10-2 win, pin, and 4-0 win in the first three matches.
But Cal Poly’s Tom Kline was next up. A win would propel Rich Lorenzo to the finals.
The semifinals match ended up being a thrilling, white-knuckle ride to the finish. However it was Kline who took the 2-1 win and not Lorenzo.
Rich again picked himself up and headed to the consolation bracket where he pummeled his first opponent 13-3. And in the third place match the same guy who ended Lorenzo’s NCAA run the prior year, East Stroudsburg’s Gary Cook, was standing across from him.
Cook just seemed to have Rich’s number and he dropped the 8-3 decision.
Lorenzo may have lost his last career college match, but no one can take his fourth place finish and All-American honors away from him.
During his time at Penn State, Rich Lorenzo proved to be one of the most proficient fall-guys in Nittany Lion history. His career fall percentage of 33.3% (17 pins in 51 career matches) puts him at No. 23 all time in Penn State history.
Conference titles: 2 (1964 & 1965)
NCAA finish: 5th (1965)
Of all of the Nittany Lion greats who competed in the 1960’s, no one had a career winning percentage better than Marty Strayer’s. His decade-best win percentage of 81% is tops among all of the guys in this article.
But he also took home some hardware during his time in Rec Hall.
Strayer had a bumpy ride his first full season on the mat as he went into the 1963 EIWA Championships with a record of 5-3-1.
But records are just things we put on paper, and the last time I checked, wrestling matches take place on mats. Not paper.
Marty won his first EIWA Championship match by fall and then snuck by the next two guys with a 2-1 win in overtime and a 7-4 decision. It was onto the finals in his first ever EIWA Championships.
Pittsburgh’s Jim Harrison also made the finals and this was good news for Strayer as he already bested him 5-4 in the regular season.
However, Harrison must have learned a thing or two from the prior loss because the match was completely flipped and he pulled out the win over Strayer 5-1. For Marty it was a disappointing finish, however a second place finish in the EIWA Conference is nothing to scoff at.
And in the 1963 NCAA Championships, Strayer won his opening match but dropped the second one. And just like that, his season was over.
In his junior campaign, Marty Strayer looked like a man on a mission. He rode a 10 match unbeaten streak (9-0-1) going into the 1964 EIWA Championships and this time he wasn’t going to leave there without a title in his hands.
Strayer dusted the field in his four matches with a combined score of 17-7.
EIWA Championship: Check
Next up on the agenda was to become an NCAA All-American.
Marty was well on his way in the 1964 NCAA’s by winning his first two matches. But in the third round he got caught late in the bout and was pinned. It was Strayer’s only loss of the season and it was a loss he couldn’t afford.
Learn, train hard, get better each and every day, rinse and repeat.
Strayer simply obliterated the competition his senior year. Following the 1965 EIWA Championships, Marty had secured his second conference title, had a perfect 15-0 record, amassed four falls, and outscored his opponents 69-18.
EIWA Championship: Double check
Marty was focused in the 1965 NCAA Championships and he was certainly sharp.
Easily breezing into the semifinals, Strayer had the very difficult task in trying to take out Oregon State’s all-time great Len Kauffman. During the 1964 and 1965 dual meet seasons, Kauffman pinned every single opponent he faced.
And unfortunately for Strayer, he fell to the same fate as Kauffman turned his back to the mat 2:12 into the match.
But his NCAA tournament wasn’t over. He still had work to do in the consolation bracket to try for a high finish.
And after losing his first match in the wrestlebacks, Marty Strayer won the fifth place match 4-0 to secure his first NCAA finish and first All-American honors.
NCAA All-American: Damn right
Conference titles: 1 (1961)
NCAA finish: 4th (1960), 2nd (1961), 3rd (1962)
Of all the guys on this list, Ron Pifer is the only one to be a three-time All-American for the Nittany Lions.
Was Ron Pifer a dominant regular season wrestler?
Not really. Of his 14 career losses, eight of them happened during the regular season.
But that’s the thing about college wrestling, the regular season does matter to a certain extent. However the only true thing that matters is the conference championships and the NCAA Championships.
And the brighter the lights got and the higher the pressure got, well that’s when Ron Pifer went to work.
Pifer rode a pedestrian 6-3 record into the 1960 EIWA’s and outside of Penn State’s head coach Bill Koll and Ron’s parents, there probably weren’t many people who thought he had a shot at anything.
But Pifer defied all of the odds by winning his first match by fall and followed that up with an 11-6 decision. The two wins slotted Ron into the semifinals against Cornell’s Allan Marion.
Marion slid by Pifer 10-6 but Ron’s EIWA tournament wasn’t over yet. He still had a third place match with a chance to finish on the podium. Which is exactly what he did when you pinned his foe 5:33 into the match.
Now it was onto the bright lights of the 1960 NCAA Championships.
Pifer smashed his way into the third round with a fall and an 8-5 decision in his opening round matches. But a razor close 5-4 loss in the third round almost ended his season.
Given a second chance, Ron won his next two matches and fell in the third place match to finish fourth in his first full time season.
Pifer’s junior year was pretty much the same as the prior year. A couple of bumps in the road during the regular season landed Ron in the 1961 EIWA Championships with a 7-3 record.
Pifer steamrolled his way to the 1961 EIWA title with a fall and a combined 16-4 score in the four matches. And the train continued to roll down the tracks in the 1961 NCAA Championships with Ron winning his first four matches to punch his ticket to the finals.
If anyone reading this followed college wrestling back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, then they absolutely know who Larry Hayes is. Heck, even if you’re a fan of college wrestling history you should know who he is.
Hayes had previously won an NCAA title in 1959 and again in 1960. And he just so happened to be Ron Pifer’s opponent in the 1961 finals.
Needless to say Pifer did not pull off the miraculous upset. But he did hang tough as Hayes was only able to beat him 4-0.
Runner-up is always a tough pill to swallow. On one hand you finished second in the nation, finished on the podium, and were that close to winning the whole thing. On the other hand you lost and were that close to winning the whole thing.
Going into the 1962 EIWA Championships, Pifer put together his best regular season record by going 8-2.
He made his second straight EIWA finals, however he fell to Pitt’s Daryl Kelvington 3-1.
No big deal. EIWA titles are great, but NCAA titles are the goal.
Ron again got off to a great start in the 1962 NCAA Championships with a pin and a dominant 8-2 decision. Up next was an unseeded grappler by the name of Jack Flasche from Northern Colorado.
And all this unseeded wrestler did was upend of the best guys in the nation in a lopsided 7-2 win.
Pifer had to be completely shell shocked. This was the worst regulation time loss since early into his sophomore year. But this was no fluke whatsoever. Flasche blew through the entire 157 pound field, which included a dominant 5-2 win in the finals over the No. 1 seed Phil Kinyon of Oklahoma State.
Ron Pifer regrouped and he rattled off three straight wins to finish third and take home his second straight podium finish and third straight All-American honors.
Conference titles: 2 (1960 & 1961)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1960) & 4th (1961)
Honestly, it was a really tough choice between Ron Pifer and John Oberly at No. 1 for the guys in the 1960’s.
Pifer is the only three-time All-American, however Oberly is the only wrestler in this group to win two EIWA titles and have two All-American finishes. Which is why I give Oberly the very narrow edge.
Another factor is the sheer dominance of John Oberly. More on this in a bit.
As with most collegiate athletes, it’s hard to be consistent and at the top of your game early in your career. There’s always an adjustment period in getting used to your training regime, your class work, and how good your opponents are.
Same goes for Oberly as he had a losing record of 2-3-1 going into the 1959 EIWA Championships. But something clicked for the big guy and he rolled three straight victories and a trip to the finals.
The finals didn’t go his way (4-2 loss), but just making the finals had to give Oberly some much needed confidence going into the 1959 NCAA Championships.
And in the NCAA’s, John squeaked by his first two foes with a win in overtime and a 7-4 decision. However his run in the NCAA’s ended when he was pinned in his third round match. Oberly was injured in the match and he had to forfeit his remaining match, meaning his season was over.
John’s junior campaign got off to on okay start with two wins and a tie. But remember when I talked about how dominant he was? Take a look at what he did in his next 11 matches which spanned the rest of the regular season and the 1960 EIWA Championships:
That’s 11 matches and 8 of them ending with Oberly pinning his opponent. It also includes John winning his first conference title with a fall.
But for Oberly his 1960 NCAA’s almost ended before they started.
He lost his opening round match 7-2. It was a shocking result and one that would ruin most elite athletes.
Oberly regrouped and crushed his next three opponents to finish on the podium (third place) and earn his first All-American honors.
In his final season in Happy Valley, Oberly continued his dominant run on the mat. In the 14 matches he competed in during the regular season and the 1961 EIWA Championships, Oberly pinned nine of his fellow wrestlers.
John wrapped up his second EIWA title and he made it through the first two rounds of the NCAA’s (1961) for the second time in his career. However this would prove to be the deepest he could ever make it.
Oberly was pinned and relegated to the consolation bracket again where won his first match and then lost in the third place match to finish fourth.
For two straight seasons John Oberly won the EIWA title at heavyweight and two straight seasons he went into the NCAA Championships unbeaten. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Winning championships is never easy and it’s especially true for college wrestling.
And even though John Oberly was never able to make it to the promised land, it still doesn’t mean he’s not an all-time Nittany Lion great. His dominance on the mat was clear, but knowing that 40% (No. 9 career fall percentage in Penn State history) of all of his matches ended with Oberly turning his opponent’s back to the mat, well that’s just insane.