NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Penn State Wrestling: Ranking Top-10 Nittany Lions of The 1980s

Continuing our on-going series highlighting the past decades of Penn State Wrestling greatness, here are the previous three installments:

Top 5 Nittany Lions of the 1950s
Top 10 Nittany Lions of the 1960s
Top 5 Nittany Lions of the 1970s

The Nittany Lions set the benchmark with what they accomplished in the 1950s:

19 EIWA Conference Champions
25 All-Americans
5 NCAA Champions
7 top-10 NCAA team finishes (1st 1953)

And Penn State continued their success in the 1960s:

15 EIWA Conference Champions
13 All-Americans
2 top-10 NCAA finishes (7th 1960 & 1961)

Then came the 1970s where the Nittany Lions took a huge step forward, signaling to the nation that they were coming for the top programs:

29 EIWA & EWL Conference Champions
15 All-Americans
2 NCAA Champions
6 top-10 NCAA team finishes (4th 1971)

Going into the 1980s, the foundation was set, the expectations were high, and the team was anchored by legendary wrestler and newly minted Head Coach Rich Lorenzo.

But, he wasn’t alone in building a powerhouse, with all-time great Nittany Lion John Fritz and Hachiro Oishi as assistant coaches, they along with Coach Lorenzo were instrumental in how high Penn State Wrestling would rise.

And, even with the top tier coaching staff in place, my guess is that there were very few people outside of Happy Valley who could have predicted how high the Nittany Lions would climb in the 80s:

34 EWL Conference Champions
8 EWL Team Titles (1982-1989)
36 All-Americans
3 NCAA Champions
8 top-10 NCAA team finishes (3rd 1984 & 1987)

The 1980’s brought about many changes to collegiate wrestling and with the addition of a longer regular season, expanded scoring (adding of technical falls), and more individual matches, this decade garnered in the modern era of what is more closely seen in today’s wrestling.

And holy cow, did the Nittany Lions see a lot of winning during this 10-year stretch.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the best of the best for Penn State in the 1980s!

Penn State Wrestling: Top-10 Grapplers of the 1980s

Honorable Mention

Eric Brugel
Years: 1982-1986
Record: 103-45-1
Conference titles: 1 (1986)
NCAA finish: 8th (1984)

Sean Finkbeiner
Years: 1985-1989
Record: 70-37-8
Conference titles: 1 (1987)
NCAA finish: 6th (1987)

Right off the bat, we have the third Nittany Lion to ever eclipse the 100 win mark (103) and another grappler who had the same or more wins (70) than seven of the nine legends I detailed in the 1970’s piece.

With his 103 career wins, Eric Brugel currently sits at No. 32 on the all-time wins list. And if it wasn’t for Pitt’s Jeff Jelic, Brugel could have had multiple EWL titles under his belt.

Eric was able to snag his only EWL crown his senior campaign, but he finished runner-up the other three seasons which included losses to Jelic in two of the EWL finals.

And while Brugel had tremendous success on the mat during the regular season and in the EWL Championships, his 8-8 career record in the NCAA Championships led to three DNP finishes and one All-American finish (8th) his junior year.

Following a disappointing 6-17-1 season his first year on the mat, Sean Finkbeiner righted the ship and piled up a total of 64 wins his remaining three seasons on campus.

This included finishes of first (1987), fifth (1988), and third (1989) in the EWL Championships and a sixth place finish in the 1987 NCAA Championships. The six wins Finkbeiner locked down to earn his only All-American finish ended up being two more than Sean would rack up in both the 1988 and 1989 NCAA’s combined.

Both Brugel and Finkbeiner were immensely talented and they riled up the Rec Hall crowd with epic matches countless times. But, the 1980s was a stacked decade for Penn State, and this is the only reason they didn’t crack the top 10.

T-No. 10
Steve Sefter
Years: 1981-1985
Record: 33-10
Conference titles: 1 (1981)
NCAA finish: 6th (1981) & 4th (1985)

Chris Bevilacqua
Years: 1983-1986
Record: 37-7-1
Conference titles: 2 (1985 & 1986)
NCAA finish: 8th (1984) & 4th (1985)

And here we have yet another tie in my rankings because apparently I don’t like to make tough decisions.

Go figure.

But taking both Sefter’s and Bevilacqua’s Penn State careers at face value, they were very similar.

Each of the super competitive grapplers were only unleashed for two full seasons with Steve piling up 33 wins and Chris pulling down 37 wins. The four combined seasons totaled three EWL titles and Sefter and Bevilacqua were four for four in All-American finishes.

Had it not for been Lock Haven all-time great Rick Petersen’s 7-2 decision over Sefter in the finals of the 1985 EWL Championships, then the duo would have also been four for four in conference titles.

I think I remember a famous song saying that “3 out of 4 ain’t bad” … Or something like that.


No. 9
Tim Flynn
Years: 1983-1987
Record: 105-32-2
Conference titles: 2 (1986 & 1987)
NCAA finish: 7th (1987)

Penn State Accolades
No. 31 in all-time wins (105)

Based on their conference titles and top eight finishes in the NCAA Championships, logic would state that Steve Sefter and Chris Bevilacqua should be ranked higher than Tim Flynn.

And yes, this would probably be true except for the fact that I’m the one conducting the train and we passed the “Logic Station” a long time ago.

There’s also something else that should be taken into account here, and that’s Flynn’s body of work. Which is just a fancy way of saying he was really good and he did it for numerous seasons on the mat.

Following a pedestrian 12-6 freshman year, Flynn kicked it into high gear and rode an impressive 29-5-1 record into the 1985 EWL Championships. Tim breezed through the first two matches with a 7-1 decision and a 6-2 decision.

That was the good news.

The bad news?

Bloomsburg great Rocky Bonomo was set to meet Flynn in the finals. And just two weeks prior to their matchup in the EWL finals, Bonomo blasted Flynn to the tune of a 13-3 major decision.

The finals match was closer, but in the end Rocky was simply too much for Tim to handle. The 9-3 loss had to be disappointing for Flynn, but in his first full season on the mat, finishing runner-up in the EWL’s is an accomplishment just by itself.

But, unfortunately, Flynn wasn’t able to get back in the win column in the 1985 NCAAs. In a razor close, back and forth match with Temple’s All-American Doug Castellari, Tim dropped a 9-8 decision. And just like that, his season was over.

Turning the page to his junior campaign, Flynn compiled a record of 29-7 heading into the 1986 EWL Championships. And two of Tim’s seven losses at that point in the season were at the hands of, surprise, surprise, someone named Bonomo.

Flynn dropped a 7-2 decision early in the season to Rocky and then he lost a 9-1 major decision to Rocky’s brother and defending national champion, Ricky Bonomo, a week prior to the EWL’s.

And same as with the year before, Tim cruised his way to the finals with wins of 12-3 and 7-3 in the opening round matches. It should probably come as no shock that Rocky did the same and he and Flynn would face each other for the second straight year in the finals.

The only thing is that this match was about as anti-climactic as it could get as Flynn bested Bonomo by default. I’m sure Tim wanted to win his first EWL title in a different fashion, but in the end a win is a win.

Flynn then set his sights on the 1986 NCAA Championships hosted by Iowa. There Tim boat raced his first two opponents with a technical fall and a 14-0 shutout. BYU’s Brad Gustafson was up next, however something Flynn and head coach Lorenzo didn’t know was that Gustafson was on a bit of a heater.

And Brad continued to ride the lightning by slipping by Flynn 7-6 in a match that Tim had no doubt replayed in his head many times since.

“Okay, no need to panic, just regroup and continue to win matches in the wrestlebacks.”

Which is exactly what any top tier wrestler would say to themselves following a loss in the later rounds of the NCAA’s. But guess who Flynn’s next opponent was in the bracket?

Yep, Rocky Bonomo.


In their closest match to date (5-3 loss), Tim still wasn’t able to get over the hump with Rocky. Flynn’s season was once again over and Bonomo rode his way to an eighth place finish and BYU’s Gustafson took home fourth.

In Tim Flynn’s final season at Penn State, he put together another solid record of 22-8-1 heading into the 1987 EWL Championships. And yes, Flynn and Bonomo locked horns two more times that year. Rocky slithered past Tim 6-5 in early January, and he then snuck by 7-4 just prior to the EWL’s.

But Rocky was dealing with some injuries that year and he and Tim would not face in the EWL finals for the third time in a row. Instead, Flynn squeaked out an overtime win and a major decision to face Clarion’s stud and defending EWL Champion (134 pounds), Paul Clark, in the finals.

Flynn flipped a switch and ultimately bested Clark 7-3 to win his second conference title, thus avenging a loss from prior in the season.

And in the 1987 NCAA Championships, Tim won his first two matches before dropping a 4-1 decision to Ohio University’s Rob Johnson.

But, unlike the prior year, Rocky Bonomo was nowhere to be seen and Flynn won his next match. Tim then dropped a 3-1 decision to Iowa State’s Jeff Gibbons which slotted him in the seventh place match at 134 pounds.

Where Wilkes’ two-time defending EIWA Champion, Andre Miller, would be the opponent.

Tim wrestled a great match start to finish and bested his Wilkes counterpart 5-2 to finish in seventh place and take home his first ever All-American honors.

No. 8
John Hanrahan
Years: 1979-1982
Record: 113-33-2
Conference titles: 2 (1981 & 1982)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1981) & 5th (1982)

Penn State Accolades
No. 24 in all-time wins (113)

John Hanrahan’s first two seasons in Happy Valley could not have been any more similar to each other. And it’s not like they were “bad” or “mediocre” by any means, not at all. They were darn good.

Hanrahan’s freshman year he took a 20-9-1 record into the conference finals where he lost an early round match, battled back to finish third, and then lost his opening round match of the 1979 NCAA’s.

Then in his sophomore campaign, the talented Nittany Lion held an 18-6-1 record going into the EWL Championships. And again he lost in an early round, he again fought back to win the third place match, and he again was bounced early in the 1980 NCAA’s.

But things were about to turn around for him.

Following a rocky start to the 1981 season where John dropped two of his first five matches to LSU’s Jeff Parker (10-5) and a Cal Poly grappler (9-7), Hanrahan rattled off nine straight victories to improve his record to 12-2.

Parker again got the best of John in an absolute barnburner of a match (20-15) in a late December tournament, but Hanrahan kept the pedal to the floor the rest of the season. Sporting a 27-5 record heading into the 1981 EWL Championships, it was clear he wasn’t leaving that building until he won the whole damn thing.

Which is exactly what Hanrahan did as he steam rolled the competition and took home his first conference title. Now it was time for the competitive wrestler to finally break through and win some matches in the NCAA’s.

In the 1981 NCAA Championships, Hanrahan blitzed through his opening round match 11-2, he then bulldozed LSU’s Jeff Parker 15-8, and toppled NC State’s Matt Reiss 13-6 to punch his ticket to the semifinals.

Confidence had to be through the roof at that point. And who cared that the No. 1 seed, Iowa’s Mike DeAnna, was up next? Just stick to your training, get to your offense, and keep the pressure on your opponent.

Which sounds great in theory, but it’s not always good on a wrestling mat. And to the shock of Coach Lorenzo, the Nittay Lion faithful in attendance, and to John Hanrahan, Mike DeAnna caught John in a bad position early in the first period. Before people had even settled into their seats for the semifinal match, DeAnna had turned Hanrahan’s back to the mat and the match was over 43 seconds after the opening whistle blew.

If Hanrahan was fazed and shell shocked from the loss, then it was very temporary because he proceeded to rattle off two straight wins against fifth place finisher, Auburn’s Jamie Milkovich, and against Iowa State’s Perry Hummel to claim his first All-American finish on the podium.

Midway through John’s senior campaign, he was on pace to have his best regular season record as he sported a 15-2 mark following a 6-3 win in late December. But between his matches on December 30th and January 10th, Hanrahan had dropped three straight losses with the latest one being a fall at the hands of Oklahoma’s Dave Schultz.

John’s final year on the mat for the Nittany Lions was potentially teetering towards falling off the cliff if he started to lose any confidence in his abilities. Wrestling is just as much mental as it is physical and you can’t compete at a high level if you’re constantly second guessing yourself on the mat.

But for Hanrahan, there wasn’t any second guessing. He knew this was his last shot and regrouped and made the best of it.

From early January until the conclusion of the 1982 EWL Championships, Hanrahan only dropped one more match and his 4-1 win over Cleveland State’s Mark Johnson locked up his second straight EWL title.

It was now onto the 1982 NCAA Championships hosted by Iowa State.

John breezed by his first two matches with a 10-2 major decision and a 4-1 decision, however the bracket was in no way kind to Hanrahan as Navy’s John Reich stood in his way in the quarterfinals.

Up until that point in his career, Hanrahan and Reich had met three prior times. And the results weren’t pretty for John: Loss 21-6, loss 12-11, and loss by fall.

Defeating Reich would be a tall order as the Midshipman was strong on his feet and could get to his offense from many different platforms.

To Hanrahan’s credit, he gave Reich a tough battle, but in the end it wasn’t enough as the Navy standout won 14-9 and dropped John to the consolation bracket. The loss was obviously not what Hanrahan had envisioned in his final collegiate tournament, but there were still a lot of matches ahead of him and a lot of tough competition if he wanted to finish as an All-American again.

John remained poised and he won his next two matches. If he won the next match then he would again be in the third place match. But New Mexico’s Brad Bitterman had other ideas for Hanrahan and he dumped the Nittany Lion 9-4 to advance himself.

No one would have batted an eye if Hanrahan dragged himself out onto the mat for the fifth place match and went through the motions. He had already cemented an All-American finish and an outstanding college wrestling career. But that’s not who John Hanrahan was and he wasn’t the type of guy to not give it his all.

And the match was far from easy, but John ultimately prevailed 6-4 over Yale’s Colin Grissom in a tight and close match to finish in fifth place in the 1982 NCAA Championships.

John Hanrahan had finished his career with two straight EWL titles and with two straight top five finishes in the nation.

No. 7
Andy Voit
Years: 1985-1989
Record: 101-37-6
Conference titles: 2 (1987 & 1989)
NCAA finish: 4th (1987), 5th (1988), 7th (1989)

Penn State Accolades
No. 33 in all-time wins (101)
T-No. 10 in all-time technical fall wins (16)

We have now made it to our first three-time All-American on this outstanding list of wrestlers. And, yes, you did read that correctly, Andy Voit is a three-time All-American and I have him at No. 7 on this list.

I told you the 1980s were full of studs!

And Voit didn’t really get picked up on anyone’s radar until the EWL Championships during his freshman year in 1985. Andy went into the conference championships with a 12-14 record and it’s hard to say that anyone really expected much.

Voit had other ideas as he dominated his way to a 9-1 major decision in the first match and he then avenged a prior loss to Lock Haven’s Greg Wykoff by winning a tight 3-1 decision.

Bloomsburg’s Darrin Evans got the best of Voit 8-7 but you could tell how far Andy had come in his abilities as he was previously pinned by Evans in the first round a week prior. Although disappointing, the loss vaulted Voit to a fourth place finish in his first EWL Championships.

Andy learned from his wins and from his losses his freshman campaign and it got him all of the way to the 1985 NCAA Championships. Unfortunately he went 1-1 (Win 13-0 and Loss by fall) and his season was over.

Deep into Voit’s redshirt sophomore season you could tell things had changed. The inconsistency and hesitation on the mat were gone and Andy was a polished wrestling machine.

Compiling a record of 21-4-3 heading into the 1987 EWL’s, Voit had his sights set on titles. But you could also say he had his sights set on keeping the scoreboard operator busy after Andy won his first two matches 25-10 and 9-1.

The offensive onslaught continued in the finals where Voit bested Cleveland State’s Jay Suvak 6-2 to snag his first EWL title and further give the competitive grappler more confidence in his abilities.

Voit vaulted himself into the quarterfinals of the 1987 NCAA Championships following a 11-5 win in the opening round and then a pin in the second round. And next up for Andy was the No. 2 seed in Iowa State’s Eric Voelker.

The two grapplers knew each other well as they had already butted heads on three different occasions on the year. At that point Voelker owned the series with a 2-0-1 record over Voit. And as much as I would like to say the result in the quarterfinals match was different, it was more of the same with Voelker moving on in a hard fought 5-2 win.

Andy had to know he was close to getting over the hump and he knew it was only a matter of time.

Voit went on to win his next three matches but lost 5-4 against Arizona State’s Mike Davies in the third place match to finish in fourth. The finish gave Voit his first All-American finish and his only loss in the championship bracket came at the hands of the eventual champion at 190 pounds, Eric Voelker.

These two would face each other two more times in Andy’s junior season. Voit upended Voelker in overtime in early November and Eric avenged this loss with an 8-2 win in February.

Voit was putting together a solid record his junior season, and heading into the 1988 EWL’s at 14-4-1, it was time to kick the intensity into overdrive. Andy snuck past his first round opponent 8-6 but his hopes of back-to-back conference titles was thwarted when he lost to Clarion’s John Flaherty 7-6.

Voit licked his wounds, regrouped, and went on to win the remaining two matches to finish third. Time to focus on the upcoming NCAA’s.

Which is exactly what Andy did. He strolled through his first two matches 4-0 and 7-3 respectively which pitted him against Lock Haven’s Bill Freeman in the quarterfinals. And these two were no strangers to each other as they had already faced off four prior times with Andy owning a perfect 4-0 record.

Voit proceeded to up his perfect record to 5-0 against Freeman, but it certainly wasn’t easy (WOT 1-1, 1). The win propelled Voit to the semifinals in the championship bracket for the first time in his Nittany Lion career.

Arizona State’s Mike Davies was his opponent and at that point he had decimated the field to the tune of a technical fall (19-4), fall (2:45), and an 11-4 decision. And in the semifinals Andy simply faced someone who was wrestling at an incredibly high level. Davies did whatever he wanted to and won the match in a major decision 11-2.

Hey, no big deal. If Andy could win his next match in the consolation bracket he would already be in the third place match. But guess who his opponent was?

Yep, Eric Voelker.

Voelker continued his winning ways against Voit and he rode the 6-2 win to then take home third place following a win against Wisconsin’s Kyle Richards (3-1). Voit then won his match 6-1 against Central Michigan’s Carlton Kinkade to claim fifth place and his second straight All-American honors.

It was now or never for Andy Voit in his senior season. The expectations were set and nothing short of conference champion and All-American finish would cut it.

Similar to his junior campaign, Voit carried a 17-4-1 record going into the 1989 EWL’s. And just like in the prior season, he hit several speed bumps during the season including a 0-2-1 stretch in three straight matches.

But none of this matter to Voit because he went to the 1989 EWL Championships to do one thing. And that was to beat every single opponent and win another title. Which he did.

Following his second EWL title, Andy had one more run as it was time for the 1989 NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City.

I can’t say it was unlucky, but Voit’s first round matchup was against Minnesota’s Chris Short. And for whatever reason Voit didn’t exactly matchup well with him.

The two faced off earlier in the year with Short coming away with the victory 3-2. But this was the first round of the NCAA’s and not a regular season match. Winning was paramount.

Leading 2-0 late in the final period, Voit appeared to have everything in control in the match. Losing focus for even a split second in wrestling can be catastrophic and on this occasion, Andy Voit was the recipient of this important lesson.

Short, possibly feeling some hesitation in Voit, pulled the reversal and had Andy in a very bad position. Before anyone could blink the referee slapped the mat and Voit had been pinned with only 30 seconds remaining in the match.

Following the shocking loss, Andy stared at the mat for 30 straight minutes contemplating what want wrong and what he needed to do to somehow atone for the loss. A loss in the opening round of the NCAA’s rarely ends with the grappler finishing in the top eight. It’s just a very difficult and long road to battle your way back in the wrestlebacks.

And to Voit’s credit he implemented the “survive and advance” method and kept winning. After three straight wins in the consolation bracket Voit was finally halted in a razor thin overtime match against Wisconsin’s Todd Seiler.

Andy Voit then took his frustration out on St. Cloud States Nate Toedter to the tune of a 13-4 major decision butt whooping to finish in seventh place. Thus securing his third straight All-American finish and writing his name in permanent marker in the history of Penn State Wrestling.

No. 6
Ken Chertow
Years: 1985-1989
Record: 115-35-3
Conference titles: 2 (1988 & 1989)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1987), 3rd (1988), 6th (1989)

Penn State Accolades
No. 21 in all-time wins (115)
No. 24 in all-time bonus point wins (51)
No. 12 in all-time techical fall wins (12)

Ken Chertow is now the second straight Nittany Lion on my list to have three All-American finishes.

And while both Voit and Chertow also have two conference titles to their names, I give the slight edge to Ken based on total wins and his high finishes in the NCAA Championships.

Right out of the gate, Chertow was turning heads as a freshman. He went toe-to-toe with Bloomsburg’s Rocky Bonomo in their second meeting of the season at 126 pounds (loss 11-8) and he bested Iowa’s Matt Egeland based on criteria in a very tight contest.

Chertow compiled a record of 18-8 heading into the 1985 EWL’s and his first round opponent was none other than Rocky’s brother, Ricky. And yet again, Chertow did not bow down to the supremely talented grappler standing in front of him. Rather he pushed the soon-to-be national champion to the brink and almost pulled off the upset (loss 14-12).

Ken then blasted past his next two foe’s with a technical fall and major decision to snag third place in his first EWL Championships.

Chertow held a 20-9 and he was placed in the pigtail bracket for the 118 pound group in the 1985 NCAA’s. Not only that, but his opponent in the pigtails would be Iowa State’s Bill Kelly.

At that time, Kelly wasn’t exactly a household name. But he was still darn good and people would eventually know exactly who he was.

Needless to say it was a very difficult match, but in the end Kelly got the best of Chertow 2-0 and his NCAA tournament was over before it even began.

During the next year Chertow was on the mat, his redshirt sophomore year, the highly competitive grappler came out blazing. Going into the 1987 EWL Championships, Ken owned a 23-4-2 record and this included a win (4-2) against the reigning and back-to-back NCAA champion Ricky Bonomo a week prior to the conference tournament.

Chertow made it to the EWL finals where yet another Bonomo was ready to face him. This time it was Rocky and he probably wanted nothing more than to avenge his brother’s loss from a handful of days back.

Although, I’m sure Ken wanted nothing more than to best his talented foe, keep the winning streak against the Bonomo crew going, and hoist his first conference title.

Well unfortunately the latter did not come to pass as Chertow dropped a heartbreaking loss in overtime to Rocky. Second place is never the end of the world, but for guys that are as driven and competitive as wrestlers, it’s not an easy pill to swallow.

And, credit to Chertow, because he turned the page towards the 1987 NCAA Championships just down the road in Maryland, and he was incredibly sharp from the get go.

Ken won his opening round match 8-2, then shellacked his next foe in a 20-4 technical fall, and kept the winning train going with a 6-2 win in the quarterfinals. Following his first ever win in an NCAA Championships match, Ken Chertow had officially punched his ticket to the semifinals. And who would his opponent be?

Anyone remember what I said about Bill Kelly and how the nation would eventually know who he was? Well that time was now and it came at the expense of Chertow’s run in the championship bracket.

Bill Kelly pulled out the win and it was the second time in the span of less than two weeks that Chertow had fallen against a high level wrestler in overtime. I have no idea what that would feel like as I have never competed in anything approaching the magnitude of the NCAA Championships, but I would have to imagine it would light your insides on fire and burn your very soul.

And this is where competitors have two doors to go through. They could wallow in their misery and sleep walk through another loss to end their tournament. Or they could get right back to the mat, learn from their losses, and continue to grind away.

Let’s just say Chertow took option No. 2.

Ken breezed past Oklahoma State’s Kendall Cross 5-1, did just enough against Northern Iowa’s Mike Schwab 5-4, and crushed Navy’s Matt Treaster 10-4. The three wins then placed Chertow into the third place match with a chance for his first ever NCAA podium finish.

It would end up being a rematch of the EWL finals as Rocky Bonomo stood opposite of Chertow.

The two titans of the 126 pound bracket went to battle and the result would once again be decided in overtime. But, this time it wouldn’t be a Bonomo standing at the center of the mat with his hand raised.


When the dust settled on the third place match, it was Ken Chertow who prevailed and he took home third place and his first of three All-American finishes.

Moving forward to Ken’s junior season, it’s possible some people might look at his 19-6-1 record going into the 1988 EWL’s and think something had gone wrong. But make no mistake about it, the six matches he lost during that season were very misleading.

Namely the fact that five of the six losses happened when Chertow was wrestling up a class at 134. And his other loss came at the hands of his teammate, Jim Martin.

But when it came time for the end of the year tournaments, Chertow dropped down to 118 pounds and he blew past his first two opponents in the EWL’s with a pin and a 12-5 decision. And after a gritty win (6-4) against Lock Haven’s standout Craig Corbin in the finals, Ken Chertow had won his first conference title.

Iowa State hosted the 1988 NCAA Championships and Chertow continued the winning streak with a 12-6 win in the pigtails and then an 18-4 win in the first round. However in the second round, Chertow ran into Central Michigan’s Rich Moeggenberg and his opponent was up to the challenge.

The match went into overtime and Ken pulled out the win. Based on the amount of high pressure overtime matches he had under his belt at that point, it’s probably a safe bet to say his experience played a major role in the victory.

But the semifinals were once again where Chertow’s ride in the championship bracket would end. In a high scoring affair, Minnesota’s Keith Nix took down Ken 10-8 and it was onto the consolation bracket for the second straight year.

All Chertow did in the wrestlebacks was take out the eventual seventh place finisher (Arizona State’s Gary McCall 5-0), fifth place finisher (Oklahoma State’s Cory Baze 5-2), and the fourth place finisher (Lock Haven’s Craig Corbin 5-2).

It was Ken Chertow’s second straight All-American finish and his second straight top three finish.

In Chertow’s final year at Penn State he only had four total losses going into the 1989 EWL’s. These losses were to Iowa’s Tom Brands 3-2 (anyone know him?), Oklahoma’s Chris Bollin 9-1, East Stroudsburg’s Jack Cuvo 9-5, and the pesky Craig Corbin of Lock Haven 9-7.

To say the field at 118 pounds that year was stacked is a massively huge understatement. It was a meat grinder.

But Chertow was a meat grinder himself and he blazed his way to his third straight EWL finals where Corbin would be his opponent.

And in yet another high pressure match that went into overtime, Chertown somehow pulled it out. The win gave Ken his second straight conference title and he avenged a loss from two weeks prior.

Leading into the 1989 NCAA’s, the selection committee gave Chertow the No. 4 seed in the 118 group. So that meant he would most likely have to face the reigning NCAA Champion (Cuvo) in the semifinals.

Which is what ended up playing out following Chertow’s wins in his first three bouts. And even though the NCAA record books shows that Cuvo and Chertow faced each other once before in the past calendar year, they had actually faced off another time in the prior year’s Olympic Trials.

Chertow got the best of Cuvo in the Olympic Trials and Cuvo got the best of Chertow in the regular season. Who would blink first in this matchup?

Well, actually it wasn’t either of the grapplers. Because they put everything that had into the epic clash.

Tied 6-6 at the end of regulation, the match headed to overtime (surprise, surprise). Cuvo struck first with a takedown and following an escape, Chertow was looking to do whatever he could to get a late takedown. But it just wasn’t to be and the final seconds ticked off of the clock. Ken Chertow would go down to the consolation bracket once more.

He had given absolutely everything he had in the semifinals, and his body had to be completely spent at that point. Ken ultimately dropped his next match 6-1 to the third place finisher, Oklahoma’s Chris Bollin, and his final collegiate match to Northwestern’s Jack Griffin 3-1.

But the finish he had in the 1989 NCAA’s didn’t define Ken Chertow. What he did in the wrestling room, what he did inside of Rec Hall for all of his years at Penn State, the incredible matches he was a part of, the conference titles, and the amazing moments in the NCAA Championships, those are what the Nittany Lion faithful will remember and that is what defines Ken Chertow.

No. 5
Dan Mayo
Years: 1984-1988
Record: 110-14-3
Conference titles: 3 (1986-1988)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1987) & 2nd (1988)

Penn State Accolades
No. 26 in all-time wins (110)
No. 25 in all-time technical fall wins (8)

In his junior and senior seasons, Dan Mayo put together two of the more impressive seasons of any Nittany Lion of the entire 1980’s.

Mayo kicked off his Penn State career by going a combined 11-5-1 his freshman season on campus. These matches spanned from early December 1983 to mid-January 1984, however he did not compete in any conference or post season tournaments.

Then in his redshirt sophomore campaign, Dan carried an unbeaten record of 11-0-1 into an early January dual meet tournament. Following a strong 10-1 major decision win in his first bout, Mayo then dropped back-to-back tough losses to Iowa State’s Bob Gassman (7-5) and Iowa’s Rico Chiapparelli (9-4).

Dan regrouped and proceeded to rip off an 11 match win streak which included snagging his first EWL title and a first round 8-0 major decision win over the aforementioned Bob Gassman in the 1986 NCAA Championships.

But unfortunately, that’s as far as Mayo would make it in that year’s championship bracket. After a gutwrenching 10-3 loss at the hands of Michigan State’s Dave Mariola, Dan was relegated to the consolation bracket where a very long and daunting road to an All-American finish lay ahead of him.

Dan won his first match but then fell in the next round 3-0 to Cal State-Bakersfield’s Marvin Jones. And just like that, his season was over.

Turning the page to Mayo’s junior season, he had something to prove. And outside of a couple of hiccups, a 5-3 loss to Ivan Boyesen in the Lehigh dual and a 9-2 defeat at the hands of Cal State-Bakersfield’s Darryl Pope, Dan was virtually unstoppable. Of his 26 wins during the regular season and en-route to his second straight EWL title, Mayo put together 12 major decisions, one technical fall, and four falls.

And in the 1987 NCAA Championships hosted by Maryland, Mayo was a human wrecking ball. He plowed his way through the opening two rounds with a 13-7 decision and a 16-5 major decision. Up next in the quarterfinals was a dangerous wrestler competing in front of his home crowd, Maryland’s Steve Peperak.

Peperak gave Mayo everything he could handle and Dan eventually prevailed in a nail biting one point win in overtime. Up next would be the previous year’s fourth place finisher in Iowa’s Rico Chiapparelli.

And just like with his quarterfinals clash, the semifinals was razor thin with neither grappler able to get to their offense. But this defensive battle ended in regulation with Rico standing at the center of the mat with his hand raised.

The loss dropped Mayo down to the consolation bracket, which was the bad news. The good news? Dan Mayo would not lose another match in the 1987 NCAA Championships.

Mayo snuck past that year’s fifth place finisher, Fresno State’s Fred Little 5-4, then he took out the fourth place finisher, Northwestern’s Mike Funk 7-3, to claim third place and his first All-American finish.

Dan’s senior year would prove to be his best and most dominant season on the wrestling mat.

Going into early February, Mayo had a perfect 17-0 record heading into Penn State’s dual meet with Iowa. And while the Nittany Lions walked out of Iowa City with the dual meet win (19-18), Dan suffered the first loss of the year against Iowa’s standout 177 grappler Royce Alger.

Mayo shook off the loss and then ripped off a nine match undefeated stretch which included a major decision, a technical fall, two pins, and his third straight EWL title.

In the 1988 NCAA Championships, Mayo really only brought out his explosive offense in an 18-3 technical fall in the opening round. From that point on, Mayo was workman-like and he did exactly what he needed to do to survive and advance.

He followed up his opening round win with a 6-2 decision against Ohio State’s Ron Gharbo. Then he upended Purdue’s Joe Urso 9-4 to punch his ticket to the semifinals to face Lock Haven’s Brad Lloyd.

Just two weeks prior, Mayo had defeated Lloyd 3-1 to win the EWL Conference title.

Well, if it was good once, then surely it would be good twice, because Dan once again dropped Lloyd to the tune of 3-1 to make his first ever NCAA finals. And the foe opposite of him was the overall No. 1 seed at 177, Iowa’s Royce Alger.

From the opening whistle, Alger went straight at Mayo and continued to put pressure on the talented Nittany Lion. But Mayo almost landed a single leg midway through the first period, only to have Alger sneak out of it.

Following an escape in the second period, Mayo landed a beautiful double leg to take the lead 3-0. The third period then began with Mayo on top position leading 3-1. If he could work hard on top and force Alger to tire, then the title would be his.

But unfortunately, Alger was able to immediately slip free and the head referee quickly slapped Mayo with his second stall warning. And in a blink of the eye, Alger secured his first takedown of the match. The score went from 3-1 in Mayo’s favor to 5-3 in favor of Alger in literally the span of 10 seconds.

With time slowly ticking away, Alger continued to stall on top of Mayo. Even after getting hit with his second stall warning, Royce Alger hung on and took the win 6-4.

The loss was no doubt soul crushing for Mayo. But in the end, his 29-2-1 record, third straight EWL title, and runner-up finish in the 1988 NCAA’s, along with the seven major decisions, six technical falls, and four falls, gave Mayo one of the best seasons Penn State had seen that decade.

Mayo wasn’t able to make it to the promised land, but he got about as close as you could possibly could. With his incredible win/loss record, conference titles, and numerous All-American finishes, Dan Mayo is without a doubt one of the best to ever don the blue and white singlet.

No. 4
Carl DeStefanis
Years: 1981-1984
Record: 114-16-1
Conference titles: 3 (1982-1984)
NCAA finish: 1st (1984)

Penn State Accolades
T-No. 22 in all-time wins (114)

Here we finally get to the first NCAA Champion on my list.

Looking back at DeStefanis’ career, it’s hard to believe that a wrestler of his caliber “only” finished the season as an All-American one time. But I think the focus should be shifted more from “How did he not finish AA more times?” to “Holy cow is it incredibly difficult to win a single match in the NCAA’s”.

Carl’s first full season on the mat ended when he lost back-to-back matches in the 1981 EWL Championships. Outside of the disappointing losses to end the year, DeStefanis’ freshman campaign was very successful as he compiled a record of 15-6 with six of his wins earning bonus points.

Things were going well for DeStefanis his sophomore year, however between December and early January he picked up four losses in a ten match span. Which wasn’t exactly surprising when they came at the hands of Michigan’s Joe McFarland (fall and 4-1 loss), Oklahoma State’s Randy Willingham (6-2 loss), and Iowa’s Barry Davis (13-3 loss).

But these would be the last losses Carl would suffer until he won his first EWL title and made the road trip to Iowa State for the 1982 NCAA Championships.

And at the 1982 NCAA’s, DeStefanis rolled through his first two matches by winning 10-6 and 11-5. Cruising into the quarterfinals Carl knew no matter who he faced it would be a tough test. But in this case it ended up being Joe McFarland … again.

McFarland ended up getting the best of DeStefanis for the third time that season 8-3 and it was onto the wrestlebacks for Carl.

I would love to say DeStefanis steamrolled through the consolation bracket, however this isn’t what happened. Instead, in his first match he was locked up in an offensive explosion with Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Charlie Heard. Carl fell to Charlie 15-10 and after two opening wins, his tournament and season were over with the two straight losses.

DeStefanis came out like a buzz saw his junior year. Outside of a lone loss to Iowa State’s Kevin Darkus (11-7), Carl was 22-1 going into the 1983 EWL’s and 17 of those wins were either by major decision or by fall. He was simply wrestling at a different level than anyone at that point.

And after blowing out his first opponent and then taking down Clarion’s Jamie Kasser 6-4, DeStefanis had claimed his first EWL Conference title.

In the 1983 NCAA Championships, Carl had a warmup match in the pigtails where he won a 14-3 major decision over Luther’s Greg Lonning. DeStefanis was the No. 2 seed in the 118 bracket and including his match in the pigtail rounds, he probably wouldn’t really be tested until the quarterfinals or semifinals.

Just don’t tell that to his first round foe, Wisconsin’s Robin Morris.

Early in the first period of their match DeStefanis was caught by Morris. And it wasn’t good. Carl tried to work himself free but just one minute and 18 seconds into his first round match of the 1983 NCAA Championships, the referee slapped the mat signaling a fall for Morris, and DeStefanis’ statistically great season was over.

However this is where the redemption story begins.

Carl started out his senior campaign by going on an 11 match winning streak before falling 10-8 to the 1983 NCAA runner-up Charlie Heard. The reason this loss was so important is because it’s where DeStefanis drew a line in the sand. On one side of the sand was Carl’s collegiate career up until that point. And the other side of the sand was the remaining portion of his career at Penn State. Where he would not lose a single match again.

From that point until the end of the 1984 EWL Championships, Carl took part in 19 total matches. And in those matches he won nine of them by major decision and five of them by pin. He claimed his third straight EWL title in 1984 by demolishing Ricky Bonomo in the finals 12-4.

DeStefanis kept the pain train rolling in the 1984 NCAA Championships by clobbering his first two foes 23-11 and 19-7. He then won his quarterfinals match by default and punched his ticket to his first ever finals after upending Oklahoma State’s Mark Perry 7-2 in the semis.

Then in the finals, DeStefanis knew exactly what he had to do. And that was to beat the guy standing on the other side of the mat. Northern Iowa’s Bob Hallman was an unlikely grappler to make the finals that year, however he flipped a switch and completely outperformed his No. 8 seeding.

It didn’t matter if Hallman was riding a heater, he wasn’t going to beat DeStefanis because this was his last shot and he wasn’t going to lose to anyone.

To Hallman’s credit, he never backed down, but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome DeStefanis. Carl downed his foe in the finals 6-4 and after all of the long hours in the wrestling room, after all of the sleepless nights thinking about the past, after battling through injuries and pain, Carl DeStefanis had finally reached the majestic summit of collegiate wrestling by being an NCAA Champion in 1984.

No. 3
Scott Lynch
Years: 1982-1984
Record: 73-13-1
Conference titles: 2 (1982 & 1984)
NCAA finish: 6th (1982), 4th (1983), 1st (1984)

Of the top nine guys from the 1980’s, Scott Lynch was the lone grappler to pile up his accomplishments in only three seasons.

Lynch was not inserted into the starting lineup for Penn State in either his freshman nor in his redshirt freshman years. Instead he was unleashed onto the collegiate wrestling world during his sophomore campaign for the 1981-1982 year.

Leading into the 1982 EWL Championships, Scott held down a 19-4-1 record. And while he struggled at times during the year against several grapplers, the writing was on the wall that he could go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the nation.

Lynch dispatched his first two opponents to the tune of a 12-3 major decision and a 5-2 decision, and his opponent in the finals would be Lock Haven’s Mike Millward. Just a week prior, the two had faced each other and the matched finished in a tie (6-6) as neither grappler could come out on top.

Let’s just say Lynch possibly learned a thing or two about Millward in their prior meeting. Because the finals match was completely one-sided with Scott pulling off the 12-2 major decision to snag his first EWL Conference crown.

Riding the high from his EWL title, Lynch then turned his sights onto the 1982 NCAA Championships. As the No. 6 seed in the 126 bracket, you knew there were going to be a lot of tough matchups right out of the gate.

Lynch took care of business in the first round with an 18-8 major decision and then he was supremely tested in the second round as he pulled out the win in overtime against Slippery Rock’s Jerry Johnson.

Next up in the quarterfinals was Iowa State’s Joe Gibbons, and he and Lynch knew each other as they had faced off back in late December. Gibbons took that bout relatively easy with the 8-2 decision. But this was a different Scott Lynch he was wrestling against.

With the match tied 3-3 at the end of regulation time, it headed to overtime where Gibbons was too much to handle. Lynch gave it his all but he was out of the championship bracket and it was onto the consolations.

Scott won his first two matches but unfortunately he had to default each of the next two matches to finish in sixth place. Based on the year he had, obviously he would have liked to have a higher finish, but injuries happen and being an All-American is a massive accomplishment of its own.

Lynch came back strong and better than ever his junior season. Going into the 1983 EWL Championships Scott locked down a 25-2 record with his only losses coming at the hands of Iowa’s No. 1 126 pounder, Barry Davis, and eventual All-American at 134 pounds, Kris Whelan.

Blowing past his first two foes 18-6 and 13-5 respectively, Lynch had locked up his second straight EWL finals appearance. But there was a Cleveland State grappler on the other side of the 126 bracket who was having a spectacular season.

Who cares? Because Scott already bested this guy three weeks prior to the tune of 17-10.

All I can say is that Dan Foldesy certainly cared, because he stunned Lynch to capture the 1983 EWL title by an overwhelming margin (11-5). But this wasn’t the final chapter of their rivalry.

Scott shook off the loss and continued his winning ways in the 1983 NCAA Championships. After cruising to wins in the first two rounds (14-5 & 14-1), Lynch was slated to face Foldesy once again in the quarterfinals.

The match was another offensive-minded bout and it was Scott Lynch who came out the victor (10-6). The win was the proverbial cherry on top of their three match series in the 1983 wrestling season.

But this is where Lynch’s run in the championship bracket ended as the No. 1 seed Barry Davis was a human road block for Lynch and he bested the talented Nittany Lion 8-5 to move on to the finals where he would eventually be crowned the national champion.

Scott slid by his next match in the wrestlebacks in overtime, however he then fell to Northern Iowa’s Randy Majors in the third place match to finish in fourth place.

Back-to-back years making the finals in the EWL Championships and in finishing as an All-American. Would Scott Lynch be able to build on his success and reach even higher levels?

Penn State fans were just about to find out.

Lynch’s senior campaign was shortened slightly as he took part in three matches in December and then didn’t hit the mat again until mid-February. But if there was any rust Scott needed to shake off from his absence on the mat, it surely didn’t show.

Bumping up to 134 pounds, Scott completely ran through the competition in his five matches which included two regular seasons bouts and all three matches in the 1984 EWL Championships. The wins gave him his second EWL title and the confidence he needed going into the 1984 NCAA Championships.

Lynch was an offensive juggernaut in the 1984 NCAA’s where he racked up double digit points in all five of his matches. When a wrestler is that effortless in getting to their offense then it makes it incredibly difficult for the opposing grappler to do anything but fend off the onslaught.

And Lynch bullied his way through Oklahoma State’s Clar Anderson 11-8 in the semifinals and he stifled Iowa’s Greg Randall to the tune of 13-6.

Scott Lynch had battled through adversity and he came out the other side a two-time EWL Champion, three-time All-American, and finally an NCAA Champion!

No. 2
Greg Elinsky
Years: 1984-1987
Record: 138-16-4
Conference titles: 3 (1985-1987)
NCAA finish: 7th (1984), 2nd (1985), 2nd (1986), 3rd (1987)

Penn State Accolades
No. 4 in all-time wins (138)
1st Nittany Lion to become a four-time All-American

Greg Elinsky is one of the best to ever suit up for the Nittany Lions. Period.

He has the fourth most wins in program history and he became the first Penn State wrestler to have four All-American finishes.

Following a freshman year where Elinsky made the finals at the 1984 EWL’s and won the seventh place match to finish as an All-American, the stage was set for an even more impressive sophomore campaign.

Greg carried a 22-5 record heading into the 1985 EWL Championships. And during the year he suffered several tough and close losses, which for the best wrestlers can be used as lessons.

Luckily for Coach Lorenzo and the Nittany Lion faithful, Elinsky was a standout pupil.

After ripping his first opponent in a 14-3 major decision, Greg blew by Lock Haven’s Brad Lloyd 6-1 to capture his first EWL title.

Elinsky then used his strong offense and defense to win his opening round matches, he snuck by Edinboro’s Mike Hahesy 5-4, and then won the semifinals clash against Arizona State’s Tom Draheim 4-1. The finals matchup at 158 would pit Greg Elinsky against Iowa’s Marty Kistler. A pair who knew each other very well that season.

Back in December Elinsky took down Kistler as the Hawkeye had to default late in the match. Then in early February, Kistler got his revenge by upending Elinsky 6-5 in a very close match. And the finals in the 1985 NCAA’s would be no different.

In a defensive grind to the finish, it was Marty’s hand who was raised for the second time that year. The 4-3 win gave the Iowa standout the title and the series win as he and Greg never faced each other in college again.

As I’ve stated before, many people would be happy finishing in second place. But not top level wrestlers.

To say Greg Elinsky took his frustrations out on the competition his junior year would be a gross understatement.

Elinsky held a 31-1-2 record going into the 1986 EWL’s and his only loss was an overtime thriller to Iowa’s Royce Alger. But Greg wasn’t just good that year, he was dominant.

Elinsky racked up nine major decisions, a technical fall, and six pins up until that point.

His destruction continued on his way to his second straight EWL title after dispatching Clarion’s Ken Haselrig 5-3 in finals.

And sandwiched in between two 6-2 decisions, Elinsky landed a first round fall and he was perfect in his first three matches of the 1986 NCAA Championships in Iowa City.

UNC’s Rob Koll was Greg’s opponent in the semifinals and it was a defensive battle until the very end of regulation. With the scored knotted at 3-3, the match went into overtime where Elinsky still had a ton of energy left. Greg piled up the points in overtime and he punched his ticket to his second straight NCAA finals.

Most wrestling fans would have probably predicted a Greg Elinsky/Bill Tate final, but that wasn’t the case as Tate dropped a shocking loss in the opening round.

Well, then logic would tell you that Royce Alger was going to march to the finals.


Ohio State’s No. 6 seed Jude Skove took down Alger 3-2 in the quarterfinals and he then bested Cal State-Fullerton’s No. 10 seed Ardeshir Asgari 11-0 in the semis.

Skove was the recipient of a friendly bracket and there’s no doubt his confidence grew with each win.

And the winning continued for Skove as he pushed Elinsky for the duration of the match where the Buckeye was an NCAA Champion following the 5-2 win. It was back-to-back appearances in the finals and it was two straight runner-up finishes for Greg.

Early in his senior year, Elinsky suffered two straight losses at the hands of Iowa State’s Kevin Jackson (10-6) and Royce Alger (7-3). But he rebounded and proceeded to rip off an 18 match win streak.

Kevin Jackson then put that to a halt with his second straight win 9-6. Elinsky and Jackson would next butt heads three days later and the defensive battle ended in a 1-1 tie.

This proved to be Elinsky’s last loss in his Penn State regular season and EWL career. Greg walked through his next five regular season opponents and all three foes in the 1987 EWL’s to snag his third conference title.

As the No. 3 seed in the 1987 NCAA’s, Elinsky dominated each grappler in the opening three rounds by winning 10-3, 15-4, and 7-1. He was sharp, confident, and poised for another championship run.

Even with Kevin Jackson slated to be his semifinals opponent, I’m sure Greg was confident in his ability.

The match was one for the ages. Tied 2-2 as regulation ended, the match headed to overtime where neither guy could get the upper hand. The final seconds of overtime ticked away and it was once again tied at 1-1, but Jackson was the guy who had the riding time advantage. And based on this criteria he would move onto the finals.

The loss pushed Elinsky down to the consolation bracket for the first time since his freshman year. To have your soul crushed year after year would break even the strongest of men. No one would have blamed Greg if he slipped up once or twice more in the wrestlebacks.

But that’s not who Greg Elinsky was. He never went down without a fight.

And after blasting Missouri’s Craig Martin 10-2, Elinsky took out Oklahoma State’s Mike Farrell 2-1 to finish in third place. It was his third straight top three finish and he became the first Nittany Lion in program history to be a four-time All-American.

No. 1
Jim Martin
Years: 1986-1989
Record: 155-9-4
Conference titles: 2 (1988 & 1989)
NCAA finish: 4th (1986), 2nd (1987), 1st (1988), 3rd (1989)

Penn State Accolades
No. 1 in all-time wins (155)
No. 14 in all-time win percentage (92.3%)
No. 6 in all-time bonus point wins (92)
No. 16 in all-time bonus point win percentage (56.1%)
T-No. 3 in all-time technical fall wins (27)
No. 4 in all-time major decision wins (37)
2nd Nittany Lion to become a four-time All-American

When it takes you a full minute just to read an athlete’s standings in program history, then you know they were great.

But Jim Martin wasn’t just great, he’s an all-time Nittany Lion legend. And he’s once of the most dominant lightweights Penn State and the nation have ever seen.

Martin began his Nittany Lion career by winning his first 12 matches before falling 5-3 to Syracuse’s Tony Cotroneo 5-3 in late December. Jim got up, dusted himself off and then rolled to a 16 match winning streak which landed him in the finals of the 1986 EWL Championships.

Ricky Bonomo (anyone sick of reading this guy’s name yet?) would be Martin’s counterpart and the talented Bloomsburg wrestler proved too much as he handed Jim his second loss of the year.

Martin then ripped off three consecutive major decisions in the 1986 NCAA Championships to punch his ticket to the semifinals. Hey look, there’s another Ricky Bonomo sighting … sigh.

Jim’s fourth match of the NCAA’s also ended with a major decision but it was him on the wrong end of it (14-5). The loss dropped Martin to the consolation bracket where he won his first match and then dropped the next one to Minnesota’s Ed Giese to finish in fourth.

EWL runner-up and All-American. Something to certainly build on.

Martin compiled a record of 29-1 his sophomore year heading into the 1987 EWL Championships. And following a close 6-5 semifinals win against Cleveland State’s Paul Kapper, Jim Martin and Ricky Bonomo would clash in the finals once again.

Ricky just had Jim’s number and he rolled him up 10-5.


But just like he did the prior year, Martin picked himself up and focused on the upcoming NCAA Championships.

Jim was relatively untested in the opening two rounds and in the quarterfinals as he racked up a 15-5 major decision, 16-1 technical fall, and 8-2 decision. Edinboro’s Dave Rowan gave Martin everything he had in the semifinals but it wasn’t enough to overcome the strength of the Nittany Lion. Jim won 6-4 and he was moving onto his first ever NCAA finals appearance where his opponent would be … give me a break … Ricky Freaking Bonomo.

I would love to say Jim Martin exercised the demons he had with Bonomo but this just wasn’t the case.

Was the match closer than before? Sure it was. But a loss is a loss no matter how you look at it. Ricky Bonomo was just a better grappler than Jim Martin and he proved it time and time again.

It was two-for-two in runner-up finishes in the EWL and All-American honors. However the best was yet to come.

Martin owned a record of 30-2-1 following the conclusion of the 1988 EWL Championships. And in those 30 wins Jim had accomplished the following:
-Won his first EWL title
-10 major decisions
-4 technical falls
-7 pins

Jim Martin was wrestling on a different planet than everyone else.

He then opened up the 1988 NCAA Championships with a 13-6 win and a 17-2 technical fall. However, Martin was pushed to the brink in each of his next three matches.

Jim did just enough to sneak by Montclair’s Peter Gonzalez 3-2 and he kept the pedal to the metal in a high scoring 8-7 win against Oklahoma State’s Kendall Cross in the semis.

Martin had secured a place in the NCAA finals in back-to-back seasons, would now be the time he makes it to the promised land?

I’ll be honest, his opponent, Iowa’s No. 1 seed Brad Penrith, looked literally unstoppable throughout the tournament. If there were betting odds on this match, my guess is that Martin would be somewhere around +500.

And the finals match played out pretty much exactly how everyone expected it. Penrith was strong and he was riding Martin early into the final period up 4-0. With a little more than a minute remaining in the match Jim rolled and was able to shock Penrith with a reversal of his own.

Martin rode Penrith HARD and with less than 30 seconds to go in the match, Jim turned Brad’s back as the referee awarded two back points and score was tied 4-4. The final seconds ticked away and with the riding point advantage, Jim Martin won the improbable match 5-4 and he was crowned an NCAA Champion.

Climbing to the highest peaks in sports is incredible difficult. And doing it a second time is even tougher. But leading into the 1989 NCAA Championships, and as hard as it was to contemplate, Jim Martin was as good as he had ever been on the mat.

Martin capped off his second EWL Championships and owned an unbeaten record of 38-0-3 as he and the Nittany Lions headed to Oklahoma State for the 1989 NCAA’s.

Jim was the No. 1 seed in the 126 bracket and the competition was very minimal in the opening rounds where Martin bulldozed his way to the semifinals following a 21-6 technical fall, 14-2 major decision, and 4-3 decision.

NC State’s Michael Stokes would be Martin’s opponent. These two titans of the sport had met on four prior occasions with Martin owning a perfect 3-0-1 record. Remember what I said earlier about familiarity with opponents? Yep, once two talented grapplers meet numerous times the record book can be thrown out.

The match between Stokes and Martin was tight, it was defensive, and it went to overtime. As the remaining seconds ticked away and with both grapplers completely spent and sucking wind, the referee awarded the win to the No. 5 seed Stokes. The massive upset had to be a gut punch to Martin. He was this close to making his third NCAA finals and he could almost taste a second NCAA title.

But in the real world things don’t end like they do in fairytales. Reality can take you from floating in the clouds one second, to being hit in the face with a metal chair in the blink of an eye.

And here, along with a lot of other things, is what makes Jim Martin great. He wrestled his absolute tail off in the wrestlebacks to win a thrilling overtime win against Nebraska’s Jason Kelber and he then took down Iowa’s Tom Brands 6-5 to finish in third place.

During his time in Happy Valley, Jim Martin took part in a total of 168 matches and he only lost nine of them. He put in the hard and difficult work in the wrestling room and he felt the emotions of what it was like to lose a conference finals and what it was like to lose an NCAA finals.

After that he took matters into his own hands and willed himself to immortality. Jim Martin isn’t just the best Nittany Lion wrestler of the 1980’s, he’s an all-time great who deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of Penn State Wrestling.

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