Penn State Wrestling

Penn State Wrestling: Ranking the top 12 Nittany Lions of the 1990’s

Penn State Wrestling is a beast in today’s college wrestling, but there were hints of how good they would become based on the 1990’s.
Continuing our on-going series highlighting the past decades of Penn State Wrestling, here are the previous three installments:
As I highlighted in the previous article, the 1980s brought college wrestling into the modern era. And it didn’t stop evolving from there as the 1990s ended up being the 1980s on steroids.
But, with the Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire jokes aside, towards the end of the decade it wasn’t uncommon for collegiate grapplers to participate in 40+ matches once the season was all said and done. As you will see down the page, it was this explosion of matches and the shift for more offensive wrestling which landed each one of these Nittany Lions greats onto one or several all-time lists.
However, don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t the changes in college wrestling that made these guys good.
Because Penn State had an absolute stable of studs go through Rec Hall during the ’90s, many of which climbed to the highest mountain tops and beyond.
So with that, let’s get to the list!

Penn State Wrestling: Top-12 Grapplers of the 1990s

Honorable Mention

Russ Hughes
Years: 1993-1996
Record: 84-23
Conference titles: 1 (1996)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1996)
Penn State Accolades
53rd in all-time wins (84)
Hughes makes this list in large part to his incredible senior year.
That season, Russ compiled a 33-3 record, took home his first Big Ten Conference belt, and his first All-American honors with a third place finish in the 1996 NCAA Championships.
Biff Walizer
Years: 1995-1999
Record: 101-61
Conference titles: 0
NCAA finish: 8th (1999)
Penn State Accolades
33rd in all-time wins (101)
14th in all-time falls (31)
You could make a pretty good argument that Walizer should make this list based on his first name alone. But that’s not going to be the case with Biff, because he made it purely based on what he did on the mat.
Walizer never took home a Big Ten title as he came in third (1996), third (1997), second (1998), and seventh (1999) in his four years. However he was really close several times.
And in Biff’s senior campaign he had a 33-14 record with 12 pins, five major decisions, and an All-American finish in the 1999 NCAA Championships.


No. 12
John Lange
Years: 1995-1998
Record: 79-38
Conference titles: 1 (1998)
NCAA finish: 3rd (1998)
Penn State Accolades
23rd in all-time falls (25)
Lange was a force to reckon with in his years in Happy Valley.
In his junior and senior years combined, John put together a record of 50-16 with nine major decisions, two technical falls, and a ridiculous 15 falls. Lange road out into the sunset of his college career in style as he snagged his first Big Ten title and finished third in the 1998 NCAA’s.
No. 11
Shawn Nelson
Years: 1990-1994
Record: 93-21-2
Conference titles: 1 (1992)
NCAA finish: 4th (1992)
Penn State Accolades
39th in all-time wins (93)
18th in all-time falls (29)
21st in all-time bonus wins (53)
22nd in single-season falls (13)
Nelson could have landed significantly higher on this list if his senior campaign wasn’t cut short due to an injury.
In his first two full-time seasons, Shawn compiled a 51-8-2 record with a Big Ten podium finish (third – 1993), a Big Ten title (1992), and a fourth place finish in the 1992 NCAA Championships.
Shawn held an impressive record of 21-1 his senior year, but unfortunately injuries happen. And this particular injury meant his 8-2 decision win on 1/22/1994 ended up being his last time wrestling as a Nittany Lion.
No. 10
Clint Musser
Years: 1995-1999
Record: 123-36
Conference titles: 0
NCAA finish: 5th (1998) & 2nd (1999)
Penn State Accolades
9th in all-time wins (123)
19th in all-time major decisions (23)
Musser never was able to bring home a Big Ten Conference title, but holy cow did he get close.
After finishing third in the 1997 Big Ten’s, Clint punched his ticket to the finals in 1998. But he ended up finishing runner-up and then went onto a fifth place finish in the 1998 NCAA Championships.
Clint again finished runner-up in the 1999 Big Ten Championships and took home his second straight All-American finish after he lost a razor close 2-1 match in the 1999 NCAA finals.
Musser had a combined record of 67-10 his junior and senior years which included 14 major decisions, five technical falls, and seven falls.
No. 9
Bob Truby
Years: 1988-1992
Record: 101-27-4
Conference titles: 2 (1991 & 1992)
NCAA finish: 5th (1991) & 4th (1992)
Penn State Accolades
33rd in all-time wins (101)
10th in single-season wins (39)
14th in single-season bonus wins (26)
Truby is the first Nittany Lion on this list to win two conference titles and have two All-American finishes.
And if you like to watch someone win bonus points, then Bob was certainly your guy. Of Truby’s 66 wins in his last two years on campus, 39 ended with bonus points. These included 20 major decisions, six technical falls, and 13 pins.
No. 8
Cary Kolat
Years: 1993-1994
Record: 60-6
Conference titles: 1 (1994)
NCAA finish: 2nd (1993) & 3rd (1994)
Penn State Accolades
20th in all-time falls (28)
17th in all-time win percentage (90.9%)
6th in all-time fall percentage (43.1%)
12th in all-time bonus win percentage (58.5%)
12th in single-season wins (38)
3rd in single-season falls (20)
10th in single-season bonus wins (27)
I already know what you’re thinking. Cary Kolat should be WAY higher on this list.
Did Kolat win two NCAA Championships while slapping together a combined record of 50-1?
Yes, yes he did. But that was at Lock Haven and not at Penn State.
Had Kolat finished his career in Happy Valley then there’s little doubt he would be much higher on this list and he would be way higher on the list of all-time Nittany Lion legends.
But, as it stands, what he did during his two years at Penn State was still unbelievably amazing.
No. 7
Dave Hart
Years: 1991-1993
Record: 93-17-1
Conference titles: 2 (1992 & 1993)
NCAA finish: 4th (1992) & 3rd (1993)
Penn State Accolades
39th in all-time wins (93)
8th in all-time major decisions (29)
Hart was a major decision machine in his three full-time seasons at Penn State.
Following a runner-up finish in the 1991 conference finals, Dave plowed his way to a 67-6 record his final two years with 20 major decisions, three technical falls, 10 pins, two conference titles, and two All-American finishes.
No. 6
Glenn Pritzlaff
Years: 1995-1999
Record: 106-29
Conference titles: 1 (1999)
NCAA finish: 7th (1998) & 1st (1999)
Penn State Accolades
30th in all-time wins (106)
11th in all-time major decisions (28)
And here at No. 6 is the first Nittany Lion on the list to secure an NCAA title during the 1990’s.
Pritzlaff was a very solid wrestler for Penn State during much of his career, however he kicked it into overdrive his senior year. There Glenn put together a 27-3 record and brought home his first Big Ten Conference title and steamrolled his way through the field in the 1999 NCAA Championships to be crowned a national champion.
No. 5
Troy Sunderland
Years: 1989-1993
Record: 100-13-3
Conference titles: 2 (1992 & 1993)
NCAA finish: 4th (1991), 2nd (1992), & 2nd (1993)
Penn State Accolades
38th in all-time wins (100)
12th in all-time major decisions (27)
Before becoming a really good college coach at Penn State, Sunderland was a standout wrestler for the Nittany Lions.
As I’ve stated many times in the past, I have no idea what it would be like to compete in D1 athletics.
The pressure, the training, the highs, the lows, etc. But I sure as heck have no idea what it would be like to be a three-time All-American and make it to back-to-back NCAA finals like Sunderland did in 1992 and 1993.
But, this is what Troy did and this is why he cracks the top five of the best of the best in the 1990’s.
No. 4
John Hughes
Years: 1992-1996
Record: 121-26-2
Conference titles: 1 (1995)
NCAA finish: 7th (1994), 1st (1995), & 2nd (1996)
Penn State Accolades
11th in all-time wins (121)
14th in all-time major decisions (25)
21st in single-season wins (36)
Hughes represents the second Nittany Lion on this list to finish as an All-American three times.
And the only reason I have him just a tick higher than Sunderland is because of what he did in his last two years in Happy Valley.
John went a combined 64-8 with 17 major decisions, 10 falls, a Big Ten Conference title, a runner-up finish in the 1996 NCAA Championships, and a first place finish in the 1995 NCAA Championships. Thus making Hughes the first grappler on this list with three All-American finishes and one NCAA title.
No. 3
Sanshiro Abe
Years: 1993-1996
Record: 125-15
Conference titles: 3 (1993, 1994, & 1996)
NCAA finish: 4th (1993), 3rd (1994), 2nd (1995), & 1st (1996)
Penn State Accolades
8th in all-time wins (125)
3rd in all-time major decisions (39)
17th in all-time technical falls (11)
11th in all-time bonus wins (72)
19th in all-time bonus win percentage (52.6%)
“Holy Penn State Accolades, Batman!”
When looking at these next three Nittany Lion greats, the difference between them is incredibly slight.
Sanshiro was the third Penn State wrestler to ever finish his career with four All-American finishes. And Abe did so with a small straight to boot (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th).
You could argue that Sanshiro Abe is one of the best lightweights in Penn State history. And for good reason, just look at what he did in his career. But it just so happens that the next guy has a narrow leg up in that race.
No. 2
Jeff Prescott
Years: 1989-1992
Record: 88-15-2
Conference titles: 3 (1990-1992)
NCAA finish: 5th (1990), 1st (1991), & 1st (1992)
Penn State Accolades
47th in all-time wins (88)
19th in all-time major decisions (23)
7th in all-time technical falls (21)
12th in all-time bonus wins (65)
7th in all-time bonus win percentage (63.7%)
In his three full-time seasons wrestling for Penn State, Prescott won three conference titles, finished fifth in the 1990 NCAA Championships, and won the crown in both the 1991 and 1992 NCAA’s.
And while he “only” has 88 career wins, he was a bonus point beast as he ended his career with 23 major decisions, 21 technical falls, and 21 falls.
Jeff Prescott’s accomplishments and accolades would normally land someone at the top of the list when looking at each decade. But there just so happened to be someone in the 90’s that somehow reached even higher peaks.
No. 1
Kerry McCoy
Years: 1993-1997
Record: 150-18
Conference titles: 3 (1994, 1995, & 1997)
NCAA finish: 1st (1994), 3rd (1995), & 1st (1997)
Penn State Accolades
2nd in all-time wins (150)
19th in all-time major decisions (23)
10th in all-time falls (34)
25th in all-time win percentage (89.3%)
13th in all-time bonus wins (64)
2nd in single-season wins (47)
10th in single-season bonus wins (27)
In today’s world of collegiate wrestling everyone knows about the Dan Hodge Trophy and the prestige that follows around each year’s winner. However that award didn’t begin until North Carolina’s T.J. Jaworsky took home the distinction in 1995.
After a perfect 41-0 record his senior year, Penn State’s Kerry McCoy became the first Nittany Lion to be awarded the Dan Hodge as he took home the honor in 1997. But this isn’t the only reason I have McCoy above Prescott.
In both of Kerry’s national championship runs he put together a run of perfection never seen before in Happy Valley. In his sophomore and senior campaigns, McCoy held an 88-0 record which also included 19 major decisions, seven technical falls, and 22 pins.
The 1990’s saw a rise in the level of Penn State Wrestling, and it was guys like Sanshiro Abe, Jeff Prescott, and Kerry McCoy who would eventually pave the way for the greatness Nittany Lions fans see today. And all three of these elite grapplers belong in the pantheon of Nittany Lion all-timers.
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About Author

Chris Snyder

Expertise: College Wrestling, College Football, Lays Chips Education: Penn State University Location: State College, PA Even though he had no prior journalism experience, Chris has now covered Penn State Wrestling and Penn State Football for the past three years. And it's clear he also likes constant torture as he's been a PSU Basketball fan for way too long. Several years back, Chris made the seamless transition from PGA Professional to computer programmer and thoroughly enjoys following and writing about all things related to Penn State sports during his spare time.