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No. 1 Story of 2013: Four NCAA titles at four weight classes for Kyle Dake

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Cornell University’s Kyle Dake concluded his college wrestling career on the highest of high notes, winning his fourth national title in four different weight classes at the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Des Moines in March.

What makes this accomplishment College Wrestling Examiner’s top story of the year?

Here are some numbers that put Dake’s achievement in perspective.

Just over 20,000 wrestlers have competed at the NCAA championships since 1928. Approximately 800 of those won at least one title. Just fourteen wrestlers have made it to the finals four times. Of these, only three can claim to be four-time NCAA mat champs: Dake, Pat Smith of Oklahoma State in the 1990s, and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson a decade ago. However, Dake is the only member of the four-time champion club to have not taken advantage of a redshirt year during his collegiate career… and he’s the only one to have won each title in a different weight class: 141 as a freshman, 149 sophomore year, 157 as a junior, and, this year, at 165.

(Note: In the 83-year history of the NCAA wrestling championships, not all wrestlers had the opportunity to compete for four titles. Until about 40 years ago, freshmen were not allowed to wrestle varsity and participate in the NCAAs… except for a brief period immediately after World War II. Among the all-time greats who were not able to compete at the NCAAs as freshmen: Dan Hodge and Dan Gable.)

How Dake made history

Kyle Douglas Dake won his fourth title by defeating his long-time friend – and defending champ – David Taylor of Penn State in the 165 finals, 5-4.

The Dake-Taylor title bout was a highly-anticipated rematch between two of the best current college wrestlers at any weight. The two had wrestled at the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic, and at the 2013 Southern Scuffle in early January, with the Cornell senior coming out on top both times.

Dake-Taylor was also arguably the most hyped collegiate mat championship match in recent memory. The NCAA and ESPN changed the order of the finals matches, saving the 165 title bout for last… with the sports network repeatedly promoting the match throughout the three-hour live broadcast with live footage of the two wrestlers warming up in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Arena… as well as via slides that looked more like posters for a major mixed martial arts event, complete with various poses of Dake in fight shorts without a shirt. (By contrast, Taylor was shown in warm ups and his blue-and-white Penn State singlet.)

Adding to the anticipation was how the two friends-turned-rivals made it to the finals. The top-seeded Dake managed to hold his opponents scoreless in four matches, while No. 2 seed Taylor pinned his way through his side of the bracket.

The match lived up to its advance billing. Taylor, a two-time finalist and 2012 NCAA champ, stunned the crowd with a takedown in the opening seconds of the match – the first time Dake had been taken down in all his matches at the 2013 NCAAs. However, after seven minutes of wrestling, the Cornell senior won the match, 5-4, and a place in the history books.

Undefeated in his junior and senior seasons, Dake finished his college career with a 132-4 record, four NCAA championships, and three EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) titles.

Four titles, many more honors

Dake earned a number of honors to close out his collegiate mat career. He was named Outstanding Wrestler at the 2013 NCAAs; a week or so later, InterMat named him as Wrestler of the Year... WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) selected him as winner of the Hodge Award as best college wrestler for 2013... along with the magazine's Wade Schalles Award for pinning. Later that summer, Dake was named Sports Illustrated’s Best Male College Athlete for the year… received NWCA All-Academic honors... and earned a place among the all-time great college wrestlers in a survey of top mat historians conducted by Amateur Wrestling News. (Sadly, Dake was passed over for the ESPY Awards… and for the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year; nor did his fourth title garner a place among the AP’s top ten sports stories of 2013.)

Want to know more? Read College Wrestling Examiner’s recap of the Dake-Taylor 165-pound title match at the 2013 NCAAs… and, to see the full roster of College Wrestling Examiner stories on Kyle Dake, click here. For fun, take a trip back in time to 2009 to read an InterMat feature as Dake was about to start wrestling for Cornell.

College Wrestling Examiner’s Year in Review: For the fifth straight year, College Wrestling Examiner will be taking a look at the Top Ten stories of the year. This concludes our choices for the ten most significant stories in the world of collegiate wrestling in 2013.

Top Ten Stories for 2013:

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