By Cybele Zhang
Despite the 2020 NCAA wrestling season being cut short due to COVID-19, it was a year for the record books. On Thursday, redshirt freshman No. 3 Shane Griffith (165) was named both Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, which are the conference’s highest honors. Griffith is the first Stanford athlete to win both awards in a single season.
Griffith went 28-0 in his rookie year, which is the best career start in program history and set the second-longest win-streak in school history — which will likely increase next year. Griffith finished the year as the only undefeated wrestler in the conference.
To cap off an impressive undefeated season, Griffith is also one of eight finalists for the WIN Magazine/Culture House Dan Hodge Trophy, the Heisman Trophy of wrestling that is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate wrestler. The 2020 winner will be announced at 10 a.m. PT on Monday, March 30.
The award is named after Dan Hodge, a three-time NCAA wrestling champion (1955-57) at the University of Oklahoma. Award criteria includes wrestler’s record, number of pins, dominance and quality of competition. Tie-breaking, secondary categories include past credentials, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart.
In the award’s 25-year history, a Stanford wrestler has never claimed the prize, and the only other Cardinal to be named a finalist was Matt Gentry ’05 in 2004. Gentry subsequently represented Canada at the 2008 Olympics and coached for five seasons at Stanford.
Griffith is the only freshman among the 2020 finalists and leads the group in pins with nine — the closest competitor has only five.
“It just shows that all the hard work and time and sacrifice I’ve put into this sport is paying off,” Griffith said of the successful season. “Ultimately, it shows that there’s no goal that’s too far out of reach. You actually can do anything you want to, when you really commit yourself and put the time forward to do it.”
Fellow finalists are Noah Adams (West Virginia), Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), Patrick Glory (Princeton), Spencer Lee (Iowa), Kollin Moore (Ohio State), Gable Steveson (Minnesota) and Charles Tucker (Cornell); all were undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament, which was cancelled due to coronavirus.
The reigning Hodge Trophy winner is Bo Nickal of Penn State. The prize has only gone to a West Coast wrestler once: Cal State Bakersfield’s Stephen Neal in 1999.
Each year, the winner is selected through a vote of all past recipients, a retired college coach from each region, national media and a fan vote online; past years have received votes from over 140,000 fans. The fan vote often proves important to the final result, as the Fan Vote winner will receive an additional two first-place votes. Voting began on Monday.
The award is generally presented at the season-ending banquet at the winning wrestler’s school and again at halftime of a football game the following fall. It is unclear when the award will be initially presented due to recent campus closures and restrictions on multi-person gatherings due to COVID-19.
Earlier this season on March 4, Griffith claimed the Pac-12 title in his weight class, defeating Arizona State’s Shields 4-0. The New Jersey native became just the seventh freshman in program history to win at Pac-12s. Stanford hosted the 58th annual championship in Maples Pavilion.
Fellow redshirt freshman Real Woods (141) also won his weight class, and the duo propelled the Cardinal to a second-place overall finish in the conference.
In addition to Griffith’s conference title, the Bergen Catholic alumnus also won the Battle at The Citadel, the Roadrunner Open and the Southern Scuffle. This season, he led the team in wins and falls (9), and he had six wins over ranked opponents.
No matter the result of the Hodge Trophy voting, the 2020 season was unprecedented for Griffith and Stanford. Unfortunately, Griffith’s season was cut short, but he still has three more years of eligibility to finish business at both the conference and national levels.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.