Forty Years Ago: Cal Poly Upsets No. 1-Ranked Iowa, 27-12

Posted: Dec 08, 2019

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Forty years ago, on Dec. 8, 1979, Cal Poly set the collegiate wrestling world abuzz.

The University of Iowa, ranked No. 1 in the country and defending NCAA Division I national champion, arrived at Mott Athletics Center with a 34-match winning streak and a plethora of nationally ranked wrestlers coached by Dan Gable, the legendary Olympian.

Cal Poly, however, was not fazed that evening, as Leonard Branzuela and David Jack earned wins by fall and Gary Fischer, Scott Heaton and Rick Worel won by decisions in a 27-12 Mustang victory before 1,547 fans.

Gable, a two-time NCAA champion, world gold medalist and Olympic gold medalist, was 182-1 combined in his high school and University of Iowa careers. His only defeat came in the NCAA finals in his senior year.

Iowa would go on to claim the third of nine consecutive national team championships while injuries and illness to several key wrestlers kept Cal Poly from making a legitimate run at the title.

But on that night, 40 years ago today, Coach Vaughan Hitchcock’s Mustangs parlayed three decisions, two falls and a forfeit into an historic victory.

Cal Poly, actually ranked No. 1 for a couple weeks that year, had a pair of top-ranked wrestlers in the lineup that evening — Heaton at 167 pounds and Worel at 177.

Heaton earned a 6-1 decision over Mark Stevenson and Worel was an 8-5 winner over Ed Banach, giving Cal Poly a 21-9 lead with two bouts remaining. After an Iowa win at 190, Jack put the exclamation point on the Mustang victory with a fall in 6 minutes, 3 seconds, over Dean Phinney.

Cal Poly won the first two bouts of the dual meet and never looked back. Fischer was a 7-6 winner over Dan Glenn at 118 and Branzuela’s fall in 3:31 over Jeff Kerber gave the Mustangs a 9-0 advantage.

Randy Fleury picked up the forfeit win at 150 and Cal Poly won three of the final five matches to win going away.

Fischer went on to finish fourth in the NCAA finals while Jeff Barksdale placed eighth at 142.

The 1979-80 Mustang team will be honored during the Fourth Annual Alumni Weekend and Crab Feed on Jan. 17-18. Cal Poly wrestles Stanford on Jan. 17, with the crab feed to follow on Jan. 18 inside the Recreation Center’s Multi-Activity Center.

Hitchcock, who passed away Sept. 30, 2018, at the age of 84, coached the Cal Poly wrestling program to eight NCAA Division II national championships in the late 1960s and early 1970s during a 23-year coaching career with the Mustangs. He compiled a 355-112-4 record from 1962 through 1985 at Cal Poly, including a streak of over 150 consecutive victories against California opponents.

Cal Poly, off to a 2-0 start this year with wins over San Francisco State and Buffalo, returns to action next Sunday at the Reno Tournament of Champions.

In photo above are David Jack (action photo) and Leonard Branzuela (inset), who pinned their Iowa opponents.