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Does Iowa Wrestling have a Cael Sanderson Problem?

May 23rd, 2017 by Tom

The wrestling dynasty at Penn State should look familiar to Hawkeye fans.
by J.P. Scott

I remember sitting in the seats of the Qwest Center (now the CenturyLink Center) in Omaha in 2010, watching as the Iowa wrestling team gathered on the mat at the conclusion of the 2010 NCAA Wrestling Tournament to take a team photo commemorating the national title the Hawkeyes had just won.

It was the third consecutive national title won by the Hawkeyes at the time and the 23rd in program history. That’s 23 national championships in one sport between 1975 and 2010. But there hasn’t been one since.

On the surface, for nearly any other collegiate sports program outside of Storrs, Connecticut, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a seven-year drought without a national championship is not cause for concern. For Iowa wrestling, however, it’s beginning to become an increasingly larger elephant in the room.

That night, as I watched the Hawkeyes pose with their trophy, I remember thinking to myself, “Everything is about to change.”

Cael Sanderson had just finished his first season as the head wrestling coach at Penn State. He didn’t have his own recruits yet, and he had just come from Iowa State – his alma mater – where he had moderate success as a collegiate coach.

Now, however, the seeds were planted. The biggest star in the modern history of the world’s oldest sport had just planted his flag on the campus of the premier school in the state with the most sought-after high-profile wrestling recruits.

That last sentence should look like Deja-vu for those of you familiar with the history of Iowa wrestling. It’s a lot like the scenario that played out when Dan Gable took over in Iowa City in 1976. Gable was, at the time, wrestling’s biggest star, and he was taking over the program that had just won the last two national titles. There was no building an empire. Gable was the empire, and the top wrestlers from around the country flocked to him, in a small college town in the middle of a state full of corn.

That’s the scary part. At Penn State, Sanderson has the same power and attraction Gable once had, but in a state where he could dominate the sport simply by locking down his borders.

Consider this: Of the 320 wrestlers who competed at the 2015 NCAA Tournament, 48 of them hailed from the Keystone State. Don’t pull out your calculator, I got this -- that’s 15 percent. And that’s pretty good. Additionally, since Sanderson took over at Penn State in 2010 through 2016, the state of Pennsylvania produced 87 NCAA Division 1 All-Americans. Nineteen of them walked to the podium in Penn State warm-ups. Seven of those were national champions.

In 2017, Sanderson led the Nittany Lion program to its sixth title in seven years and added five individual champions to the list. During the lone season in that stretch where they failed to take the crown – 2015 – Sanderson redshirted two of his best wrestlers in the middle of their careers.

Basically, outside of UCONN women’s hoops, Penn State wrestling is the most dominant collegiate sports program in the country – just like Iowa used to be. Also like women’s hoops is the fact that there are only a handful of schools every year with a shot at winning the title in wrestling. Yes, Iowa is still in that conversation, but only on a rotational, off-hand basis with the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma State. When Penn State doesn’t win, it’s still an upset.

Honestly, as long as Cael Sanderson is at Penn State, I don’t see this trend changing. His status, his location and now his ever-improving résumé allow him to essentially have pick of the litter in recruiting – both nationally and in his own talent-heavy state. Like Gable, Sanderson doesn’t need to do much to sell himself or his program to kids. It’s all right there, fresh in their minds, as the only real empire they know.

In the meantime, with every year that passes without Iowa on top of the wrestling mountain, Hawkeye coach Tom Brands must rely less and less on the empire and legacy that Gable built and more on his salesmanship. Those 23 trophies in the case are a thing of beauty and a definite source of pride for Hawkeye Nation. But their recruiting power decreases with every day that passes and every title that Sanderson wins.

What you don’t want to do is start a revolving door of coaches like you might see in football or basketball, in order to get back to where you need to be. That would be silly, as Tom Brands is still one of the elite coaches in the sport and Iowa is still an elite program.

So what can be done? Honestly, not much, outside of a change in mindset. Hawkeye wrestling was once the standard in the sport. That’s simply not the case anymore, and Cael Sanderson is why. That won’t change at least until he’s gone, and that day isn’t coming anytime soon. The answer for Iowa wrestling and its supporters is to keep grinding, yet stay content to a certain degree with the current state of affairs of the program.

Iowa is still a contender and a threat to win the national championship every year. Given the empire that has been built in Happy Valley, that’s as good as its going to get for now.

Does Iowa have a Sanderson problem? Absolutely.

But so does everyone else.

Pennsylvania Proves to Be Wrestling’s Undisputed Hotbed.

January 12th, 2014 by Tom

Sold Out Wrestling Meet

By Jason Mackey

Dan Miller has his own version of March Madness.

Every March since 1999, Miller has traveled from his Imperial home to the NCAA Division I wrestling championships with his brother, Tom.

Instead of keeping an eye on brackets, the Miller brothers track takedowns, reversals and pins, sneaking only a few minutes of college basketball between sessions.

“Every third weekend in March, that's our pilgrimage,” Miller said. “Our trip to mecca, so to speak.”

Miller isn't alone, as Pennsylvania's wrestling roots run deep and long.

So obsessed with wrestling are Pennsylvanians that, in the wake of schools cutting some varsity sports, rolling up the wrestling mats is about as rare here as Canada flooding hockey rinks or England deflating all of its soccer balls.

Since Title IX was adopted in 1972, creating more opportunities for women in competitive athletics, more than 500 NCAA member schools have dropped their wrestling programs. Only 226 remain.

In some conferences, wrestling disappeared altogether when money was shifted to fund women's sports.

Yet in Pennsylvania, where the sport remains vibrant, only 13 schools have dropped their wrestling programs. Nobody has more NCAA wrestling programs (33) or All-Americans (504) during a recent 50-year stretch.

“We always have some of the best wrestlers in Pennsylvania,” said Chartiers Valley senior Noah Wilps, whose two older brothers and father wrestled at Pitt. “I don't think they're going to cut wrestling because they're going to want that to keep happening.”

The numbers support Wilps' assertion that Pennsylvania has had its share of dominant wrestlers.

During a 50-year stretch from 1961-2011 — the most recent collection of data available — there were 504 All-Americans from the state, according to wrestling historian Ed Ewoldt.

The number is easily tops in the country. Iowa ranks second with 350, Ohio third at 313.

In 2011, Amateur Wrestling News/The Open Mat devised a formula using national rankings and state population to quantify interest in wrestling.

Pennsylvania scored the highest at 96.2, well ahead of Iowa at 80.0.

“Just like how Texas is big in football, Pennsylvania is big in wrestling,” said former Canon-McMillan wrestling coach Chris Mary, who coached six PIAA individual champions and led the Big Macs to five PIAA team titles in 13 seasons. “It's been that way for decades.”

But why?

FAMILY TRADITION

The pat answer goes something like this: Pennsylvanians are shot-and-a-beer, corner-bar, blue-collar people.

Wrestling — and not tennis, golf or cross country — is the sport that most typifies that.

“I think there are a lot of families who came up through the steel mills and were tough,” former Clarion coach Bob Bubb said. “Wrestling blended into that type of personality.”

Edinboro coach Tim Flynn didn't grow up here but quickly was indoctrinated when he wrestled at Penn State, winning 105 matches and a pair of Eastern Wrestling League titles.

“Once you get the sport in your blood, you can't get it out,” Flynn said.

Jody Strittmatter sure can't. Hasn't tried, really.

Strittmatter was a PIAA champion at Cambria Heights near Altoona then enjoyed successful college wrestling careers at Pitt-Johnstown (two NCAA Division II titles) and Iowa (two-time All-American).

In 2002, Strittmatter co-founded Young Guns, which is considered the top-ranked wrestling club in the country by industry website Flowrestling.org.

“We have kids who come to our club, and their grandfathers are bringing them,” Strittmatter said. “Their grandfathers, uncles and dad wrestled. It's really an awesome tradition.”

One that doesn't exist other places.

Just ask Frank Vulcano, who coordinates the annual Powerade Tournament at Canon-McMillan, widely considered one of the biggest high school wrestling events in the country.

Because of the existing club structure and the insatiable appetite for wrestling here, the sport is more mainstream than it is in bigger states such as Texas or Florida.

“The opportunity is there for our kids to go year-round,” Vulcano said. “I'm not sure the opportunity is there for the other states to do that. Other states are introducing themselves to the sport compared to our state.”

Vulcano's son, Garrett, wrestled at Chartiers-Houston and last winter finished as a PIAA Class AA runner-up at 195 pounds.

Playing basketball or swimming was not anything Frank Vulcano considered for Garrett.

“He grew up in a family that loved wrestling,” Frank Vulcano said. “We were destined to have him at least try it.”

NUMBERS GAME

Pennsylvania also has a mathematical advantage.

Consider that 33 Pennsylvania schools sponsor NCAA wrestling programs: 11 at the Division I level, eight in Division II and 14 in Division III.

In comparison, geographically and by quality of wrestling, Ohio (17), New York (16), Iowa (12), West Virginia (5) and Oklahoma (3) sponsor far fewer.

“Wrestling is indigenous to our state,” said Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and a Pennsylvania resident. “There's so much tradition and history. That has helped us avoid program drops, although we have had a couple along the way.”

The most recent Pennsylvania school to eliminate wrestling was Duquesne University in 2010. IUP and Temple previously said goodbye to their wrestling mats. In many cases, the move was made for budgetary reasons and to comply with Title IX, which promotes gender equality in college sports.

Title IX dictates that no one be discriminated against in consideration of federal financial assistance due to gender. In effect, the law requires schools to award a proportionate number of athletic scholarships to females as it does to males.

But while there have been some casualties — though not nearly as many as on a national scale, with schools struggling to become Title IX compliant — it's also wise to consider how many college programs Pennsylvania started with.

There are 226 colleges or universities that sponsor NCAA wrestling, which means that Pennsylvania accounts for 14.6 percent of the total.

Further, Pennsylvania has 487 high schools — more than all but three states — participating in wrestling, according to the National Federation of High Schools' 2012-13 survey, creating a winning equation for those looking to pursue a college sport.

“We're fortunate,” said Pitt coach Jason Peters, who wrestled at Division II East Stroudsburg. “We have a big state with a lot of people committed to wrestling.”

Peters cited club programs, the number of knowledgeable coaches and fervent supporters as reasons the sport has maintained its strength.

“Some sports, like football or basketball, if you're not tall or real fast, how good can you be?” Peters said. “Wrestling's an art. If you can put in the time, really learn the techniques and master the skills of the sport, you can be pretty good.”

WHAT DOES FUTURE HOLD?

Edinboro athletic director Bruce Baumgartner won four Olympic medals during his competitive wrestling career, including two golds.

He's not ready to declare Pennsylvania's existing programs safe from future cuts, yet it's hard to fathom a school would cut what is inevitably one of its biggest draws.

“As an athletic administrator, budgets are always tight, and you have to analyze the value of your programs,” Baumgartner said. “When you analyze a program, you look at participants, how much booster support do they have, how do they do in fundraising, what kind of following do they have, do they generate positive publicity, what kind of notoriety regional and nationally?”

In Pennsylvania, that means 3,152 fans packing Edinboro's McComb Fieldhouse to watch a three-point loss to No. 3 Iowa on Dec. 5.

Or Penn State setting an NCAA attendance record for a dual meet when 15,996 watched the Nittany Lions top No. 11 Pitt, 28-9, three days later.

“I would hope (Pennsylvania) schools are safe,” Baumgartner said. “But it comes down to economic decisions, I believe we're safe here at Edinboro. I think with the recent positive publicity we received, it's a testament to what a smaller school can do in the wrestling world.”

And, more to the point, what a Pennsylvania school can do when it comes to wrestling.

“I'm comfortable and confident with wrestling in the state right now,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think the interest is very high.

“Numbers don't lie. And the numbers are there now.”

Forest Hills wrestler picks Penn State

November 2nd, 2012 by Tom

JOHNSTOWN " Cody Law always dreamed of wrestling for one of the nation's top college programs.

Up until the past year or two, it looked like just that: A dream.

The Forest Hills wrestler hadn't even qualified for the state tournament until last season.

But a combination of hard work, dedication and an absolute hatred of losing has helped turn Law into not just one of the best 160-pounders in the state, but in the nation.

This week, he made his dream into a reality, as he gave a verbal commitment to Penn State coach Cael Sanderson. The senior plans to join the two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions in State College next season.

"It's like a dream come true, honestly," Law said. "A year or two ago, I never would have thought I'd be wrestling for Penn State."

Law, who is ranked 14th nationally at 160 pounds by flowrestling.com, finished second in PIAA Class AA last season and has his sights set on a state title this year. He recently placed fifth at the prestigious Super 32 event in Greensboro, N.C. He also was a double All-American in freestyle and Greco-Roman in 2011.

Forest Hills coach Jake Strayer, who was an All-American for the Nittany Lions in 2007, has seen the huge strides that Law has made.

"Cody's been working extremely hard the past few years. In ninth grade "¦ I think he finished a little bit above .500. He just stayed after practice, kept asking questions, going to Young Guns (wrestling club), going to the extra camps "all of the extra stuff in the summer. He made himself good."

And Strayer is convinced that by working out with some of the top wrestlers in the nation on a daily basis, Law can make himself even better at Penn State.

"He's not the most athletic, but he's making big jumps every year and improving," Strayer said.

"Compared to other guys, he's improving so fast. Hopefully he'll end up peaking when he's in college."

Law plans to keep the same outlook at Penn State as he has now.

"I'll take advantage of everything I get there," he said. "I'll bust my butt, just like I am in high school, busting my butt to become a state champ."

Part of that is having Sanderson, who is the biggest name in amateur wrestling today, as a coach. Sanderson went 159-0 in college and won four national titles. He added an Olympic gold medal before finding success in the coaching ranks. In his three seasons at Penn State, Sanderson has led the Nittany Lions to a pair of national titles.

So what does it mean to Law to have such a legend as a coach?

"Honestly, it would mean just as much to have him as the rest of the coaching staff," he said. "They seem like they all will play an equal role in making me better. It's awesome to have an Olympic champion and one of the biggest names in wrestling history, but I also feel that coach Casey Cunningham, coach Cody Sanderson and the rest of the coaches will play a big role."

Law, who is the son of Trevor and Crystal Law of Elton, has not yet decided on a major, but is considering sports medicine.

He chose Penn State over Division II power Pitt-Johnstown. He also was recruited by Lehigh, Clarion and Old Dominion.

Lessons from a legend: Cael Sanderson instructs at Keystone Wrestling Camp

July 20th, 2011 by Tom

Cael Sanderson demonstrates a wrestling technique

By JOHN CLAYTON
Daily Record/Sunday News

York, PA - The starry-eyed gazes seemed to follow him everywhere, as one of amateur wrestling's most exalted figures stalked around York College's Grumbacher Center.

These are busy times for Cael Sanderson, the Penn State wrestling coach and former Olympic champion. His Nittany Lions are barely three months removed from a national championship. And there's the matter of his own career revival: Sanderson announced this month that, at age 32, he is returning to active competition after a seven-year hiatus.

Between his own training sessions and the interminable tasks that go with being a Division I coach, empty calendar space has been hard to find.

Still, Sanderson carved out time for a trip to York College, where he served as an instructor at the Keystone Wrestling Camp on Tuesday. For a pair of two-hour sessions, Sanderson demonstrated techniques and doled out advice to some 160 wrestlers who watched his every move with eager expressions.

"It's tough, because camps tend to take quite a bit of energy, "Sanderson said of his cramped schedule. "You have to just do it. Even if you're tired from training, you just have to get at it."

Sanderson was not the only headliner at the camp, which has been held annually at York College for the last decade. Maryland head coach and former Penn State star Kerry McCoy stopped by for a pair of sessions Tuesday. The camp's director, John Fritz, is a former standout wrestler and head coach at Penn State.

"I just hope that the kids understand the greatness that is around them, "Fritz said, referring to Sanderson and McCoy. "Sometimes they might not be able to grasp that."

Of course, Sanderson was the main attraction.

The self-effacing former Iowa State star is one of the magnate's of modern wrestling. Among his docket of accomplishments: A 159-0 collegiate record, four individual national titles, a 2004 Olympic gold medal at 185 pounds and, most recently, a team national championship as the Nittany Lions' coach.

So when Sanderson said in June he was making a comeback, the news rattled the wrestling world. He had not competed since 2004.

Sanderson bulldozed to a 185-pound title at the World Team Trials in Oklahoma City earlier this month, and he will wrestle at the World Championships in Istanbul in September.

"It's just a different mentality, really, "Sanderson said. "But we're still training as a team in the summer, working out every day. It's just a matter of taking it up a couple steps, being more disciplined when I'm eating. ... August will be a big training month."

Sanderson's presence provided a significant boost to the camp, which saw its numbers double from last summer.

At one point, as Sanderson introduced himself to a dozen elementary-age campers during an afternoon session, one young wrestler in a gray, Penn State T-shirt raised his hand. "Am I dreaming? "the boy asked.

"I don't know how many camps can bring in this many guys, "York College wrestling coach Tom Kessler said. "It's great for the county. ... (Sanderson) is probably the most sought-after guy in the world right now, as far as wrestling."

After the afternoon session had ended, a group of young campers surrounded Sanderson. He spent a few minutes signing T-shirts and backpacks and wrestling shoes with a black Sharpie.

He discussed the possibly of fitting in a workout between the camp's afternoon and evening sessions.

All part of a life that seems a bit more crowded these days. A litmus test awaits him in September. If all goes well, a run at the 2012 Olympics could be a possibility.

"The window of opportunity is there, "Sanderson said.

2008 NCAA Champ PHIL DAVIS Makes UFC Debut Feb 6

January 15th, 2010 by Tom

Phil Davis, 2008 NCAA Division I 184-pound champ for Penn State, will be competing at UFC 109: Relentless at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, February 6.

Davis, who signed with UFC just last month, will be facing former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Stann, who played football at the US Naval Academy.

A four-time NCAA All-American wrestler, Davis built a 116-20 collegiate career with the Nittany Lions. The 25-year-old Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native owns a 4-0 professional MMA record, having competed inside the Palace Fighting Championship, Ultimate Warrior Challenge and Ultimate Cage Fighting Challenge promotions. In Davis' most recent MMA event in June, he submitted David Baggett with a rear-naked choke in 3:37.

To read the rest of the story...

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-7334-College-Wrestling-Examiner~y2010m1d8-2009-NCAA-champ-Phil-Davis-to-make-UFC-debut-February-6

New Coach Sanderson Intensifies Practices

October 7th, 2009 by Tom

By Stephen Hennessey and Jocelyn Syrstad
Collegian Staff Writer

 Bubba Jenkins admits he wasn't even in shape at this point last season.

Each practice, even though the season has not started, has been harder than last year's most difficult practice, redshirt sophomore Clay Steadman said.

The wrestlers were used to training for an extended period of time in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, but not spending a Friday night there for breaking a team rule.

Welcome to the Penn State wrestling team's version of Friday Night Lights.

The itinerary entails sweeping the filth off the practice mats with a broom, cleaning with a mop and running up and down the length of the four giant practice mats, paper towel in hand, to dry the floor that has been the training ground for 98 NCAA All-Americans. After cleaning, wrestlers study in the bleachers of the facility, without any conversation, cell phones or iPods.

"It's something you don't want to get, but it's really easy to get, "freshman wrestler Ed Ruth said. "As soon as you get it, you're like, 'I've got Friday Night Lights.' It's not really a surprise when you get it, it's just that in public school they give you disciplinary actions, but they give you like a strike or a demerit or something to build up to that. But this, you just get it right away. It's like sink or die."

Wrestling legend Cael Sanderson took over for Troy Sunderland as head coach of the Nittany Lion wrestling program in April and Friday Night Lights is part of the no-nonsense culture he has implemented since Day 1.

Jenkins had to attend Friday Night Lights for arriving at a meeting two minutes before it started. Under Sanderson, wrestlers must show up five minutes before any team meeting.

The philosophy isn't only limited to wrestling, either. Junior Christian Harr said coaches now check if the wrestlers are attending their classes by dropping in on a class and doing random visits. If the wrestler isn't there, punishment, usually in the form of Friday Night Lights, will ensue.

New weight training and conditioning coach Shawn Contos thinks the wrestlers were likely comfortable with doing as they wished last year. Attending practice late wasn't as big of a deal. Pushing past that comfort level and believing the sky is the limit doesn't only translate to success in wrestling, but in all aspects of life, he says.

It worked at Iowa State, Sanderson's alma mater and former coaching spot, so the staff ushered in the same philosophy to bring the Penn State wrestling program back to the top of the medal podium at the NCAA Tournament.

"You can only be good at two things in college, and there's three areas: wrestling, academics and social life, "Steadman said, referring to his head coach's words of wisdom.

So far, the wrestlers have heeded the coach's advice.

"Those two [areas] better be wrestling and school, and if they're not, then you're not going to be around this program long, "returning assistant Aaron Anspach said. "Most of the guys that are here, are here because they want to win."

A different mindset

Jenkins applied pressure to Chad Dubin's head, forcing it into the blue wrestling mat. Jenkins, now in his fourth year in the Nittany Lion program, wasn't content with only earning a takedown of the 40-something-year old.

Seconds later, Jenkins turned the man onto his back and kept him there.

Dubin, a short, muscular training partner and former two-time All American who often visits practices, was manhandled and overpowered by Jenkins.

Jenkins, though, has always been about speed. The Virginia Beach native reached the finals of the 149-pound weight class at the 2007 NCAA Tournament with explosiveness and agility comparable to boxer Roy Jones Jr.

Now, though, Jenkins is convinced he can utilize extra muscle on his body. He says he will likely regret adding the weight when it comes time to slim down to his 149-pound weight class.

Still, it's about taking the extra step and winning a national championship. Last year's 0-2 performance at NCAAs is a constant reminder of his goal.

Jenkins' new coach still believes he has the potential to be a national champion and hope his 149-pounder is still hungry.

"To me, nothing is more motivating than losses, "Sanderson said. "I hope that he's motivated to get back in there and get his name back up to the top of the weight class. So far, he's been doing a great job. He's just so talented and things come so naturally for him in all areas. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. He's doing a nice job right now."

Jenkins put on about 10-15 pounds since the end of last season as a result of the demanding weight training program implemented by this year's coaching staff.

Contos, who came over from Iowa State to become Penn State's new strength coach, equates transitioning this team into a "great "team to taking a block of clay and molding it into something special.

The team and the newly-formulated program is set apart by twice-weekly morning practices run by Contos, the strength and conditioning coach, that are designed to keep the wrestlers strong and conditioned year round.

"The intensity is a lot higher, "senior Dan Vallimont said. "Practices are a lot tougher, and they kind of make us feel like we have to have a sense of urgency right now. It's only September, but they're really putting the pressure on us right away, which is good."

Contos compares a wrestling match to a sprint, not a marathon. Accordingly, he has geared the team's training like a match.

The wrestlers lift heavily on Mondays, leaving them sore on Tuesdays. Thursdays are set aside for intense endurance workouts, the details of which Contos would not divulge.

Quentin Wright, an All-American last season as a true freshman, wanted to bulk up this offseason. As a tall and lanky 174-pounder, Wright still finished sixth at NCAAs. With more muscle, he knew he could be more dangerous of a wrestler. He lifted all summer long and showed up noticeably stronger, prepared to wrestle at a higher weight class.

"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever met in my life. This workout is good for him because he feels he's getting stronger and belief in the system and the program is going to help you reach your goals.

Sanderson has also implemented a dress code for every wrestler to follow. Every day, the Lions don blue shorts and gray t-shirts at practice.

The new head coach preaches that the two hours of practice should be their two most highly productive hours of each wrestler's day, assistant coach Casey Cunningham said.

Sanderson has instigated a new philosophy of endurance training. Instead of focusing on sprints and aerobic workouts, practices are more match-based. Work up endurance in a seven-minute match, master that fitness level, and a wrestler will be ready, Anspach said.

"You think you get to this level and you have a good foundation of this stuff, "junior Brad Pataky said, "and you get a new technician and an Olympic gold medalist and you learn a lot of new things. It's great."

Pataky couldn't be happier -- he's wrestling for a coach who he grew up idolizing. But more than that, he's wrestling for a coaching staff that can mold him into a national champion.

He's all ears when one of his coaches instructs him. Wrestling is a hobby, he explained, but it's his favorite hobby. It's simply fun to train for success, Pataky said.

"In the past, and there's nothing wrong with this, we focused more on running and getting shape through training your mind, "Anspach said. "Now the philosophy is we're going to challenge your mind, but we're going to do it through wrestling situations that are going to help our muscle memory and positions and make us better wrestlers."

Restoring tradition

Cyler Sanderson had a decision to make.

The senior 157-pounder refers to his brothers, Cael and assistant coach Cody, as his heroes. Cyler has idolized them since he was born.

When Cyler's brothers moved from Iowa State to coach at Penn State, he couldn't decide what his best option was. His best friends and teammates for four years and a program that he committed to was a strong pull. Ultimately, his family bond was too strong, and he opted to follow his brothers to Penn State.

"Wrestling is my favorite thing to do in the whole world, and if I can do that with my brothers and my family that makes it even better, "Cyler said. "When it came down to it, family's always first. I don't think I could of wrestled there and not have my brothers there. I want them in my corner."

But coming to Penn State wasn't only about keeping his corner coaches. It was about restoring the glory of the Nittany Lion program.

Steve Sanderson, father of the three new Penn State Sandersons, always told his sons that you "reap what you sow."

That's the mentality it will take to bring the Penn State wrestling program to its peak.

"Penn State is going to be a powerhouse in the near future, "Cyler said. "Cael has brought a lot of enthusiasm to this team. It won't be long before Penn State is winning national championships."

Jenkins equates wrestling for Sanderson to wrestling for Michael Jordan. If the best athlete in a sport is one's coach, he will listen, Jenkins said.

The wrestlers have dedicated themselves to not partying as frequently as they did last year. Steadman doesn't mind -- to achieve his goal of being a national champion, he knows he must adhere to these guidelines.

Weekend nights are often spent playing video games.

"We're finally coming together more as a team as opposed to everyone kind of doing their own thing or having their own things going on, "redshirt sophomore Frank Molinaro said.

Cyler has never been in Rec Hall but has heard the stories of its legacy -- the packed bleachers, fans stacked like sardines, six rows deep around the walkway at the top of the gymnasium.

These fans were passionate about their team. That passion was absent at most home dual meets last season, notably back-to-back weekend dual meets against the top-two ranked programs in the nation, Iowa and Ohio State. The Lions lost both meets by a total of 49 points, and fans exited the gym without emitting energy toward their effort.

The Lions have finished in the top five at the NCAA Tournament 22 times since 1935, but have only won it once, in 1953.

The program's goal is to win a national title. Sanderson says it. Cunningham says it. All the wrestlers say it. It's an overarching goal the team finds more tangible.

Achieving this begins with the attitude of having a fighting team, Cunningham said.

It starts by hiring a national wrestling legend to resurrect a program, bringing in trusted assistants, signing top level recruits and convincing a team of wrestlers they are capable of achieving great things.

"There's obviously a ton of momentum with everything since the transition took place, "assistant coach Matt Dernlan said. "The guys feel it, we feel it, I feel it, everywhere you go there's energy and enthusiasm. You can feel that momentum pushing behind us. That's pretty exciting to feel it and be a part of it."

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Cael Tries To Clear The Air RE Cyclones

October 5th, 2009 by Tom

by SEAN KEELER

State College, Pa. " The wrestling room is bigger than a VFW hall, the mats wide as a country mile. Four high-definition televisions hang on the walls, each one placed strategically a few feet apart from the next.

"It's a nice room, "Cael Sanderson says. "But obviously a room's not going to win for you."

He smiles. Penn State's Lorenzo Wrestling Complex opened in 2006 to the tune of $4 million. Tucked neatly into the west side of campus, it's more a penthouse than a palace, but every corner sparkles.
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"I think it was just a lot of bad information that was out there as to why I made the decision, "Sanderson said of the stunning coup that brought the former Iowa State wrestling coach here from Ames five months ago. "But really, that wasn't the reason that I took the job. I was just looking at a long-term opportunity here."

At the most recent NCAA wrestling championships, a dozen Pennsylvania natives were named to the All-American team; two were natives of Iowa. Steve Sanderson, Cael's father, told The (Penn State) Daily Collegian last spring that his son had discussed a move to State College for at least a year, if the job ever came open.

"People were saying that they offered me so much money that I couldn't turn it down, "the younger Sanderson says. "And whoever started that rumor, he's probably sitting back having a good time, I guess."

Sanderson doesn't deny that he got a nice raise - although he's not sure where the speculation of a 5-year, $2.5-million contract came from. And for the conspiracy theorists out there, he also takes issue with the inference that there was some sort of conflict with Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard.

"That's not true at all. I like Jamie, "Sanderson says. "He was supportive of the program. I mean, that's real simple. It has nothing to do with Jamie Pollard. That's not why (I left).

"I was looking at Penn State, just because of the long-term, the things that I've (already) talked about. It's really that simple. There's nothing behind-the-scenes or anything like that. Maybe it would be exciting if that was the case, but it's not."

That said, the divorce wasn't entirely peaceful. A day or two after his move was announced, Sanderson recalls, his wife answered the door at their home in Ames to find an irate Iowa State fan, who'd turned up to give them an earful of grief.

"We just didn't answer the door after that, "Sanderson continues with a chuckle. "A little later - actually, it was kind of funny, although my wife wasn't too happy about it - they threw some Iowa State wrestling gear on the front porch. Later that night there was some Iowa State wrestlers over at my house. They were pretty happy with it. They got some free shirts. It really wasn't a big deal."

Other than struggling to sell that house back in Ames, Sanderson says he's found closure with Iowa State. He'd even welcome a series with the Cyclones sometime down the road, if the schedules could get worked out.

"I would guess that it's something we'll be talking about doing, "Sanderson says. "But we haven't discussed that yet. I think they're in good hands. It's just - life goes on."

Sanderson's focus now is the Lions' first dual - at Lehigh on Nov. 13 - and proving that his bosses were wise in their investment. Cael's shiny new penthouse is wired for sound, as is the giant, glittering weight room behind it.

"If we want a workout at 3 in the morning on a Sunday or a Saturday, that's great, "Sanderson says.

Maybe it wasn't about money. But the perks sure as heck don't hurt.

Penn State Wrestling Plans To Celebrate at Homecoming

September 22nd, 2009 by Tom

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The Varsity "S "Club and Penn State wrestling head coach Cael Sanderson invite all Penn State wrestling alumni returning for the 2009 Homecoming weekend to join the current wrestling team and staff for a day full of Homecoming festivities.

On Oct. 17, before Penn State and Minnesota clash in Beaver Stadium, the Penn State wrestling team would like to open up a conditioning session for those returning former student-athletes as a chance to view the 2009 wrestling team and coaches. Following practice a tour of the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex will be given for all attendees.

With head coach Cael Sanderson making his debut appearance as a Nittany Lion and the transition of the coaching staff in full motion, there will be a meet and greet session for alumni to connect with the new faces of Penn State Wrestling. Food and beverages will be provided for the Penn State wrestling members and families during the meet and greet session.

The Schedule of Events goes as followed:
Open Conditioning Session at Lorenzo Wrestling Complex 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Tour of Lorenzo Wrestling Complex 10:40 a.m.- 11:15 a.m.
Meet and Greet with Coaching Staff 11:20 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.
Penn State vs. Iowa Homecoming Football game 3:30 p.m.

The Varsity "S "club is excited to have this opportunity to strengthen the connection between past and present Penn State wrestlers through this exciting day surrounding the hype of the 2009 Homecoming football game.

All wrestling alumni returning to campus for the Homecoming Weekend to join the Penn State wrestling team for the morning events please contact Varsity "S "Club Coordinator, Mike Milliron at 814-867-2202 or e-mail him at [email protected] For those without football tickets, tickets to the football game will be distributed on a first come first serve basis for all who complete the ticket application. Limited tickets are available. The application can be found at the top of this page.

Sunderland named as Manheim Central HS head coach

August 17th, 2009 by Tom

The Manheim Central school board approved the hiring of former Penn State coach Troy Sunderland as its head wrestling coach during a school board meeting Tuesday night.

Sunderland, who resigned from Penn State on April 4, replaces Shane Mack, who had coached the Barons since 2005.

The coaching job will be Sunderland's first at the high school level. Sunderland served as an assistant at Penn State and Navy before replacing John Fritz as the Nittany Lions' head coach in 1999.

Sunderland, 38, led Penn State to an 8-12-2 record and 17th-place finish at the NCAA Championships during his final season at Penn State. Sunderland went 115-90-2 and coached 27 All-Americans in 11 years at Penn State.

Sunderland becomes the 15th head coach in Manheim Central history. The Barons, who compete in District 3, have recorded more than 700 dual meet wins since the school introduced the sport in 1926. The program has produced eight state champions and 13 PIAA runner-ups since 1943. The school also conducts one of the state's top high school tournaments " the Manheim Holiday Tournament.

Sunderland's wife, JoAnn, was hired as Manheim Central High School's in-school suspension monitor, according to the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era.

Sunderland attended high school at Mount Union, where he captured two PIAA titles. Sunderland then advanced to two NCAA finals during his career at Penn State.

Penn Puts Valenti On Coaching Staff

August 1st, 2009 by Tom

Courtesy: Charles Dorman, Athletic Communications Assistant

PHILADELPHIA "Penn wrestling head coach Rob Eiter announced a new addition to his coaching staff, and the name is a familiar one to Penn wrestling fans "two-time NCAA champion and three-time All-America Matt Valenti. He will join fellow Penn alum, Josh Henson on the coaching staff.

"It is very important for us to have Matt return to Penn," Eiter said. "We are in the process of establishing an identity as a program, and our goals mirror what Matt accomplished while at Penn."

Eiter went on to say that Valenti brings with him many valuable qualities when he enters the wrestling room.

"Matt is a Penn graduate and he can speak openly and knowledgably about what that means," said the second-year head coach. "Beyond that, Matt is a flat-out good coach who interacts well with student-athletes as they strive toward success. Finally, Matt is continuing his own competitive career on the international level. It is a tremendous positive for our team to witness first-hand a competitor working at the highest level of the sport."

The opportunity to return to Penn and work with a new generation of Quakers was a big draw for Valenti.

"I am very excited to be back at Penn and once again be part of the Penn wrestling family," he said. "Coach Eiter has provided me with a tremendous opportunity to give back to my alma mater and I look forward to working with the team in the coming years. We are extremely focused on winning an Ivy League title and keeping Penn as one of the premier programs in the country."

Since his graduation in 2007, Valenti has served as an assistant coach at Columbia University while continuing to train as a freestyle wrestler with an eye on the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.

While at Columbia, Valenti coached the Lions' first EIWA champion since 1995.

Valenti, Penn's all-time leader in wins with 137, also has a share of the Penn record for wins in a season (36, a mark he reached twice) and falls in a season (11).

In 2006, Valenti became Penn's third national champion. The tournament's sixth seed, he defeated Purdue's Chris Fleeger, 3-2, in the final for Penn's first NCAA crown since 2000. Valenti added to his legacy the next season, becoming Penn's second two-time national champion with a 4-2 win over Oklahoma State's Coleman Scott.

A three-time EIWA champion while competing at Penn, Valenti was twice named EIWA Wrestler of the Year. He was honored by the Ivy League as first-team All-Ivy three times "each year doing so unanimously. In 2007, he was a unanimous selection as Ivy League Wrestler of the Year.

This past April, Valenti won the bronze medal at 60 kg at the Pan-American Championships in Venezuela.

The Quakers return five wrestlers who have competed at the NCAA Championships for the 2009-10 season including three who have won EIWA championships.

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