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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?


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.”


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.”


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.

Local PA wrestling club stresses offseason technique work

July 15th, 2011 by Tom


PA Wrestling Three years ago, the Lincoln Highway Wrestling Club was started in Chambersburg PA.

This past season, the Chambersburg Trojans had their most successful postseason by far, taking sixth in the PIAA Tournament team standings with a trio of placewinners.


Not a chance.

The nature of high school wrestling in Pennsylvania is such that very few kids are able to compete at the highest level unless they devote a considerable amount of time to the sport in the offseason.

That means tournaments in the spring, lifting and technique work in the summer and conditioning to get ready for the season.

That's what the Lincoln Highway Club provides for area wrestlers.

"Now's the time of year that we can hammer on the teaching part of it, "said Matt Mentzer, an assistant for the Trojans who is the head coach for Lincoln Highway. "I'm not interested so much in the competition right now; it's about improving your skills. I'm a little more patient this time of year; I smile a little more."

With a roomful of kids during the regular season, Trojan head coach Doug Rine and his staff do a lot of work on technique. But their emphasis is elsewhere.

"We have to concentrate on getting them in shape, both physically and mentally, "Rine said. "In the summer we concentrate on technique. Matt can be very specific on things that an individual wrestler can do and they can work on it. He does an outstanding job of seeing those little things a kid can do to improve, and they've really helped."

It was a good break for Chambersburg when Mentzer came to town.

He was a standout wrestler at Big Spring (graduated in 1990) and at Shippensburg University, where he was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American. He had previously been an assistant coach at Big Spring and Ship U.

Mentzer is a fifth-grade teacher at Fayetteville Elementary. He and his wife Dawn have two kids, a daughter (Morgan, 11) and son (Luke, 6), who is one of the club's youngest members.

Once Mentzer relocated here, he became a volunteer assistant for the Trojans.

And after the first year, he helped found the Lincoln Highway Club.

"Coach Rine and I and (youth coach) Chris Bender talked about having a sanctioned club here, "Mentzer said, "so we started practicing and did the paperwork to join USA Wrestling. I think the club gives kids in this area a place to go where they're comfortable."

In the past, local kids who wanted to work with a wrestling club had to go to Carlisle or beyond. It took a lot more time and expense to do that.

The Chambersburg Wrestling Booster Club is the club's driving force.

"Our setup with the booster club is allowing us to do things we didn't have the resources to do before, "Rine said.

Mentzer said, "The booster club has been great, but it has to continue to grow. The more hands on deck, the stronger it is and the stronger we are. It goes hand-in-hand."

The club introduces wrestlers to freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, which are different than the folkstyle wrestling used in high school and college. Greco-Roman is primarily throws with no leg wrestling involved, while freestyle emphasizes takedowns.

Mentzer said, "I knew kids would benefit if we exposed them to those different styles, with the throws and different techniques. Kids get drilled in the same things all year, but these are different -- they're learning new things."

The coaches are also learning new moves. Mentzer keeps busy in the offseason doing research on the Internet to increase his repertoire. Last week he was taking notes while watching the Russian national championships.

The extra work wrestlers have gotten on their feet has made a difference.

Dawson Peck, who was the 285-pound state runner-up last year, is a prime example.

"The first year I was here, we couldn't beg Dawson to go to a freestyle tournament, "Mentzer said. "But by working on these different styles, it forced Dawson to wrestle on his feet. You can't take top in freestyle, you have to take your man down. He started doing it after his sophomore year and ... see what happened?"

Chambersburg's other state runner-up, Garett Hammond, as well as fifth-place finisher Tanner Shoap, have also benefited.

Rine said, "The kids who have done well -- that's a reflection of refining their technique in the summer."

The Lincoln Highway Club has kids as young as 6 all the way up to high school. Thre are also several kids from other high schools who are members.

The club has nearly 40 members and the summer sessions usually get from 15 to 30 kids each night, with all ages working together. That enables the young kids to learn from the older kids.

Mentzer said, "The young kids just getting into it see guys like Dawson, Garett and Tanner and see how hard they work at it. It gives them role models and mentors. The other day we had a young kid who will be a heavyweight work for half an hour with Dawson, a state runner-up.

"So these kids will set high goals and know what they have to do to achieve them."

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...


Cael Tries To Clear The Air RE Cyclones

October 5th, 2009 by Tom


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.

"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.

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.