Posts filed under ‘Penn State wrestling’
This time, of all things, it was cake.
Asked Monday afternoon if he had anything special planned for the wrestling team headed into the NCAA Championships, which start Thursday morning in St. Louis, coach Cael Sanderson said that after practice, everyone would eat a treat baked by a friend, Bonnie Epstein, who lives in Ohio. Explained Sanderson, “To celebrate how great we’re going to wrestle this weekend.”
It was hard to know how seriously to take that. Wrestlers? Chowing down on cake? The week of the biggest tournament of the season? Except for heavyweights, these guys watch every mouthful they consume. Back in my Collegian days, I once interviewed a wrestler who told me the only thing he’d eaten since Monday was a Chicklet (this was on a Thursday), and earlier this season, 149-pounder Frank Molinaro cracked that when friends came over to watch Phil Davis compete in UFC, he served ice chips. I’m pretty sure that even though he laughed, that wasn’t really a joke.
But on Tuesday, Sanderson tweeted, “There’s ‘the Force’ in Star Wars and ‘the Power of Greyskull’ in He-man but nothing compares to the power of Bonnie Epstein.” So, apparently, he did let the wrestlers eat a little cake. And, apparently, it was really good. (Or, maybe, he ate it all himself?)
Asked about how, specifically, the Nittany Lions were preparing to defend their NCAA team title, Sanderson was a lot more reticent. Some guys watch film, some guys don’t. He wouldn’t specify who was who. He mentioned, again, that the wrestlers were at their best when they were confident and having fun, and he trotted out all of the usual clichés, about how winning the Big Ten title was a good “stepping stone” to the NCAAs, and how the wrestlers “feed off each other” when one particular guy dominates his opponent.
He also mentioned in passing that the Nittany Lions are underdogs in their quest to win back-to-back NCAA team titles. On paper, going by the seeds, if every wrestler holds his spot, the team title would go to Iowa. In real life, though, the Nittany Lions will be relying, again, on bonus team points for major decisions, technical falls, and pins. That’s the aggressive style of wrestling that made them the first Penn State NCAA team champion—and first team champion from east of the Mississippi—since 1953.
They’ve qualified nine wrestlers for nationals, and three of them are undefeated No. 1 seeds—Molinaro, 165-pounder David Taylor, and 174-pounder Ed Ruth. (Ruth, by the way, is still sporting a two-toned hairdo, but he’s swapped out the blond for teal.) All of them were dominant at the Big Ten tournament, enabling the Nittany Lions to come from behind after they fell to third on the first day of the two-day tournament. If you want to get a sense of how pumped up these guys are, take a look at this video of Molinaro celebrating his victory. That’s some serious chest-thumping.
Wrestling starts Thursday morning, with the quarterfinals Friday morning and the semifinals Friday night. You can catch some of the action online at ESPN3 or on ESPNU (click here for the broadcast schedule). The finals, televised live by ESPN are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Should be fun to watch.
“Everybody expects that we’re going to be the champion,” Taylor said. “We expect the same thing.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor
In a glass-walled conference room in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on Tuesday afternoon, coach Cael Sanderson calmly explained how the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament is seeded and assessed the Nittany Lions’ chance to win the tournament, which starts Saturday at Purdue.
Meanwhile, visible over his right shoulder, two wrestlers arrived for practice, grabbed a couple of foam swords (!?) and began whaling on each other. One wrestler ended up on the floor as the other “stabbed” him repeatedly in the torso, and while I can’t swear to this—Cael moved his head, blocking my view—it’s possible that the victor then staged a mock decapitation.
This is not particularly unusual behavior in the wrestling room. Last week, I encountered a cutthroat dodgeball game, with wrestlers heaving multi-colored playground balls at each other and coaches Cody Sanderson and Casey Cunningham in the middle of the fray. Cunningham was so fired up, he was yelling like a banshee.
So was David Taylor, the top-ranked 165-pounder, who assured me later that they were using the official rules of the “American Dodgeball Association of America,” and added, with a completely straight face, “The five Ds are really important.” (For those of you who, inexplicably, haven’t watched the comedy classic Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, that’s Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive … and Dodge.)
Taylor also assured me that playing games is an important part of the defending NCAA champions’ success. “The coaches do more than encourage that kind of thing,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “Look, Cody’s playing kickball out there right now.”
And for all that Cael Sanderson’s public demeanor is pretty serious, he’s got an occasionally hilarious Twitter feed and he is the guy who posted giant yellow smiley faces in the wrestling room leading up to last season’s NCAA tournament. (This week, signs simply say SMILE.) He wants his wrestlers to be prepared, but loose. (more…)
Three bouts into the wrestling team’s dual meet with Iowa on Sunday afternoon, the Nittany Lions had lost all three bouts, one by pin, and were down 12-0. Surely some of the 6,796 fans—the largest crowd in Rec Hall since its reconfiguration—were having flashbacks to last year’s Iowa dual, in which Penn State lost the first three matches—one by pin—and never recovered from a 12-0 deficit.
So was coach Cael Sanderson worried?
“I know Cunningham was,” Sanderson said, using assistant coach Casey Cunningham as a comic foil, as he often does. “I was doin’ all right.”
Spoken like someone who had seven ranked wrestlers—including two guys at No. 1 and two guys at No. 2—coming up to the mat. But it was the guy ranked No. 12—197-pounder Morgan McIntosh, a true freshman—who clinched a 22-12 victory over the Hawkeyes.
McIntosh, facing Iowa junior Grant Gambrall, who finished third at NCAAs last season, got a takedown with 17 seconds remaining in the one-minute “sudden victory” overtime period for a 5-3 victory that gave Penn State insurmountable 19-12 lead with one bout to go.
The takedown also gave Sanderson his first dual-meet victory—as an Iowa State wrestler, Iowa State coach, or Penn State coach—over the Hawkeyes. And it gave McIntosh a loud, long standing ovation. “Coolest feeling I ever felt,” he said. “I’m not going to forget that for a long time.” (more…)
Quentin Wright didn’t want to get ahead of himself; he didn’t circle Jan. 22, date of the wrestling team’s dual against Iowa, back when the schedule went out over the summer. (Plenty of other people did, though; individual match tickets sold out 90 minutes after they went on sale in October.)
Recently, though—even as the defending national champions have dominated January, winning the Southern Scuffle tournament and giving up only nine team points, total, against Big Ten foes Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin—Wright has had the Hawkeyes on his mind.
“I don’t know about their side of the story,” said Wright, the defending NCAA champion at 184 pounds, who’s ranked No. 2 this season. “But definitely, this is one match of the year that we’re fired up for.”
Wright thought the dual might mean more to the Nittany Lions, who have over the years, as he said, “been on the lower end, getting beaten up, most of the time.” But it seems like seems like Iowa is pretty fired up, too. At the Hawkeyes’ postseason banquet last April, it seemed that coach Tom Brands had already forgotten how they had dominated Penn State at Rec Hall in a dual and was focused on how Penn State beat them at the NCAA championships.
“Are you OK with being down a couple of notches? Are you OK with getting whipped? Are you OK with getting whipped by Penn State?” Brands asked. “If you’re not, do you have an imagination to go beyond where you are now and what you think is hard work, and what you think is the right way, and what you think is doing everything you can to really open up the flood gates to realizing your potential?”
All of which is to say that the dual, 2 p.m. Sunday in Rec Hall, is getting a lot of attention. Iowa’s ranked No. 2, Penn State is No. 3, and there will be 14 ranked wrestlers competing. None of the Nittany Lions have ever been on a team that has beaten Iowa in a dual, and the one milestone coach Cael Sanderson hasn’t achieved in his storied career is being part of a team, as an athlete or coach, that’s won a dual meet against the Hawkeyes. (more…)
The Steeler fans in our office won’t agree with me, but for most Penn Staters, there’s still plenty of reason to pay attention to the NFL playoffs. Three of the four teams that will play this weekend for a Super Bowl berth boast contributions from former (and, in one case, brand-new) Nittany Lions.
All-pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman ’09 (pictured) was among the defensive stars for the San Francisco 49ers, who beat New Orleans on Saturday to set up a meeting with the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. Bowman recorded 10 tackles in San Francisco’s dramatic 36-32 win over the Saints. Among the Giants who will try to slow Bowman this weekend is Kareem McKenzie ’01, a Big Blue stalwart who has started nearly every game at offensive tackle for the past decade. Jimmy Kennedy ’02 is also on the Giants roster, as a reserve defensive lineman.
Over in the AFC, there aren’t any Penn Staters on the Baltimore Ravens’ roster, while Rich Ohrnberger ’08 holds down a spot on the New England Patriots’ injured reserve. Of course, the Pats have become a team of interest for Nittany Lion fans, as New England’s 45-10 drubbing of Denver showcased the offense run by new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. Unless you’re a Broncos fan, that was fun to watch.
There’s plenty happening with current Penn State athletes, of course, and a typically busy winter sports weekend brought two highlights of note. The first came courtesy of the fleet feet of freshman Robby Creese, who set a U.S. collegiate and under-19 record in the 1,000 meters. He covered five laps at the Ashenfelter Indoor Track in 2:19.53. I got winded just typing that.
And the defending NCAA champion wrestling team recorded a first, blanking conference rival Wisconsin, 43-0, on the road for the program’s first ever Big Ten dual meet shutout.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
It happened again the other day to senior Frank Molinaro, who was shopping at the Dollar Store a few miles from campus. When you’re short and you’ve got cauliflower ears and you’re wearing a Penn State wrestling shirt in Pennsylvania, you aren’t exactly incognito. You’re pretty easy to pick out as a member of the defending NCAA team champions.
“This little old lady … she was like 85 years old … she says she’s been watching wrestling for years, naming Andy Matter and all those guys,” Molinaro said yesterday, waving his arm at the 18 Penn State national champions whose pictures hang on the wall of the practice room at the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. (Junior Quentin Wright, No. 19, isn’t pictured on the wall yet.) “She saw my shirt and my ears and said, ‘Last year, I followed you.’”
Molinaro has repeatedly enjoyed such encounters since March, when the Nittany Lions became the first Eastern team to win an NCAA wrestling team title since 1953, so it’s easy to see how the team has become such a tough ticket.
Their dual meet against Iowa sold out—including standing-room tickets—90 minutes after single-match tickets went on sale. Their dual meet against Minnesota (coming up soon, on Sunday, Nov. 20) has only standing-room tickets remaining.
“These guys are a rare breed,” Coach Cael Sanderson said Monday afternoon at the team’s annual media day. “I think our fans and our sports understand that, and that’s why our season tickets are as high as they are and we have two matches sold out already. This is a fun team to watch. It’s not so much about whether they win, or not, it’s more about the fact that they’re entertaining. That is something I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait to just sit back and watch these guys go.”
Sanderson, of course, is somewhat of a rare breed himself, having spent his summer vacation training for the world wrestling championships after a seven-year break from international competition. He finished a disappointing fifth at worlds, and he said he’s not sure what’s next for his own competitive career. “For the most part, it’s all Penn State wrestling right now,” he said. “I’m not worried about my own wrestling career right now.” (more…)
It figured that Cael Sanderson would be dismayed with his performance Saturday at the world freestyle championships—he lost in the second round (albeit to the eventual world champion from Azerbaijan) and lost again in the bronze-medal match. It’s hardly going out on a limb to say that Sanderson doesn’t like to lose. Or to say that he didn’t come back from a seven-year break from competition to finish fifth.
But Sanderson’s reaction was particularly emotional.
A few hours after the loss, Sanderson spoke with Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling, saying at one point that he wanted to “climb in a hole somewhere” and later actually breaking down while answering a question about his protégé, Jake Varner, who won a bronze medal. “He’s the man,” Sanderson said, ducking his head and trying to choke back a sob. (For the video, click here, go to page 2, and scroll down.)
The next day, speaking to an interviewer from Flowrestling, Sanderson said, “I’m not sure why the heck I’m wrestling right now, or why I did. It seemed like a good idea for a little while. I kind of got into it … and you’ve got to finish what you start.” (more…)
So it’s time for Cael Sanderson to take his comeback to the next level and attempt to do something he’s never done before—win a gold medal at the world wrestling championships.
He’s already won the U.S. World Team Trials after a seven-year layoff, and he dominated in his first international tournament since the 2004 Olympics. The worlds, which are being held in Istanbul, Turkey, started earlier this week with Greco-Roman and women’s events preceding the freestyle, and the hype has been building.
Check out this cover story from Wednesday’s USA Today, which mentions both his competitive success and his success coaching Penn State. It’s also worth clicking on this Des Moines Register link for a slide show of Sanderson’s Iowa State years, which includes a photo of Sanderson with some of his drawings (No. 4), a bobblehead that looks nothing like him (No. 14), and a posed shot with Iowa coach Tom Brands (No. 33).
Sanderson is considered the favorite at 185 pounds … by the Americans, at least. As this survey of international wrestling journalists shows, he’s not the consensus favorite. The Iranian writer picked the wrestler from Uzbekistan, for instance, and the Japanese journo likes the Russian. (And that’s how the U.S. writers tend to refer to wrestlers from other countries, by their nationalities. I keep wondering if Sanderson is known outside our borders as “The American.”) And it’s worth noting that Sanderson never dominated internationally the way he did in the U.S. The 2010 world champion, Bulgaria’s Mihail Ganev, is also in the field, and “the Uzbek,” Zaurbek Sokhiev, won the 2009 world title. (more…)
So it turns out that Cael Sanderson was a little bored. That’s all. Maybe you’d think coaching Penn State’s wrestling team to its first NCAA title since 1953 is time-consuming enough. Well, Sanderson was sitting around last summer after the world championships and wondering whether he was making the most productive use of his time.
He decided he wasn’t. So he returned to elite competition Saturday after a seven-year layoff and won a berth on the U.S. freestyle team for the world championships this September in Istanbul. And, really, “returned” isn’t quite the right verb. He dominated the field, easily dispatching the defending world silver medalist, Jake Herbert, in the best-of-three finals. (Watch here to see how easy Sanderson made it look.)
“There is plenty of time in the day to add a little bit more, and I really thought hard about it,” Sanderson said after the match. (Interview video here; like the previous link, this comes from the fun guys at FloWrestling.)
“My job right now is coaching the Penn State wrestling team, and that is my top priority next to God and my family. I could go home at the end of the day and try and master Call of Duty, or be a little more focused and try and wrestle.” (more…)
My colleague (and our in-house wrestling expert) Lori Shontz ’91 told me this might be coming, and now it’s official: Cael Sanderson, the 31-year-old head coach who led the Penn State wrestling team to a national championship last season, is returning to the mat in the hopes of qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Sanderson isn’t just a very good coach who used to wrestle, of course; he’s widely considered the best ever American amateur wrestler, thanks largely to his 159-0 record in four years at Iowa State and the Olympic freestyle gold he won in 2004. Lori, my fellow senior editor, saw Sanderson on campus a few days ago and thought he looked trimmer (the SI.com story linked above states that he’d wrestle at a lower weight class then his most recent tournament appearance) and noticed signs of wrestling-room combat (swollen ears, a fresh scratch on his face) that implied he might be getting in shape for… something. Looks like that “something” is the U.S. World Team Trials, held this weekend in Oklahoma City.
Sanderson is apparently also scheduled to be inducted tonight into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Whoever’s in charge of the hall of famers’ plaques might want to leave some room on Sanderson’s entry. Looks like he’s not quite done.
Ryan Jones, senior editor