Posts tagged ‘Cael Sanderson’
Much to his surprise, David Taylor began to cry. He was standing behind the bleachers at Rec Hall with his family Sunday afternoon, watching his teammate, fellow fifth-year senior Ed Ruth, walk out to be honored before their last wrestling match in Rec Hall, and suddenly it hit him. All the hours of work. All the Nittany Lions have accomplished in their four years on the mat. All the people who had supported and sacrificed for him.
Taylor has wrestled a lot of big matches, and he’s got two huge tournaments remaining in his college career—Big Tens and nationals. But he found himself getting keyed up for his final match as he walked onto the mat to be honored by the crowd. He still had tears in his eyes. Said Taylor, “I haven’t been that excited to wrestle in a long time, to be honest with you.”
By the time Taylor actually wrestled, about an hour later, he was so keyed up that he started before the whistle. The referee issued a caution, and Taylor waited a fraction of a second before he went back to work. He pinned Clarion 165-pounder Michael Pavasko in only 11 seconds, the second-fastest pin in Penn State history.
“Sometimes when you’re wrestling, you don’t even know what’s going on until the match is over,” Taylor said. “That 11-second flurry … before I knew it, the match was over.”
As he has for four years, Ruth matched Taylor—both in result and in excitement. Ruth needed a little longer to get his cradle locked up, and Clarion 184-pounder Dustin Conti managed to wriggle out of Ruth’s grasp just a little, but not enough. Ruth won by fall, too. By comparison, his match took forever—1 minute, 5 seconds.
It was a fitting Rec Hall finale for the duo. Each is already a three-time All-American. Ruth has two NCAA titles; Taylor, a three-time finalist, has one. Taylor has 49 career falls, second on Penn State’s all-time list. Ruth is a notch behind Taylor in third place all-time, with 45 falls. Neither ever lost a dual-meet match, either.
Even their coach, who knows a thing or two both about what it takes to excel and how to entertain wrestling fans, took the time afterward to marvel—just a bit—at their overlapping careers.
“I’m just like the people in the stands—I just enjoy watching them wrestle,” Cael Sanderson said. “There’s a lot of great wrestlers, but not a lot of great wrestlers as fun to watch as those two. Just like anybody else, I appreciate the way they compete. Both of them have been very consistent, using every second of the match to score points with very rare, few exceptions to that throughout their career.
“That’s what makes them great. That’s why people will be talking about these two forever.”
They’ll be talking about Sanderson, too, who has turned Penn State from a traditionally strong program into a powerhouse, winning the past three NCAA titles. He couldn’t have done it without Taylor, who had committed to Iowa State when Sanderson coached there but got a release to follow Sanderson to Penn State, or without Ruth, who had been recruited by former coach Troy Sunderland and who swears he didn’t even know who Sanderson was (“the guy whose name is on my shoes …”) but decided, of course, to stay.
One of the great parts of their final Rec Hall post-match media appearance was how each stayed in character.
Taylor, an earnest perfectionist who’s always made an effort to get the crowd into matches, got emotional again as he recounted his day and stressed how many people he need to thank. Ruth, a free spirit who weathered a suspension earlier this season for DUI, declined to expound on his emotions—“I can’t say it any better than he just did,” he said, looking toward Taylor—but later thanked the media for having “welcoming eyes.”
And Sanderson? He appreciated what had happened, but he wanted more. He thought Taylor’s pin took only five or six seconds; the call was a little late because the official had to get the right angle. He thought the four pins in a row—Taylor, 174-pounder Matt Brown, Ruth, and 197-pounder Morgan MacIntosh—was fine, but noted that the Nittany Lions need four pins in a row at Big Tens and NCAAs, too. And he pointed out that Taylor and Ruth still have room for improvement.
“They both need to continue to make progress if they’re going to win Olympic gold medals,” he said. “That never ends. And they both have that mentality.”
After what Penn State wrestling fans have seen for the past four years, who could doubt that?
(Photo gallery below by Tina Hay.)
Lori Shontz, senior editor
For some people, getting ready for a wrestling match in the Bryce Jordan Center probably meant some changes in routine. The ticket office, for instance, had more than double the number of tickets to sell compared to regular old matches in Rec Hall. And the fire marshal apparently had to determine if enough people to break the NCAA record for dual match attendance could fit safely into the BJC.
For the wrestlers and coaches? No big deal, unless you count weighing in at Rec Hall and then taking vans to the match across campus. “A wrestling mat’s a wrestling mat, wherever it is,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “Whether people are watching you or not, you should be the same person.”
That said, Sunday’s 28-9 victory over Pitt at the BJC was hardly routine.
It did have an NCAA atmosphere, with a the mat on a raised platform (“It makes a pretty sweet sound when you pick the guy up and slam him down on it,” said 184-pounder Wes Phipps, who knows because he did it), the wrestlers being followed by a spotlight as they ran onto the mat, where the Nittany Lions’ names were beamed onto the mat (last names except for Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford, who were apparently too long), and athletic trainer Dan Monthley wearing a tie, the kind of wardrobe adornment he saves for the biggies.
The weather likely kept some fans home—not every seat was filled—but the announced attendance, 15,996, not only broke the NCAA record for a dual-meet crowd (15,955, at a 2008 match between Iowa and Iowa State), but it was also (more…)
Road to Seattle: Senior women’s volleyball players Deja McClendon, Katie Slay, and Ariel Scott began their Penn State careers with a national title—they were freshmen when the Nittany Lions won the last of their four consecutive national titles in 2010. They’re hoping to end their careers in the same way. The Nittany Lions open NCAA tournament play in Rec Hall at 7:30 p.m. tonight against LIU-Brooklyn. The winner of that game will face Yale or Utah, which play tonight at 5, on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are seeded No. 2 overall, and they’re a blast to watch.
Art and football: What is it with Penn State football players and the art world? Former defensive end Matthew Rice is making a name for himself as a mural painter, and now here’s former defensive end Aaron Maybin, whose NFL career never really took off after he left Penn State early in 2009 with an exhibition at Art Basel, a big-deal festival in Miami that’s going on right now. In this video, Maybin discusses the relationship between football and art, saying he gets the “same joy” creating art as he gets from athletic competition, that he believes an artist is “the truest version of a storyteller that still exists,” and that he’s ready to paint when “I’m tormented by an idea.” There’s some adult language, but it’s an interesting conversation. And you can check out some of his work here.
Yoga with Doug: I love that Onward State decided to write about Doug Hayward, teacher of the only Penn State fitness class that has a name attached to it—yes, Yoga With Doug, which is not to be confused with any other yoga classes around here. I was lucky enough to take an on-campus class from Doug a couple of summers ago, and it is truly an experience. I spent half the time in awe of the way he contorted his body (and he didn’t need a mat!) and the other half learning that my body was capable of way more than I’d realized. If you’re in town, you can always check out the offerings at his State College studio, too.
Big stage: One of the cool things about covering Penn State’s wrestling team is the atmosphere in sold-out Rec Hall, which is always packed with fans who know the sport and who can be loud when the occasion calls for it. We’ll see this weekend what that fan base can do in a larger arena—the Bryce Jordan Center, which is sold out for Sunday’s match against Pitt. That’s 15,000 wrestling fans. This also gives me the chance to quote the most entertaining two paragraphs I’ve read this week, from the last item in the weekly notebook by Centre Daily Times wrestling writer Travis Johnson ’09:
“The plan is to have our guys running out like they do at the nationals and just kind of having fun with it,” Sanderson said. “There’s been talk of fireworks and cannons and those kind of things. I’ve kind of lost track of what they’re doing. We talked about it a couple of months ago. I think that’s the plan.”
A Penn State spokesman said pyrotechnics would not likely be used.
The wrestling team is warming up for that spotlight match in an awesome way—competing tonight at Boston University, which is dropping its team at the end of this season. When Sanderson, who’s been an ambassador and advocate for the sport asked the BU coach if there were anything to he could do to help, the coach asked if Penn State could come up and wrestle them. So Penn State is, and it’s hoping the attention will help to save the program.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
News and highlights from Penn State’s weekend sports action.
History, Old and New, at Beaver Stadium: We knew John Cappelletti ’74 and many other members of the undefeated 1973 team would be honored at halftime against Eastern Michigan. We didn’t know Cappy would received the unprecedented honor of having his No. 22 jersey retired. GOPSUSports.com has some terrific video of Cappelletti speaking to the current Lions in the lockerroom after the game.
Daily Collegian columnist John Stuetz has a thoughtful take on the high bar Cappelletti set for other once or future Penn State athletes who might have their jerseys retired.
And speaking of No. 22: The current Lion to wear that number, redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch, had a breakout day on Saturday. Per Cappy’s request, he’ll get to keep his number until he finishes his Penn State career.
Oh, and the game itself? (more…)
So I’m sitting on the back of this bus, rolling through suburban Maryland, listening to a couple of guys talk sports.
In general, I don’t really enjoy listening to other people talk about sports—I abhor the shouting and cliches of sports talk radio, and unless the subject is a team I really care about, I’m probably not interested anyway —but this is a little different. These guys have great stories. These guys know what they’re talking about.
Cael Sanderson and Bill O’Brien spent Thursday morning trading stories as the Penn State Coaches Caravan rolled from Washington, D.C. to Lancaster, and I was lucky enough to be sitting a few feet away. We’ve had a different coaching combination on each leg of the trip—Tuesday it was O’Brien and Pat Chambers, who are famously close, swapping tales about recruiting and rival coaches. Wednesday brought Sanderson to the mix, and with Chambers back home in State College on Thursday, Penn State’s football and wrestling coaches were talking shop.
As a lifelong sports fan, and as a sportswriter for most of my career, I find this all to be very, very cool.
The details are all very much off the record, of course, but what I can tell you is how much fun it’s been to watch these guys interact. There’s such an obvious mutual respect between them, and it comes across most clearly in how they listen to each other. With Sanderson and O’Brien in particular—despite having very different personalities and working in arguably polar opposite sports—you could sense a genuine interest in learning from each other. Since arriving at Penn State, O’Brien has spoken repeatedly of how much he enjoys interacting with his fellow coaches. He pretty clearly means it.
I was bummed to learn that Coquese Washington (who joined the Caravan on Wednesday) and Russ Rose (who arrived in time for the Lancaster stop Thursday morning) wouldn’t actually be on the bus; in both their senses of humor and their coaching acumen, both would have added much to the conversation. As it is, I consider myself lucky to be able to listen in; Penn State fans should consider themselves lucky to have such capable men and women in charge.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
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 only thing we know is that we don’t know anything.
That’s been the smart observer’s mantra regarding Penn State’s search for a new head football coach, a title Tom Bradley ’78, ’86g has held on an interim basis for more than a month. Bradley coached the Nittany Lions in their final three regular season games, and is expected to coach the team at least through its appearance in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2. Beyond that? Virtually no one seems to know anything. Since late November, when the University announced the formation of a search committee to find Joe Paterno’s replacement, the rumors have been torrential—and the actual news non-existent.
Acting athletic director David Joyner ’72, ’76g heads the search committee, and he’s said little publicly about the search. The rare exceptions have been shooting down rumors of interviews or pending hires when asked about them by reporters, or the couple of video Q&As he’s done on GoPSUSports.com. The second of those was posted Thursday, and you can see it below.
The emotions of those following the search range from curious to increasingly panic stricken—one recent post on a Penn State football message board was dedicated to counting the days fans have been “held hostage” waiting for a new coach. In the video, Joyner is asked, essentially, what’s taking so long. His response? “We’re about exactly where I wanted to be at this point in time. We may be conducting our search a little different than other people; not saying they’re not, but we’re being very methodical and precise about what we’re doing and who we’re talking to.”
Joyner also says “We don’t have a lack of people to look at,” and indeed, the list of coaches who, without any confirmation, have been connected to the Penn State job is lengthy. Blue White Illustrated maintains a “hot board” (subscription required) of potential candidates, and essentially every Penn State and national college football writer has dedicated column inches to the speculation. Thursday brought what might’ve been the steadiest stream of rumors that the job had in fact been filled; the fact that the Wikipedia entry for Boise State coach Chris Petersen was briefly tweaked to claim he’d been hired by Penn State only added to the lunacy.
What seems clear is that Joyner and the rest of the committee are focused less on soothing the curiosity (or panic) of fans than they are making the right hire. When, and how, that happens remains anyone’s guess, but we’ll end with one fact we find instructive: The more informed media speculation has focused on Joyner and fellow committee member Ira Lubert ’73 as the key figures in this search. That matters (or seems to) because Joyner and Lubert—former Nittany Lion wrestling teammates—are widely credited with convincing Cael Sanderson to leave his alma mater and take over the Penn State wrestling program. Sanderson, of course, is the biggest name in collegiate wrestling, and he led the Lions to a national title last spring.
Is there a comparable hire for the Penn State football job? Probably not. But there is a right one, and in Joyner and Lubert, there’s a precedent for finding it.
Ryan Jones, senior editor