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Penn State Grapplers Captures first National Championship since ’53

Submitted by on March 22, 2011No Comment

When Cael Sanderson was introduced 2 years ago as Penn State’s next wrestling head coach in front of the 500 student and fans who had packed Rec Hall to welcome the wrestling legend, he vowed to turn Penn State into a wrestling powerhouse. But considering that the program’s last and only national championship was in 1953, the idea of Penn State suddenly becoming a wrestling powerhouse was ludicrous especially when they still haven’t won a Big Ten championship since joining the league over 2 decades ago.

1: Penn State 107.5
2: Cornell 93.5
3: Iowa 86.5
4: Oklahoma State 70.5
5: American 65.0
6: Arizona State 62.5
7: Minnesota 61.0
8: Lehigh 58.5
9: Boise State 57.5
10: Wisconsin 54.5

But unlike Penn State’s wrestling coaches in the past, this time it felt different. Hiring Sanderson alone had sent fan optimism through the roof. As an athlete, Sanderson was phenomenal, racking up an undefeated 159-0 record wrestling for Iowa State including an Olympic Gold medal. As a coach, he was just as sensational. Sanderson never had a wrestler not qualify for nationals, sending 30 of 30 grapplers through to the championship tournament and his teams never finished lower than 5th at the NCAA Championships. If he could do it at Iowa State, fans knew he could surely replicate that success here at Penn State especially with all that high school wrestling talent available within the state itself.

But just how long would it take Cael Sanderson to coach the Nittany Lions to the promised land? After all, it’s been 58 years since Penn State became the first program outside the Midwest to win the coveted wrestling championship and 4 different coaches have failed in their attempts to bring home the title since.

And as the confetti fell amidst the roars of “We Are… Penn State” reverberating inside sold out Wells Fargo Center and the Nittany Lions hoisting that coveted wooden plaque above their heads, it’s downright shocking to consider that it only took 2 years. Cael Sanderson managed to accomplish what 4 different coaches in 58 years couldn’t in just his second season at Penn State.

Just when you thought expectations were already set too high, Sanderson and his 2011 wrestling team knocked it out of the park by capturing Penn State’s first ever Big Ten Title, a feat that eluded his predecessors John Fritz and Troy Sunderland on their way to winning Penn State’s second National Championship just 200 miles away in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center dominating wrestling powers Cornell and Iowa in the process. In fact, Penn State secured the team title even before the championship rounds began.

Eight Lions qualified for the NCAA Championships this past weekend finishing with a 29-10 overall record, collecting 16.5 bonus points from six pins, three majors and a tech fall that helped propel Penn State to the team title. 9-seed Quentin Wright also captured the 184-lb title upsetting 3 higher seeded opponents including top seeded Chris Honeycutt (Edinboro) on the way to the title. Wright joins four other Penn State wrestlers (Andrew Long, Ed Ruth, Frank Molinaro, and David Taylor) in being named All-Americans. Penn State’s five All-Americans marks the most for Penn State in one year since 1998 when the team also had five.

Wrestled above seed:

157: 3-seed David Taylor (finished 2nd)
184: 9-seed Quentin Wright (National Champion)

Wrestled to seed:

133: 3-seed Andrew Long (finished 3rd)
149: 2-seed Frank Molinaro (finished 2nd)
125: unseeded Brad Pataky
141: unseeded Andrew Alton

Wrestled below seed:

174: 2-seed Ed Ruth (finished 3rd)
285: 9-seed Cameron Wade

Congratulations to Cael Sanderson and the 2011 Penn State wrestling squad for capturing Penn State’s first Big Ten Title and 2nd National Championship.

Photo Credit: Mark Selders
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