On April 17, 2009, Penn State named national wrestling legend Cael Sanderson as Penn State's 12th head wrestling coach on that day and immediately the nation looked East. As Sanderson left his alma mater of Iowa State and moved himself, his staff and three families to Happy Valley, the nation's high school wrestlers took notice and a roomful of already dedicated Nittany Lion grapplers smiled, cheered and geared up for a new direction in Penn State wrestling.
A career begun in the Midwest...
Then just 29 years old, Sanderson came to Penn State after three extremely successful years as the head coach at his alma mater. Sanderson's teams did not finish any lower than fifth at the NCAA Championships and he never had a wrestler not qualify for nationals, getting 30 of 30 grapplers through to the championship tournament.
After graduating from ISU in 2002, Sanderson spent 2003 and 2004 as a special assistant in the athletic department at Iowa State before joining the ISU coaching staff as an assistant coach in 2004-05. He was promoted to the assistant head coach position the next year and then became the Cyclones' head coach for the 2006-07 season.
In 2007, Sanderson's rookie campaign, he led ISU to a 13-3 dual meet record and the first of three straight Big 12 Championships. An NCAA Runner-Up finish in Detroit capped off a wildly successful year as the Cyclones crowned one national champion and Sanderson was honored as Big 12 Coach of the Year, National Rookie Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year. The next year, Sanderson led ISU to a 16-4 dual meet mark, another Big 12 title and a fifth place finish at nationals. Iowa State's seven All-Americans in 2008 were the most at the school since 1993.
In 2009, Sanderson's team went 15-3 in duals, won its third straight Big 12 title and took third place at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis (just 12 points out of first place). The Cyclones also crowned another national champion. In three years at Iowa State, Sanderson's teams went 44-10, won three conference crowns, qualified all 30 wrestlers for nationals, and earned 15 All-America awards and two individual national titles.
A move East and a rapid ascent...
His first season at Penn State was extremely successful. Sanderson led Penn State to a 13-6-1 dual meet record, much improved over the prior year's 8-12-2 mark. After a year outside the top ten, Sanderson led the Lions back to their place among the nation's elite with a ninth place finish at the NCAA Championships and a No. 10 final dual meet ranking from the NWCA Coaches. Sanderson picked up three more All-Americans (including a national finalist) and a Big Ten Champion (in younger brother Cyler Sanderson).
In 2010-11, Sanderson reached the pinnacle of the collegiate coaching mountain by guiding Penn State through a stunning season filled with records, championships and memories that thrilled the Penn State faithful. Sanderson led the Nittany Lions to their first-ever Southern Scuffle Co-Championship (2010-11) and first Virginia Duals Championship since 1991 (2010-11). In guiding Penn State to a 6-1-1 conference mark, Sanderson equaled the most Big Ten dual meet wins in Penn State history in just his second year at the helm of the Nittany Lions (Penn State won six Big Ten duals in 1998).
He led Penn State to the school's first ever Big Ten Championship on March 5-6 and was named 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year. He becomes the first coach in NCAA history to be named both the Big Ten and Big 12 Coach of the Year. Saving the best for last, he led the Nittany Lions to the 2011 NCAA National Championship in Philadelphia on March 17-19, Penn State's first since 1953 and Sanderson's first as a collegiate head coach.
This year, Sanderson led Penn State to a 13-1 dual mark including a school record 7-1 Big Ten dual record and a share of the 2012 Big Ten dual meet championship. Sanderson then made it two in a row by leading Penn State to the 2012 Big Ten Championship at Purdue on March 3-4 and was named 2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year, earning the honor for the second straight season. Two weeks later, Sanderson led Penn State to a second straight NCAA crown, helping Penn State to become just the fourth team in NCAA history to win back-to-back titles.
In three years as Penn State's coach, Sanderson has led the Nittany Lions to two-straight conference titles, two straight national titles, collected 14 All-Americans, three national champions, two Gorriaran winners, one NCAA tourney OW and one Hodge Trophy winner.
Coach Sanderson now sports a 87-18-2 dual meet mark after five years as a collegiate head coach. He is 43-8-2 after his third year at Penn State. In all, Sanderson has coached 29 All-Americans in just six years as a head coach, including six national champions (two at ISU and four at PSU). He has qualified 53 of 60 wrestlers for the NCAA Championships.
A coaching career born of the most storied collegiate wrestling career ever...
As a wrestler, Sanderson established himself as the most dominant collegiate competitor in NCAA history. In four years, Sanderson never lost. From 1999-2002, Sanderson posted a 159-0 career record (going 39-0, 40-0, 40-0 and 40-0); won four individual National Championships; won four Most Outstanding Wrestler awards at the NCAA Championships (the only wrestler in NCAA history to do so); became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the O.W. honor and won three Dan Hodge Trophies as the nation's best collegiate wrestler (also a collegiate first). He wrestled his first three years at 184 and then moved to 197 as a senior.
The four-time All-American's four-year streak of perfection was called the No. 2 most outstanding achievement in collegiate sports history by Sports Illustrated and the NCAA called his final win (in the 2002 NCAA 197-pound championship) one of the NCAA's "25 Defining Moments" for its Centennial celebration. His wrestling career culminated in 2004 when the Heber City, Utah, native won the 84 kg Olympic Gold Medal in Athens, Greece.
A freestyle return to the world stage...
Sanderson surprised the wrestling world in late March of 2011, just a week after guiding Penn State to the 2011 NCAA Championship, when the Nittany Lion mentor returned to freestyle competition at the Brockport Open in Brockport, N.Y. Sanderson had promised his Penn State team prior to the 2011 Big Ten Championships that if his squad won the school's first-ever Big Ten crown, he'd make the drive north to Brockport and wrestle in the tournament. The Lions obliged by winning the 2011 title and Sanderson returned to the mat as a competitor for the first time since winning the 2004 84 kg Gold Medal in Athens.
But Sanderson's freestyle summer was not done. He ended weeks of national speculation in early June when, just days after being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., he took to the mats in Oklahoma City at the 2011 USA Wrestling World Team Trials. Sanderson first won the challenge bracket at 84 kg and then won two straight in the finals over former Northwestern champ Jake Herbert.
Sanderson's win in Oklahoma City earned him one of seven spots on Team USA's roster for the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in September. He was joined on that roster by two other Nittany Lion Wrestling Club champions, Teyon Ware and Jake Varner (giving the vaunted NLWC three of the United States' seven entries at the World Championships).
Cody Sanderson is heading into his fourth season as the associate head coach of the Penn State wrestling program. Sanderson, who played a major role in the Iowa State wrestling program's rapid ascent as Big 12 powerhouse and NCAA team title contender, is the oldest brother of Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson and a former head coach himself. He is in his 12th year as a collegiate coach.
Cody served as associate head coach at Iowa State during brother Cael's three-year run as mentor of the Cyclones. Prior to joining Cael in Ames, Cody was the head coach at Utah Valley State (now Utah Valley University), where he started the school's wrestling program from scratch in 2003. Sanderson's efforts helped create the nation's first Division I wrestling program started from scratch in 30 years. Prior to beginning the program at UVSC, Cody served as administrative assistant at Iowa State from 2001-2003.
As an athlete, Sanderson was a two-time national finalist at 133 pounds, advancing to the NCAA title bout in 1999 in the Bryce Jordan Center and in 2000 in St. Louis. He ended his stellar Cyclone career with 116 wins, including a 33-3 mark his senior year. He also claimed the Big 12 title as a senior and helped spur ISU to a National Runner-Up finish at the NCAA Championships in 2000.
Sanderson graduated from Iowa State in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in pre-medicine. His wife, Sarah, was a standout gymnast at Iowa State and the couple has three children (sons Kade and Mason and daughter Tylar Ann).
Casey Cunningham is in his fourth year on the Penn State Nittany Lion wrestling staff. Named head assistant coach by Cael Sanderson in April of 2009, Casey is in his 13th as a collegiate coach.
Cunningham served as Cael Sanderson's head assistant coach at Iowa State as well. Prior to his one-year stint in Ames, he was head assistant coach at Central Michigan for seven years (2001-2008). During his tenure at CMU, he helped lead 18 Chippewas to All-American honors and 35 Mid-American titles. During Cunningham's last season as an assistant, Central Michigan finished seventh at the 2008 NCAA Championships. CMU dominated the MAC during Cunningham's time with the Chippewas, winning the last 10 regular season championships (including all seven during his run as an assistant).
As a wrestler, Cunningham is among Central Michigan's all-time greats. He capped off his collegiate career in 1999 by winning the 157-pound title in the Bryce Jordan Center, earning the school's first Division I national title and only the second individual title in school history in any sport. The two-time All-American (he was national runner-up in 1998) won three MAC championships (1996, 1997 and 1999) and was twice named MAC Wrestler of the Year (1998 and 1999). Cunningham finished his Chippewa career with a 134-19 record. An accomplished international competitor, Cunningham won the 2008 Pan American Games silver medal and was two time U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials runner-up. An outstanding student, Cunningham was a four-time NWCA Academic All-American.
Cunningham earned his bachelor's degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice from CMU in 1999. His wife, Tara (Nott), is an Olympic champion, having won the gold medal in weight lifting at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The couple has three sons, Hayden, Asher and Ryder and a daughter, Saige.
Former Iowa State All-American Nick Fanthorpe makes the move over from resident athlete with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club to Assistant Coach (volunteer). Fanthorpe is in his first season as a collegiate coach, taking the place of former Lion All-American Aaron Anspach.
Fanthorpe had a stellar career at Iowa State. During his four year career in Ames, Fanthorpe wrestled three for current Lion mentor Cael Sanderson. The Naperville, Ill., native left Ames with a 94-29 career record, including a 32-6 mark as a sophomore. That year, 2007-08, Fanthorpe placed seventh at NCAAs to become a Cyclone All-American.
He was a two-time Big 12 Champion as well and a three time Academic All-Big 12 first teamer. An outstanding student-athlete, Fanthorpe won Iowa State's Total Commitment Award four straight years, winning in 2007, 08, 09 and 10.
Fanthorpe is married to the former Erin Witte, who serves as Penn State Wrestling's office manager. He graduated from Iowa State in 2010 with a degree in Community and Regional Planning.
Former Nittany Lion wrestler Adam Lynch is heading into his second season as Director of Operations for Penn State. Lynch was a member of Penn State's 2011 Big Ten and NCAA Championship team.
Lynch ended his Penn State career as one of the team's leaders, coming back for a fifth year to continue the work of building a championship. As a junior in Sanderson's first season (2009-10), Lynch went 13-13 overall but posted a superb 6-2 record in Big Ten duals. He debuted in the national rankings at 141 in February of that year. During his final season in 2010-11, Lynch went 7-3 with three pins. Over the course of his career, Lynch posted a 46-38 overall record, an 8-8 dual meet mark (6-3 in Big Ten action), had nine pins and 34 dual meet points.
Lynch received his bachelors of science in kinesiology in the movement science option in December of 2010 and is currently working towards a graduate degree in sports management and sports administration. He is a native of Mifflinburg, Pa.