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Sanderson's Lions head to Madison Square Garden, seeking fifth title in last six years
Retherford, Nickal, McIntosh claim Big Ten crowns as well
Always a fierce competitor on the mat during his days earning three All-America honors as a Nittany Lion wrestler, Sunderland has established his intense presence at the helm of the Penn State program. With success on a national level established last year, Sunderland and the Penn State wrestling program are now riding a wave of excitement that includes the completion of one of the nation's finest training facilities in 2006 and a continuance of their upward climb on the national scene. Penn State has also seen its home attendance spike under Sunderland's guidance. Penn State, which welcomed over 5,600 fans to its win over Iowa in 2006 and over 4,000 for two different duals last year, averaged over 3,100 fans per home dual match in 2007-08. The figure was fourth nationally.
Named the Nittany Lions 11th head coach on July 30, 1998, Sunderland's disciplined, enthusiastic and dedicated personality have made an indelible mark on the program. Last year, Penn State crowned yet another national champion and had four All-Americans on its way to a stellar third place finish at the NCAA Championships. Phil Davis claimed the title at 197, Bubba Jenkins was National Runner-Up at 149, Dan Vallimont was third at 157 and Mark McKnight was fourth at 125. Sunderland has now coached 25 All-Americans. Penn State went 14-5 overall, was 5-3 in the Big Ten and ended the year ranked No. 6 in dual meet rankings.
In 2007, Penn State crowned three All-Americans in senior Aaron Anspach, Davis and sophomore Jake Strayer. Anspach was a national finalist at HWT (Sunderland's eighth). Penn State went 14-5 overall, including two shut-outs. The Lions finished tied for third in the Big Ten regular season at 5-3 and were once again fourth at the Big Ten Tournament.
In 2006, Penn State was 13-4, went 5-3 in conference duals and had three All-Americans, including Davis as a national finalist and a Big Ten Champion. The 2005 season saw Sunderland bring home two All-Americans, while Eric Bradley claimed his second-straight Big Ten title. In 2004, Sunderland guided a pair of Nittany Lions (Pat Cummins and Josh Moore) to the NCAA finals and Bradley to a Big Ten title. The Lions also posted a 14-5 dual meet record.
The Nittany Lions exceeded all expectations during the 2003 campaign charging to a third-place Big Ten Championship finish and a sixth place NCAA finish. A Big Ten Champion in Scott Moore (141), eight NCAA qualifiers, seven men placing above fourth in all, helped Penn State to a 111.5 Big Ten team score and a strong challenge of champion Minnesota (126.4) and Iowa (121). Sunderland was named the 2003 Big Ten Coach of the Year for the effort, but the Lions weren't done there. They also stormed through the NCAA Championships garnering four All-Americans (tied for third-best in the nation) and a sixth-place team finish, the team's highest in five years.
Perhaps no event symbolized Sunderland's blue collar, anything is possible approach and ability to get the most out of his athletes more than the emergence of unheralded former walk-on Doc Vecchio as an All-American in 2002. Vecchio, in his third season in the program, came out of nowhere to claim third at the Big Ten Championships, eighth at the NCAA Championships and lead Penn State in nearly every category.
Sunderland followed up his excellent coaching with some top notch recruiting with his 2002 crop marking his second to be ranked in the top three in the nation by several publications.
Named the 1999 "Rookie Coach of the Year" by Amateur Wrestling News, Sunderland got his tenure off to a quick start guiding Penn State to a 12-5 dual meet mark and No. 10 ranking in the final AWN Dual Team Poll, despite multiple injuries and the loss of key personnel. He made his mark on the wrestling coaching landscape with his fiery leadership of the Nittany Lions in the post-season.
Not expected to challenge for the title in the 1999 Big Ten and NCAA tournament races, Sunderland inspired his troops to unexpected heights. Penn State first captured third place at the Big Ten Tournament and qualified nine men for the NCAA Tournament. Then, with Sunderland's mat-side enthusiasm inspiring the hometown fans into a frenzied roar, Penn State jumped into the lead on the third day of the NCAA championships before settling for a fourth-place tie with Iowa State, just 22 points behind eventual champion Iowa in one of the closest races in history. "Everything is at stake, essentially, during the post-season," Sunderland said of his team's effort. "We want to win it so badly as a coaching staff because we came so close when we were undergrads and we want to see these guys win it. We want it so bad we can taste it."
Sunderland's first squad garnered two Big Ten champions, four All-Americans, three NCAA finalists and one NCAA champion in senior Glenn Pritzlaff. It was "just a pretty good start" according to Sunderland.
"Everything we've said to recruits and we say to the team is we don't want to finish second or third," Sunderland said. "That's not going to be good enough. We want guys that want to come in here and bust their butt with desire and intensity to win it all, because that's where it comes from." His 2000 squad followed up with a pair of All-Americans and his second NCAA champion in 125-pounder Jeremy Hunter.
A two-time NCAA finalist and team captain, Sunderland's appointment to succeed his own coach, John Fritz, booked his return to `Happy Valley.' He first solidified his reputation in the shadow of Mount Nittany as a fierce competitor and consummate sportsman as a Nittany Lion wrestler and coach from 1988-95. He had served as assistant wrestling coach at the U.S. Naval Academy for the two prior seasons.
His stamp quickly became imprinted as his intensity and dedication energized the practice room and his first crop of recruits was unanimously ranked among the top three in the nation.
"We need to be able to get and keep quality kids," Sunderland said. "It's all about getting the kids motivated to step in, do a good job and be leaders. That's how the program grows. As long as my wrestlers give 100 percent each and every time out there, I'm satisfied." A native of McVeytown, Pa., Sunderland knows about succeeding at the highest level. As one of an elite group of 16 Nittany Lions to earn All-America honors three times, he claimed runner-up honors at 150 pounds in 1992 and 1993 and helped lead Penn State to three-straight top three NCAA team finishes. He was selected Outstanding Wrestler of the 1993 Big Ten Championships, Penn State's first as a member of the conference, when he won the 150-pound title, defeating top-ranked Terry Steiner of Iowa in the championship bout.
Sunderland posted a 13-4 record in NCAA competition, also claiming fourth in 1991. During Penn State's affiliation with the Eastern Wrestling League, he claimed the league's 150-pound championship in 1992 and was runner-up at 142 pounds in 1991. In his wrestling career, he racked up 100 victories, ranking him among the Nittany Lions' top 25 all-time leaders, but perhaps is best remembered for his leadership and sportsmanlike conduct on and off the mat that endeared him to Nittany Lion fans and opponents.
After completing his undergraduate career by helping lead Penn State to a second-place finish in the 1993 NCAA Championships (Penn State's highest since 1955), Sunderland joined Fritz's coaching staff as a volunteer assistant in September of 1993.
In October of 1996, Sunderland was appointed assistant wrestling coach at the U.S. Naval Academy were he worked with head coach Reg Wicks. He helped to develop the first wrestling All-American at Navy in three years and also contributed to the Midshipmen's highly-successful program by actively recruiting many of the squad's top student-athletes.
A graduate of Mount Union High School, Sunderland owns National Championships in Cadet, Junior, Espoir and University age group competitions. He placed seventh in the 1998 U.S. Open Freestyle Championships at 152 pounds. As a scholastic wrestler, he was a two-time Pennsylvania state champion at 145 pounds.
In addition to a bachelor of science degree in earth science (`93), Sunderland has completed considerable credit toward a master's degree in environmental pollution control. He is married to the former JoAnn Myers and has three children: Colton, Mallory and Olivia.