One legend returns, one retires while another passes away.
A coach goes from the capital to the plains.
An NCAA finalist transfers. A Division II legend finds a new home.
And starting this fall, mat officials will be asked to put into action a handful of rules changes.
Although there really never is an offseason in collegiate athletics, it seems the grapplers have been a extra busy since Penn State won the 2011 NCAA championship in Philadelphia.
Seven years removed
Although Cael Sanderson, one of just two four-time NCAA Division I champions, has been a hands-on coach for the Nittany Lions, the 32-year-old had been out of competition since winning a gold medal in freestyle at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Rumors swirled about a possible comeback after Sanderson competed in a freestyle tournament, paying off a bet to his team after telling them he would wrestle if they won the Big Ten title. In early June, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Okla. The next day, 70 miles to the south, he weighed in to compete in the 185-pound bracket at the U.S. World Team Trials in Oklahoma City.
The NCAA and Olympic champion and coach of the 2011 NCAA team champion battled his way through Raymond Jordan in an early test then beat Chris Pendleton, former pupil Jon Reader and 2009 World silver medalist Jake Herbert in a best-of-three final.
“After last year’s World (Championships) I was just kind of thinking, ‘What am I doing this summer?’ ” said Sanderson after his Trials victory. “I could have been a little more disciplined, a little more focused and I could have just wrestled. There is plenty of time in the day to add a little bit more and I really thought hard about it.
“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 (the video game) “Call of Duty” or be a little more focused and try and wrestle again.”
Jake Varner, coached by Sanderson for three seasons at Iowa State, earned the U.S. spot at 211 pounds. After winning his second NCAA title in 2010 to finish his collegiate career, Varner moved to Pennsylvania to train with his friend and former coach. Varner wasn’t surprised by Sanderson’s successful return.
“I train with him almost every day and he’s still as tough as always,” Varner said. “I knew he was thinking about coming back but I really didn’t know for sure.”
Jordan Burroughs completed his collegiate career in March, winning a second national title for Nebraska. He beat Wisconsin’s Andrew Howe, who will be senior in 2010-11, in the 163-pound freestyle final at the Trials.
Those who knew Doug Blubaugh, a national champion for Oklahoma State and Olympic gold medalist in 1960, knew someone who was in every sense of the word, a “wrestler.”
A Ponca City, Okla., native was killed at the age of 76 when the motorcycle he was riding was hit by a truck in May.
“Doug Blubaugh was a true Oklahoma State wrestling hero,” said current OSU head coach John Smith of the 1979 inductee into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
After his competitive career ended, Blubaugh coached at Indiana for 10 years and served as an assistant at Michigan State for seven years.
Another popular member of the wrestling community, Lindsay Durlacher, passed away in his sleep the first week of June. The Illinois product was an NCAA finalist and won a bronze medal in Greco-Roman at the 2006 World Championships.
Speaking of changes
In May the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved changes in a handful of areas. The granting of an escape, interpretation of stalling, injury timeouts and video review during tournaments will all have a different look. Perhaps the most influential could be the change for non-bleeding injury timeouts.
After a first non-bleeding timeout the opponent will be awarded a choice of position. Timeout No. 2 results in a point to the opponent while No. 3 results in termination of the bout with the opponent winning by injury default.
Coaches, committee members, fans and all involved hope the new rule will eliminate the infamous “lung” timeouts taken by tired wrestlers. Expect an argument or two during the transition period.
Mark Cody, considered by many to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the country, will take the reigns from longtime coach Jack Spates in Norman, Okla., as the head of the Oklahoma Sooners. Cody led American University to a fifth-place finish at the 2011 NCAA Championships and will lead a Sooner team coming off a 15th-place showing in Spates’ final campaign. Spates retired after 18 seasons at OU.
Cody served as an assistant at Oklahoma State before becoming head coach at American. An old friendship is certainly to be tested.
New Division I coaches will also be on the sidelines at American (Teague Moore), Cal Poly (Brendan Buckley), Columbia (Carl Fronhofer), Drexel (Matt Azevedo), North Dakota State (Roger Kish) and Northern Illinois (Ryan Ludwig). Clarion, Sacred Heart and George Mason have yet to name head coaches for the upcoming season.
One of the top coaches in Division III retired when College of New Jersey’s David Icenhower announced in June he would not return for a 36th season. Icenhower was one of only four coaches at any level to surpass 500 dual victories, going 535-80-4 to rank third all-time. His Lions won five national championships, including four during the 1980s.
Mike Denney, longtime coach of Division II powerhouse Nebraska-Omaha, quickly got back in the saddle after UNO dropped the sport of wrestling on the same day the Mavericks won a third consecutive national team championship in March.
Maryville, located in Missouri, announced it was starting a program wrestling and hired Denney.
Former Oklahoma State assistant Mark Cody wearing crimson and cream isn’t the only news around Oklahoma.
Tyler Caldwell, a two-time All-American and finalist in 2011, has transferred to Nebraska where he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Former George Mason 197 pounder Cale Byers, who originally was set to transfer to Iowa, is now headed to Oklahoma State. The two-time NCAA qualifier has one season of eligibility remaining and is expected to replace 2011 NCAA finalist Clayton Foster in the Cowboy lineup. Blake Rosholt, a 285 pounder in 2010-11, may have something to say about that, however.
Minus one, plus three
The Southern Conference will have a new look in 2011-12. After losing UNC-Greensboro – the program dropped wrestling after the 2010-11 campaign – the league will add Gardner-Webb, Campbell and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville as associate members for the upcoming season. SIU-Edwardsville is in the final year of its transition from Division II to DI. The Cougars won three consecutive DII team championships from 1984 to 1986.
Times they are a changing
For the second time in three years and the second time since 2000, the United States freestyle team does not include a former Oklahoma State or Iowa wrestler. The squad competes in the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, this September. Three times since 2000 – 2003, 2004 and 2007 – the U.S. contingent included a combined four former Hawkeyes and Cowboys.
Two former Iowa State Cyclones are among the seven representatives this year – Cael Sanderson and Jake Varner. Varner was a two-time NCAA champion (2009 and ’10) and was coached by Sanderson for his first three seasons on the Cyclones’ varsity squad.
One weight class — 132 pounds — is still undecided. New USA Wrestling rules have Reece Humphrey, a former Ohio State All-American, and Shawn Bunch, a member of the 2010 U.S. Team and former Edinboro star, set to compete overseas with the higher placer earning a ticket to Istanbul. Humphrey beat Bunch in the World Team Trials final.