Sanderson wins like no other
Former Iowa State standout posts undefeated collegiate record
When asked about great student-athletes, coaches or teams, many fans might think of UCLA men’s basketball, Syracuse’s Ernie Davis, USC men’s tennis, Notre Dame football or Pat Summit’s incredible run as the Tennessee women’s basketball coach. Most fans would consider winning a national championship a huge success, while repeat national titles would etch their team into the greatest of record books.
Yet, through all this talk of success, wins and championships there is a figure that is often not mentioned, a former student-athlete who achieved the unthinkable, and a current coach who continues to taste victory. The aforementioned former student-athlete and current coach are one in the same -- as Cael Sanderson has transitioned from an incredible run through the Division I wrestling ranks to a successful coaching career in the same arena.
The statistics are impressive: four-time conference champion, four-time All American, four-time national champion, and most noteworthy of all, an overall record of 159-0 -- the first wrestler to finish as a four-time undefeated national champion. As outspoken as the numbers are, Sanderson is modest about his success, and immediately credits his “family, coaches, and numerous workout partners” for helping him achieve perfection.
He is also quick to point out that his collegiate career didn’t start out as one destined for greatness.
“I redshirted my first year at Iowa State and during that year I competed in an open tournament unattached and got beat pretty good,” Sanderson said. “I never wanted to feel like I did after that match ever again. I began training differently, I altered my mindset on the mat, and it all came together in a perfect storm with Coach [Bobby] Douglas’ coaching and workouts.”
Sanderson began his career at Iowa State wrestling at 184 pounds. He won three individual national championships at that weight before moving up to 197 pounds his senior year, where he again took home the national crown.
Sanderson continued to achieve the impossible as he finished his wrestling career by adding an individual Olympic gold medal to his collection in 2004.
Upon graduating from Iowa State in 2002, Sanderson moved outside the circle and began coaching, where again he found immediate success. After leading the Cyclones to three consecutive Big 12 conference titles and an NCAA runner-up finish between 2007-09, Sanderson took over as head wrestling coach at Penn State, where he lead the Nittany Lions to the 2011 national title in only his second year as the head coach.
Most fans can name a great player, a championship team or a winning coach. Yet, Sanderson doesn't always come up in the conversation even though he can claim to be all three -- the winningest wrestler in NCAA history, a member of five NCAA championships and a successful head coach.