Utah legend Cael Sanderson leads Penn State to third-straight NCAA title
Utah wrestling legend Cael Sanderson led his Penn State Nittany Lions to another NCAA championship. Penn State's head coach, who won four state championships during a storied career at Wasatch High, presided over the Nittany Lions during their successful meet last weekend at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.
It wasn’t as easy this time around as Oklahoma State pushed the Nittany Lions to the limit.
Penn State came into the championship round just three points ahead of the Cowboys and looked to another native Utahn, Matt Brown, who prepped at Cyprus High, to clinch the team title with a win at 174 pounds in the very first match of the championship finals.
However, Brown was defeated in overtime by Oklahoma State's Chris Perry. Tied in regulation at 1-1, both wrestlers failed to secure takedowns in the sudden-victory portion. However, Perry rode out Brown while the Cowboy was able to escape the Nittany Lion grappler to earn a tough 2-1 victory.
The Cowboy lead was short-lived, however, as Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright won back-to-back titles at 184 and 197 pounds, respectively, for Penn State, clinching the team title. Penn State finished with 123.5 points — just four points ahead of Oklahoma State with 119.5 points. Minnesota placed third with 103 points while Iowa, despite having the tournament hosted in its own backyard, was a distant fourth with 73 points.
In the most-anticipated match of the night, Cornell’s Kyle Dake defeated Penn State’s David Taylor 5-4 in a bout at 165 pounds. Both Dake and Taylor were returning NCAA champs. But the real story was Dake, who was not only gunning for his fourth NCAA title, but be the first ever to win four titles in four different weight classes.
Because the match featured two returning champions — with one on the precipice of making history — ESPN and the NCAA tournament committee agreed to make this match the last match of the 10-bout championship finals.
Sanderson was hoping that his wrestler Taylor would stop Dake from joining him and Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith as the only other four-time NCAA champions, but Dake was able to overcame a 2-0 deficit with two escapes, a second-period takedown an riding-time point.
Utah's presence in this year's tournament didn't start or stop with Sanderson and Brown, as two of the 20 NCAA finalists hailed from Utah.
Former Springville four-time state wrestling champion Jason Chamberlain fell short of his dream of becoming an NCAA champion, as he was defeated by Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver 3-1 in the 149-pound championship final.
Both wrestlers earned escapes, but Oliver secured a takedown with just over 10 seconds left in the third and final round to defeat Boise State's Chamberlain. Oliver went into the tournament as the top seed with an unblemished record and had not given up a takedown during the entire season.
As for Utah Valley University, the Wolverines finished in 46th place — with 4.5 points — out of the 72 teams with participating wrestlers. Josh Wilson (149 pounds) went 2-2 for UVU while teammates Jade Rauser (125) went 1-2 and Adam Fager (285) went 0-2.
Two other wrestlers with Utah ties also competed in the event.
Iowa’s Ethen Lofthouse (184) placed fifth for the Hawkeyes and was tripped up by Cornell's Steve Bosak 4-1 in the quarterfinals. Lofthouse, who prepped and won four state titles for Mountain Crest, then won three of four consolation matches to nail down a fifth-place finish.
Wyoming’s McCade Ford (141), a former state champion at Payson, went 1-2 for the Cowboys.
Brian E. Preece is the former head wrestling coach at Provo HS from 1994-2006. In the 2005-06 season he was named as the Utah Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and he regularly publishes stories on Utah prep athletics.