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Penn State Wrestling: Utah Valley Dual Marks a Homecoming for the Brothers Sanderson

by on February 09, 2012 10:11 AM

When Penn State wrestles Utah Valley Saturday night in Orem, Utah, it will be more than just the final road trip of the regular season for the co-Big Ten champion Nittany Lions.

It also will be a homecoming for head coach Cael Sanderson and his younger brother Cody, both of whom grew up in Utah and began their wrestling careers there.

“Obviously, Utah is near and dear to my heart, 'cause I grew up there wrestling,” Cael Sanderson said. " ... All of our family is still in Utah, including my parents, so there could be 50 Sandersons in the stands on Saturday.”

Utah Valley is a growing program that sits at 5-7 on the season and is led by 149-pounder Josh Wilson, who is the only ranked wrestler for the Wolverines, at 14th

“I’m just excited to get out there, and basically give Utah Valley an opportunity to compete with Penn State. And they’ve really been making some great gains and a lot of improvement out there,” associate head coach Cody Sanderson said.

If anyone would know the status of the Wolverines program, it would certainly be Cody.

After assisting Cael for two years at Iowa State, Cody Sanderson left the program to become the first head coach of the wrestling program at Utah Valley State, now known as Utah Valley University, in 2003.

After their mandatory five year NCAA Division I provision period ended, which barred them from post-season competition, the Wolverines sent a trio of wrestlers to the NCAA tournament in their first year of eligibility in 2009, and earned their first All-American in 125-pounder Ben Kjar a year ago. That comes as no surprise to Cody, though.

“When I left, I had hoped they’d be to the point where they would have seven or eight guys in the NCAA tournament, and an All-American or two, and they’re right on track,” Cody Sanderson said.

Penn State will pay its own travel and hotel expenses for the trip, a rare occurrence as a prominent program travels to a relatively unknown one. But Cael believes that to grow the sport of wrestling, logistics like that have to become more normal, he said.

“As coaches at Penn State, we have to put ourselves in their shoes, and he’s (Cody) been at a program and he knows what they need,” Cael Sanderson said.

“And what they need is people to come in there and give them dual meets, and that’s the best thing we can do to help them,” he added.

But don’t mistake Cael for disrespecting the Wolverine program, because that certainly isn’t the case.

“It doesn’t mean that’s they’re not a great team, and we have to go in there and wrestle 'cause they’re getting better every year," he said. "But they need people to come in there and wrestle them, 'cause they don’t have anyone nearby.”

As for the Lions themselves, the team had a non-practice day on Tuesday in which wrestlers just hit the weight room, and senior heavyweight Cameron Wade said he trusts the plan the coaches have in place.

“We just know the coaches have the right plan for us, and they’re probably taking the day as more of a lifting and recovery day for us," Wade said. "And they know what they’re doing, so I just follow the plan.”

Defending national champion Quentin Wright said the team isn’t looking at the match as a break from the rigorous Big Ten schedule it has faced in the second half of the season. Rather, he said, Penn State wrestlers sees it as an opportunity to improve on little areas that they believe will help them become conference and national champions.

“We’re just going to keep rolling. It’s the home stretch, we’re coming around third base, and it’s that time of the year to just pour it on,” 184-pounder Quentin Wright said.

“‘We’re pretty solid, but maybe we are at 75 percent right now, but we have another 25 percent to go to top that off," Wright said. " ... It’s just knowing what to do in little situations, and knowing how to manage the match and points you have. And they’re the little things we just need to tweak down the final stretch.”

The dual is set for a 9 p.m. EST start, and will be broadcast locally and online by UVU TV, which can be found at Managing Editor William Derrick was at the press conference Tuesday and put together this video report, embedded below.

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Greg Pickel writes for and Onward State. He's on Twitter as @GregPickel.
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