Nittany Lion Wrestlers Host Media Day -- Sanderson and Wrestler Quotes
By: Pat Donghia
Head coach Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lion wrestlers hosted Media Day yesterday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. Over 30 media, photographers and TV reps attended the event. Below you will find the full transcript of head coach Cael Sanderson's press conference as well as select quotes from various wrestlers. Please note that senior Cyler Sanderson was not able to attend the event as he was at class.
Cael Sanderson- Nittany Lion Head Coach
CS: First of all, thanks for coming. We really appreciate it. It means a lot to the program. Things are going well for us. We're really anxious to get the season started here. We open up two weeks from Friday at Lehigh, which should be a great event. I'm anxious just to see where we're at as much as anybody else is. We've been training really hard. We're making a lot of progress in the room. Now it's time to see what we can do out on the mat.
How are you handling red shirts? What young guys are you going to be holding back this year?
CS: There's flexibility. It isn't a done deal until the season is over. Right now we're planning on red-shirting everybody.
All freshmen, you mean?
CS: Yes, I'm sorry, just the incoming freshmen. Some of the other guys have already used up their red-shirt year and Tim [Curley] wants us to put a team out there. (Laughter) For the most part, we'll be red-shirting most of our incoming freshmen as they come in unless we feel like wrestling somebody right away. Everyone is on a little different schedule, each athlete. Some are better prepared to compete right away but unless it's going to really help our team challenge for that National Championship, for the most part we want them in our room and getting adjusted to school for the first year.
Is Quentin red-shirting also?
CS: Yes, Quentin is red-shirting as well. There is a good chance that Bubba Jenkins will be red-shirting as well.
Cael, how are you determining who is going to wrestle in the intrasquad scrimmage? Is that set yet?
CS: It's not set yet but we just ran a system where last Friday they had to weigh in five pounds over. We had some preliminary matches an hour later just trying to simulate that dual meet feel. Friday we weigh in at two pounds over. We're just trying to get their weight down but we'll get it down to two people this Friday in our practice matches here. Hopefully we'll get it down to our top two guys and give them a chance to wrestle. Our intrasquad meet is really just an opportunity to get these guys out and in front of a crowd with a referee and give them some preparation for our first dual.
Are you happy with recruiting?
CS: Yes, I'm real happy with this first year. It all happened really fast for us. I think Penn State is a place that kids are going to want to be, especially kids from the Eastern United States. Our recruiting was pretty much done in early July, which makes my job real easy. We can focus more on our team and the guys in the program right now. We're really excited about the kids we have coming in, they sign in early November. Until they sign it's not official. We're really looking forward to this next year's class. It was a big deal for us to get a big class right away just because we want to put them with the young kids we have in the program that are red-shirting and in the room right now. You need to have two or three tough classes right in a row if you want to win that National Championship and that's what we are trying to do.
You mentioned the possibility of Bubba red shirting. If he does, who do you think your leading candidates are at 149?
CS: We'll figure that out this Friday. I'm not sure who the top guys are. Christian Harr is a guy that has had some experience in the line-up, I believe. We've had a couple guys that are rebounding off some injuries but I don't want to talk too much about it until they get a chance for themselves to get in there and prove it, to prove themselves.
What are you doing about 133, 184, and 197?
CS: Well, 133, there are three different guys that are competing for that spot. You guys know who they are; there hasn't been much change there. At 184 we have a couple guys that are going to be competing and wrestling in the intrasquad. David Crowell is a guy that's doing a great job; he just won't be eligible until second semester. We're trying to decide who will be in the intrasquad. Whether Crowell will be in there or if guys that are ineligible can wrestle in the intrasquad, we've got to make that decision right away. At 197, Clay Steadman is a returning starter. He's doing a great job, working real hard. He's a guy that I like a lot because he wrestles hard. He's got a nice gas tank, very coachable, and we'll see what he can do. He's a guy that's going to go out there swinging and that's really what we want this program to be all about. But 133, I guess since I went into names at the other weight classes, Pearsall is a guy that's coming down. Pearsall and Chidester, they wrestled off. Lynch is looking at 141. Molinaro is going to be wrestling the first [part of the] season at 149. I don't know if that is news or not but he's gotten bigger and he's going to feel more comfortable up at 149, we'll see how he goes. He's certified at 141 so he has the option of going down through the process.
Is Crowell the only one that is ineligible or are other kids too? His ineligibility, is that because of the transfer?
CS: Yes that was a transfer rule. He got here last second semester and the make you sit a year at the institution before you're eligible to go. He is the only one, with Bubba as the other exception. If Bubba passes his courses this semester and does well he would be eligible second semester as well.
You mentioned Harr. What do you expect from him this year?
CS: I haven't really had the chance to watch a lot of these guys compete. I know he's training hard and he's competing well in our matches. He's a guy that through his career, I believe, he's had a lot of injuries and that's been the case with a lot of guys on our team. He is a competitor, he's pretty talented and we'll see what he can do. We like him a lot, he's working hard, he's a local kid from Hollidaysburg and we want those guys in the line-up. Saltsman is another guy that will be at 133. I don't know if he'll be ready for the intrasquad. He just had a minor injury that might delay that a little bit.
Cael, there's obviously a lot of excitement with you coming in and the new coaches. How tough is it potentially not to put your best team out there and hold guys back like you're going to?
CS: It is tough because I think we have a really strong senior class with Cyler coming in here and Vallimont and Erwin, guys that have had a lot of success in the past. To win the National Tournament, I know the team I was with last year, we only had four All-Americans and we took third. So if you can get four or five guys in there, but they have to place high, you can't have three guys place seventh or eighth or you're going to be down a little ways. We have the potential this year to have a really strong tournament. If you throw Pataky in there, his goal is to be a National Champion and he's making progress and should be a legit All-American candidate. Molinaro is a returning All-American. That's a good group. Cameron Wade is a guy that should be ready to do some damage. We're expecting him to compete for All-American honors and be right in the mix as well.
You have some guys that could fill those holes if you wanted to, with Ruth and Quentin.
CS: Yes, we have some really strong talent. These freshmen that are in the room right now are very tough. They're not only talented but they love the sport and they train. David Taylor is doing really well and Ed Ruth is extremely talented, very gifted and I believe that either one of those guys could get in there and compete right now. Kemerer is the same type of kid. You'll see in our intrasquad match there's going to be some good match-ups with our seniors that have been All-Americans and then our true freshmen, which is a good sign of what's going to come. They've been pushing these older guys. I think these seniors, Cyler and Vallimont and Erwin, are guys that haven't quite reached their goals and they should have a little chip on their shoulder and be ready to get it done this year. This is it.
Being ranked number 14 and having six other Big Ten teams ranked, what are your expectations for the year and where would you like to see them finish?
CS: Rankings at this point don't matter too much to us. We want to do as well as we possibly can. My goal as the coach and our goal as a staff this year is just to do the very best we can with this team. Whether it's a guy that's starting for us for the first time, getting those guys and making sure they make progress throughout the year and they have their best performance at the Big Ten and the National Tournament. If we can do that and we can get our guys that do have experience, Erwin and Vallimont and Sanderson and Pataky, get the most out of them at the right time, I think we can have a team that can be up in there.
Coming off the shoulder surgery, does Erwin have any limitations with that or is he back to 100 percent?
CS: He's 100 percent. Erwin's been looking really good. I've been really happy with him. I think he's really bought in and been excited about this opportunity. He realizes there's a sense of urgency. This is his chance and the training situation that he has is pretty phenomenal for the upper weights. He's doing a great job. I think he can do really well. I don't know if he'll surprise people or not because I don't know how people view him. I just know he's a guy who there's not anybody that he can't contend with right now.
What changes do you think we'll be seeing in this team as far as last year and this year?
CS: I didn't have the opportunity to see the team last year up close other than at the National Tournament, maybe one or two guys. What we want and to see with these guys is to see them fighting. I want to see them really competing hard and really focusing on the things we do in practice every day. We want to be solid in our fundamentals, really master those areas and we want to take that fighting spirit out on the mat and wrestle every second. That's the goal. As a coach I think probably any coach is going to say that, but that is my goal. We want ten guys that are fighting and wrestling every second. If we do happen to give up a take-down there's no hesitation. We're not stopping on our belly, we just get right to our feet and get back and make up for whatever went wrong. That's my goal, to get these guys to really get out there and to compete hard.
What does Cyler add to this team?
CS: Cyler brings a lot of emotion and leadership with him. I think that's something we really needed as a team. It's been kind of a tough situation because we have guys all over the place right now. You have guys like Vallimont and you have Erwin. Vallimont is a guy that has a really difficult academic schedule. He has class during practice every day so he's not with the team. Cyler's been able to step in there and be one of the leaders in the program. That's something that we definitely did need.
Who are you projecting to wrestle off for 133?
CS: Right now we're pretty much down to three guys. We have Saltsman, I would have projected him to be wrestling but he had a minor injury last week so he'll probably be ready for our first dual potentially, Pearsall and Chidester. I would say Chidester and Pearsall are our two guys.
Are you happy with going to the Virginia Duals instead of the National Duals, competition wise?
CS: Well hopefully this is the last year that we'll be going to the Virginia Duals. It's just a chance to compete and a chance to see some other teams that we wouldn't see otherwise but in the future we hope to be at the National Duals.
You mentioned Dave Erwin. Obviously he's been hurt a lot over the years. What does he bring and where do you see him fitting in, 174, 184?
CS: Erwin is going at 174. He's had a lot of injuries but I think just making sure he's training the right way and being disciplined in how he cuts his weight, I think he's going to be a guy that is right in the hunt. He's very talented. He came out of high school as one of the top kids in the country and that's for a reason. He is talented; he's got some great potential. We just need to keep him healthy and that's just a matter of him being smart and disciplined and if he can do that I think he'll be right in the hunt.
Is James English back in the room and is he in the mix at 149?
CS: Yes, English is in there. We'll see this week. He's a guy that had to sit out all last year with the neck injury but he's getting back into it. He's doing a good job. He's a tough kid and it's tough when you have to sit a whole year coming right out of high school cause you don't get a jump in there as that red-shirt and really utilize that year. He's a tough kid that we have high hopes and expectations for. He's a good solid kid, great student. He's just a tough kid.
Would you rather have Quentin and Jenkins in there?
CS: Well obviously our team would be stronger this year if we wrestled all of our best wrestlers but Quentin will be better off. It will be better for him and it will help our team down the road. The teams that we're going to have down the road, we think that they're going to be really special and that's what we want to hold Quentin for. Even Bubba, the National Tournament next year is in Philadelphia. Now we're not looking ahead to next year. We've got goals and we want to do some damage this year. I think we'll get a lot more out of Quentin after a red-shirt year. There's no question he'd be in the hunt this year but I think with a red-shirt year he could step in and be a real dominant force at whatever weight he's at, 184 or 197. He's not at 174 anymore. Bubba, I think we'll get more out of him next year. He's wanted to red shirt for a few years now, just with some minor injuries and some things, he's just a little banged up. A year will probably help him out quite a bit, but he's doing a nice job of course.
Is there any chance of Molinaro going back down to 141?
CS: Yes, there is a chance. It just depends on how things are going. He just really wants to test the waters and he's a big kid. He gets really heavy in the off-season. He really likes to get in there and lift and get strong and that's and important part of his mentality and his game plan. I think he'll do well at 149. There's always that opportunity because he did certify at 141.
What individuals are you looking to lead the team, not necessarily in wrestling but leadership and emotionally?
CS: It's tricky as far as whom the leaders are right now. First of all, last year Quentin was the leader at least as I came in during the off-season and summer training. But, with him red-shirting it changes things a little bit. I think we're expecting a lot out of these seniors. Vallimont was third in the nation two years ago in a very tough weight class. We expect and he expects to really contend for that title. Cyler is in the same situation. He's a guy that is leading by example right now. Erwin is in there leading. I don't think that's a role he's really taken but he has the potential to lead and once we start competing I think we'll get a really good idea of who is going to step into what role. I'm not a coach to say "Hey, you're the captain and you're going to lead us through our warm up," this and that. I've never really done that. If I feel that the team needs that then maybe we'll do that but right now we don't. We're not looking for that.
What about Brad Pataky. Obviously without and Quentin and Bubba in the line-up he sort of becomes one of those key guys, he finished well at nationals last year. What are your expectations of him this year?
CS: Our expectation of Pataky is for him to be in the hunt for the National Title. He's showing that he can be there and he's showing that he's a gamer. He wrestles at his best at the National Tournament, he did last year. I don't remember coaching the other team but I do remember seeing him pin a few guys. A pin in the National Tournament, especially in the wrestle-backs, that's worth three wins. Half a point is a win in the wrestle-backs. If you get a pin you get an additional two points. He has the potential to score a lot of points and that's what it takes to win the National Tournament. You need bonus points. He's ready to go. He's had some great training. He's just a solid kid that you'll see running outside after practice, or driving to work, he'll be out running. He's not afraid to work hard. When you put all those things together he's got some potential to do some big things. He's definitely one of the guys that we're looking to to lead the team this year even though he's not a senior. That obviously doesn't matter; he's definitely a leader in this program.
I asked you earlier in the year about a freestyle introductory meeting. Have you fine-tuned that? Is the entire squad going to be involved in something like that or just a few?
CS: The guys that we're recruiting, their goals are to be World and Olympic Champions and that's what we're trying to create with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. A program that's sending guys out there that are making world teams and are winning the national tournaments and that's something that we're building. It's coming. There's a lot of support there and the club is doing fairly well. This past weekend we had four or five guys go to the Sunkist Open and compete. Aaron Anspach won. He's back competing again. He's a guy that we feel and I think can do extremely well. But, that's something we will do and we're in the process of doing that. It builds our program at the same time. It's an important part of building the national championship program, having a strong club and Olympic level guys training here.
Thank you, coach.
Q: I guess you'll be moving up to 149 if Bubba [Jenkins] decides to redshirt then?
A: I guess we really don't know what's going on with that right now, but as of right now, Bubba isn't eligible the first semester anyway, so I'm going to start the year off at 149.
Q: Any worries about leverage or that your relative lack of height is going to be a disadvantage in any way?
A: Yeah that's usually the first thing that comes to everyone's mind, but every day in practice I wrestle Jake [Kemerer], [David] Taylor, Cyler [Sanderson], so I'm wrestling bigger guys and getting a lot more comfortable wrestling bigger weights. Now when I go down and wrestle people that are lighter it makes a huge difference already. So I'm making those adjustments in practice.
Q: With your post-season performance last year and you turning things around and finally turning the corner, what difference do you have in confidence coming into this year as opposed to seasons past?
A: My freshman year I actually had a lot of confidence coming off that year, I had a really good [redshirt] year, and then last year I took a lot of lumps during the entire season, I was sick for 75% of the year, and then finishing at nationals and showing myself that I can compete with these guys, it proved to me again that I was that good, despite all the confidence I had lost over the year. It's actually a lot more fun now coming into the season being an All-American as opposed to just washing that whole season away last year.
Q: If there was one match that was a turning point last year, was it the Ciasulli match at Nationals?
A: Yeah I think that was one of my best matches of the year, especially because he beat me in the beginning of the year and I made all the adjustments on top and bottom and neutral to beat him. That was a big win for me last year, definitely. After that match I felt like I was going to be an All-American.
Q: Do you see any difference in this team with Cael [Sanderson] at coach?
A: Oh absolutely. I just think the guys right now are a lot more disciplined, everyone is on the same page, everyone is working just as hard as the next guy. The main difference I see is discipline. Also, I think we're in a lot better shape right now, which will surprise a lot of people. We wrestle 45 minutes live every day, our lifting program is a lot harder so I think a lot of the guys are much stronger now, so I think those are most of the changes.
Q: Talk about the new energy level here and how things have changed so dynamically.
A: The energy level is definitely up compared to last year, last year the energy level was high, but having a new coach in here and a new atmosphere is just a refreshing feeling. Their change has been tremendous, and the discipline level has been implied, which is a great thing.
Q: What kind of changes have you seen personally?
A: Our conditioning level is higher now this time of year than it was last year, everyone's weights are getting under control, compared to last year when they were out of control a little bit. The entire program I feel has been transformed. Getting a new coach and a new staff in here you learn a lot of new techniques and a lot of new mental and physical things.
Q: Do you feel pressure because you're thought to be one of the team leaders or do you embrace that role?
A: I don't feel any pressure at all. I like having the responsibility of trying to be a team leader. But just giving my all is what is really important, and for me, knowing that I'm giving my all is what I feel is most important.
Q: There were times last year where you would start off very strong and them seem to plateau or maybe hit a little dip. Then towards the post-season, you seemed to reach a point where you regulated your energy more throughout matches. Do you feel like you have that under control now?
A: Yeah, compared to last year. I've changed my warm-up routine, and with the help of new coaches maintaining my energy throughout the entire match has changed, and I feel a huge difference.
Q: I know the goal every year is to be a National Champion, but do you feel that with the work you put in last year and the new changes this year, that it's even more realistic?
A: Yes I do, especially with the mentality of the team. We're closer as a team I feel. Last year there were different areas of the team, different cliques I should say. But this year we're all connecting at the same time, which is really good.
Q: Cael [Sanderson] said when he first got here, that you really took on a leadership role, do you feel even though you were just a freshman last year, that was something important to do?
A: I would say just doing everything to the best of your abilities, in practice and out of practice, doing your best in the classroom, and leading by example, that's the main thing I did. I just wanted to do everything to the best of my ability, be the best I could with my schoolwork, and be the best guy here in practice, constantly working towards that goal. That was my philosophy last year, and I'm going to continue that through my senior year.
Q: Coach Sanderson had to balance individual goals and team goals, where maybe it's a little bit better if you or Bubba [Jenkins] are out there on the roster this season. How difficult is that for you personally?
A: I think maybe he knows this year he has to hold back the team a little bit, but next year it's going to be a flood. He knows it takes time to develop a good team, kind of like when a farmer plants a seed, it's probably a few months before they really start seeing anything happen. That's what [Coach Sanderson] is doing here, he's growing us, he's developing us, and when we come out of the ground, it's going to be something amazing.
Q: How different is it for you sitting out, as opposed to making a run to Nationals last year?
A: I can't quite say yet, because I really haven't experienced it. But I'm sure I'm going to be in the stands, moving my body, saying if I were out there I would do this. But I have to understand this is going to be a year for me to develop and grow, and just focus mostly in practice. Then when we come to dual meets I can be there to support my teammates to the best of my abilities, go to matches, take notes, and then come back here and say `Hey, this is what I saw when you were wrestling, this is what I think is going to help make you better.' It's going to be a little bit difficult for me, but I understand that I still have three years [of eligibility] left, and it's going to be awesome after this red-shirt year.
Q: Who's idea was all this? Was it a combination of coach coming to you, you going to coach, how did all of this come about? Because in the non-wrestling world eyes, you would never expect a guy who was an All-American to sit the next year out.
A: Coach understands that he's going to have people coming in, and he's going to have someone to fill a spot. Wrestling is unique in that your maturity comes when you are a freshman or sophomore. I experienced a lot of that last year, but I'm also going to reap the rewards of having this extra year come whenever I'm a senior. That's when [Coach Sanderson] is going to have one of the best possible teams, come my senior year. That's where I'm going to be the best, but also make the team the best.
Q. Can you talk about the differences in your wrestling career from high school, to college and now as a graduate student?
A. It is a big jump going from high school to college no matter what program you come from with the adjustments and with working hard everyday. Now, being a grad student it is still the same thing. It is still at a college level and it still holds the same challenges.
Q. Talk a little big about how this team might differ from last year's team.
A. This year we are on a different training cycle with a different atmosphere. I feel that we are coming together as a team pretty well. Everyone is working hard.
Q. Is it more intense under Cael?
A. It is a different type of intensity. For our conditioning and such we focus on the drilling wrestling and not so much on running which is different than last year. Both were good, but it is just a different way to go about it.
Q. How surprised were you when you heard Cael would be your new coach?
A. I was with everyone else in the country. I was surprised. I didn't see it coming. We were all sitting on pins and needles wondering who it was going to be and then when it finally happened it was a big shock and we are all really happy.
Q. What do you feel is the source of most of the pressure for success out of this year's team?
A. There is a lot expected of us, and we have a lot expected out of ourselves so we hope to go out there and make it happen.
Q. How have the freshmen adjusted and do you get to work out with them at all?
A. I haven't worked out with too many of them. They are out here everyday working hard like everybody else. I think they have a great opportunity with being here for four or five years with a new coach. They have the opportunity to increase their ability with this intense training.
Q. Coach was saying that he was going to red-shirt a lot of guys and maybe not put the best team out there, does that frustrate you as a senior, maybe not having the best scoring opportunities?
A. I mean, I wouldn't say frustrating, just too bad I guess. That is what is best for the team in the long run. We are going to do the best that we can this year, we are going to have a great tournament team and strengthen a few weight classes and I think we will be able to compete with the top teams in the country.
Q. How has the memory of missing out on last year's nationals motivated you?
A. It is always in the back of my head. It was real rough not being able to go to that national tournament with all of my teammates I have been working with all year. It really took a toll on me, but it really motivated me over the summer and the spring to get back in, get after it and never let it happen again.
Q. What has Cael done to help you reach your goals?
A. Just the new stuff they have been implementing, the new philosophy of wrestling. He has taught us to always fight for seven minutes and never give up with technical things. Just the mental game of it is what I have really improved on since he has been here.
Q. What is the difference that we are going to see on and off the mat from you guys this year compared to last year?
A. There is a lot more discipline. Just hanging out with the guys on the team, the team has gotten pretty close. There are no outsiders, which has brought us really close together. The training cycle that we did this summer, being up here for five weeks really brought us closer together. Our mental and physical toughness and stamina has changed.
Q. How has the new coach benefited your wrestling style individually?
A. I mean he weighs about 220-pounds, he was an upper weight, a bigger guy, so he is just a great person to work out with. I mean who else would you rather work out with than Cael Sanderson? It's been pretty awesome.
Tags: Aaron Anspach, Brad Pataky, Bubba Jenkins, Cael Sanderson, Cameron Wade, Christian Harr, Clay Steadman, Cyler Sanderson, Dan Vallimont, David Crowell, David Taylor, Ed Ruth, Frank Molinaro, James English, Quentin Wright