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Cael Sanderson Press Conference Notes

Three days before he hopes to lead Penn State to its 4th straight National Championship and 8th in 9 years, Coach Cael Sanderson took to the mic to answer a few questions.

Cael Sanderson is presented with the 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year award by former Minnesota coach, J Robinson
Richard Immel

The press conference was streamed live and is available on demand via Facebook.

On the new seeding process this year:

Coach Cael: We have coaches in title contention on the Seeding Committee. I don’t think that’s probably the right thing. I sure as heck don’t want to be a coach on the Seeding Committee. It’s a tough job. But until something changes, guys are going to do the best job that they can, but I don’t want any part of that.

Looking at the brackets, we have a good opportunity to do well, regardless whether you think you have a good draw or bad draw. Things change in a hurry, when you get there and the whistles blow. It’s just a matter of getting what you want out of this experience.

On Cenzo & Nolf wrestling back home:

Coach Cael: I haven’t really heard anything. It’s great that it’s in Pittsburgh, with the exception of there not being many tickets. I know there’s a lot of upset people, fans and longtime NCAA Tournament goers, who are unable to go.

But I think our guys are focused enough that it doesn’t really matter where the tournament is. It’s the tournament. You only have so many matches, and so many minutes to compete and you just wanna make the most of each second and each minute. I don’t think location.... our guys have wrestled the same whether they’re at home or on the road.

But I think it’s great for the state of Pennsylvania, right? It’s nice for us, only a 2 and a half hour bus ride, right? Which is convenient and we’re excited about that, but regardless of where the tournament is, the plan is the same: get there and wrestle with some enthusiasm.

Another question on ticket availability:

Coach Cael: I haven’t looked at the details a whole lot, like the size of arenas and locations and that. I think anytime you hold an event on this side of the country, the demand ... has been great. Right? It’s been really difficult to get a ticket, and I think the first time—that I can remember—that it was really difficult to get a ticket was in Philadelphia, in 2011. I think that speaks volumes as to the level of interest in wrestling in this part of the country.

I don’t know what the right size of arena is to meet that demand. We could... you know, have it at the BJC every year, that’d be fine, but that’s not really up to me, obviously. So I don’t know the details enough to give you a good answer there.

On Nick Lee:

Richard Immel

Coach Cael: I think he’s better than he was a year ago. Right? Going in a year ago, we knew, just because he’s a competitor and he’s going to be able to wrestle hard, every second of the match, that he’s gonna be a tough opponent. I think he’s improved quite a bit. He’s better in the bottom position.

He’s a legitimate title contender right now.

I think, of course, that’s up to him, and there’s a lot of great wrestlers in that weight class and he’s gonna have to, you know, take care of business one match at a time, one point at a time, but I think Nick is feeling pretty confident. But he’s been wrestling, I think, really well, so we’re excited for him.

Can he be an example for your two freshmen this year?

Coach Cael: Yeah. We had a rough start last year. Our first two guys out got pinned, and I don’t know if we had, our starters, qualifiers, give up a pin all year. So, yeah, just staying poised. And Nick Lee did a great job of that, was a great example, came back and took 5th and beat some really good wrestlers.

But I think we have some... Berge & RBY being their first year, but they’ve got a lot of wrestling experience. They come from strong programs, and they’ve been in really tough competitions their whole life, so... a tournament is a tournament.

It’s our job as a staff to just make sure they don’t get overwhelmed, or make a bigger deal out of this than it really is. It’s still just a sport. It’s still just wrestling. But it’s still important enough that we want to go in there and have a great performance.

On Nolf & Nickal and what’s impressed him the most:

That’s really tough, here in this moment, because they’re both just beyond words, really special. Guys that will be remembered...for as long as college wrestling exists.

Jason’s just an extreme competitor, and very consistent. He’s had just an unbelievable career, and he has a chance to win a National Title this year if he goes out there and gets after it and scores points.

Bo Nickal, same thing, he’s had some incredible moments in his career. I think both of them are two of the best who have ever stepped on the mat.

On their intensity and whether they’ve had a chance to enjoy it

Coach Cael: I think they’re enjoying it. I think you’re gonna see whether a kid is enjoying it, by the way they compete. More than anything, if they’re competing with the enthusiasm, with the gratitude, with some fire, right? I think that’s where you’re gonna see if they’re enjoying this sport or not. I think, overall, as a program, the way our guys compete, speaks for itself.

How might their impact continue to be felt?

Coach Cael: They show potential. They show recruits, kids who are looking, who are trying to figure out where they want to go to school, that, if you go to Penn State, this is a place where you know you’re gonna get better. Right? And if you’re good, you can get great here. And you’re going to...really enjoy yourself, from Day One, to the last day that you wear that singlet. I think they demonstrate that.

I think part of the reason they probably came here is because they saw some of the guys here before them that were the same way. Right, so I think they have the ability to leave an impact on the program and recruits in the future and just the way they represent Penn State. Both stand-ups, great kids and people. And obviously, every time they step on the mat, we’re proud of them. They’re always giving it their best effort and they’re doing things the right way. Inside the wrestling room, on the mat and in their personal lives, which, that leadership has been tremendously important to us as well. I could go on and on about those two, really.

Is there something to learn about the sport, as a coach, coaching elite level guys like that? Because you guys have had a couple of guys like that here.

Coach Cael: I think that’s...that’s one thing with our staff, we’re always asking ‘why?’ and ‘is there a better way?’ And you know, we’re learning as we go, right? And I think we’ve learned a lot, since we started here and as coaches in the beginning.

But it’s not something I’m going to dive into—things that we think or know about, just because ... we ... are planning on coaching in the future, so it doesn’t make any sense to talk about little things that we’re learning or not learning because we wanna ... we wanna keep being successful (audience laughter and one reporter can be heard joking “trade secrets”).

On the history of team title streaks

Coach Cael: Yeah, I don’t know. I just think there are some really great programs, there still are. You mention Iowa, and Ohio State has a really great program. Oklahoma State, right? Cornell’s just up the road. Michigan has a great team. There’s a lot of great teams. I mean, the difference is just a few points here and there, right? So it’s not like there’s huge differences between programs, so we’re just grateful for the support that we have and the kids that we have and the staff that we have and we just wanna make the most of, you know, everything that we get. And that’s kind of what it’s all about.

Was there ever a Nolf / Nickal “aha moment”?

Coach Cael: Well, I think you start to see that late in their HS careers, right? But more importantly, when they get to the room here, you start seeing training with some of our senior, older kids in the program. But I think they’re both different, right? I think Nolf, you started to see that even into his senior year, in high school. I think you could just tell he was gonna be really special.

I think Bo was winning everything, in HS as well, but I think, for him, a little later. When he was in school here and just started watching in the room, and some of the things that he was doing and — he still has, just unbelievable potential as he jumps out of college wrestling, and Nolf, the same thing. I think ... we’re talking about, you knew they were gonna be good in college, right?

But are they gonna be great, or are they gonna be just really good, I mean, there’s a big difference, right, in those little words.

And I think they’ve both been truly great.

But it’s not over yet. Right? You wanna finish very strong, and that’s very important to them.

More than anything as a staff, we want our guys to leave here happy; obviously, that’s up to them, and how they compete, but I think that’s part of the trick—it’s their career. It’s not me, it’s not Casey, it’s not Cody, this is: Bo Nickal’s got an opportunity to go win a National Title; Jason Nolf has an opportunity to go win a National Title. Mark Hall, Cenzo. All these guys that are here. You know, Cassar has been wrestling great, we haven’t even mentioned him. Shakur, Nick Lee, we have a lot of really great kids in the program right now. We’re very blessed.

On the transition to the international wrestling:

Coach Cael: Anytime you jump levels, you gotta be wiling to learn, willing to be coachable. It takes confidence, but also a humility to know you can get better and improve. Different style. I Think Nolf & Nickal have competed at that level, they know they’re going to be successful. Neither one of them wrestled last summer, but the spring before that they were right in the mix, right? So, they’re both right there. They’re training in the room with some of the best guys in the world, right? We got David Taylor in the room. We got a lot of good guys in the room, so they know that they’re at that level. And for us, as a program, our job is to prepare them, over time, to make that jump.

And that’s one of the reasons I think they come to Penn State is I think they know they will make that jump and, you know, I fully expect both of them to be, really, World Title contenders this year.

Obviously, they have to go do that, but if Jason Nolf & Bo Nickal both won World Championships next fall, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Follow up on Cael’s experience having made that jump himself:

Coach Cael: I think Success Principles are Success Principles, no matter what stage. Yeah, I made that jump, but that was before they were even born. So, things have changed a little bit since then, but I think the mentality of it and, as coaches, our job is to be at the forefront of whatever it is, whether it’s technique or training to make sure they have everything they need to be able to make that jump, and I think that we have that right now.

And I expect them to take advantage of it and be ready to go.

On Roman Bravo-Young:

Coach Cael: Roman’s a competitor and the Big Ten is pretty similar to the National Tournament in the guys he’s going to face. He saw a guy who took 4th at Nationals in the Quarterfinals (Pletcher). I thought he wrestled fine, he just wrestled a tough opponent. But he’s fine. He got some good work in, he’s gonna get some more good work in today and tomorrow. I think the experience is good for him. I think every match he gets, he gets better, and more confident. I’m hopeful that he can walk away from Pittsburgh with a big smile on his face.

On Shakur & Cassar mindset:

Coach Cael: I think Cassar is solid as a rock. Cassar is ready to go. Shak is ready to go, I think he was putting a lot of pressure on himself a year ago, because he knew that he was going instead of Cassar and he thought we put him in that place to score Bonus Points, so he just kinda got wrapped up in his own thoughts and it made it difficult, but he still had a strong finish at Nationals. He won four matches there, and wrestled well, right? And that was a great experience for him and he’s had a solid year this year, he’s wrestling really well and, you know ... he’s got 3 days, to go make things happen. But I think they’re both very solid and ready to roll and ... I know Cassar hasn’t been to the National Tournament before, but he’s a solid individual and he’s gonna do just fine.

Are Shak & Berge as healthy as they’re gonna be?

Coach Cael: Yeah. Yeah. They’re ready to roll. Right? I mean, I wouldn’t tell you if they weren’t.

My job’s to coach this team up and give them the best chance to go as we can, but they’re ready to go and, just like everybody else, they gotta make that decision to go out there and score points.

On Medical Redshirts:

Coach Cael: Some of those decisions have been made, from our standpoint... Cassar’s have not been yet, but those are things we’ll probably discuss later on, you know? I don’t know the timing of that, but it’s just paperwork, and getting it in and getting responses, and I think we’ll probably know fairly soon, and we’ll announce that shortly afterwards.

On Cassar being a finisher:

Coach Cael: I think Cassar is just all in. He does everything right. Right? He doesn’t skip any corners at all, never has. I think those things pay off. I think if you’re that disciplined and willing to do all the little things that most people aren’t, you’re going to be less willing to not finish, right? It just goes hand in hand. You do all the little things, and you work as hard as he does, you’re just gonna fight for it. You’re gonna fight just a little bit harder to make sure things turn out the way you want it.

And that’s probably the best way I could describe him, and there’s a peace and a confidence that comes from knowing you did everything to be prepared and, generally speaking, the kids that are at peace and calm before they wrestle generally have the best results. And that Peace & Calm comes—generally—from knowing that you did everything you could to be prepared in that moment.

On Cenzo and rebounding from conference losses:

Coach Cael: I think he’s done well. I think he’s a solid kid and I think he’s pretty upset, but he also didn’t ... um..there’s some things that, technically, he needed to do differently that he didn’t.

And his opponent is very good and ... you know, without taking anything away from anybody I think he kinda .. he’s ok with being his best at The Nationals. I think that’s kinda the plan and his plan but he’s gonna have a tough road and obviously, Marinelli is a very, very good wrestler and he scored a lot of points on Vincenzo, just a week ago, so it’s gonna be a great challenge.


Big thanks to Richard Immel for permitting BSD use of his beautiful photographs. In exchange, he would like it on record that he does not, in fact, hate Penn State. I’ve long been a fan of Richard Immel the wrestling fan, and I take him honestly at his word. His full photographic gallery can be viewed at Thanks again, Richard!