There are ties that bind Penn State and Utah Valley.
Sure, the second-ranked Nittany Lions are the defending NCAA champions, while the relatively new Wolverines program produced their first All-American only last year. But the links are there, and they run deep.
No. 2 Penn State at Utah ValleySaturday
It’s like family.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. dual meet at the UCCU Center marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools — and the return to Utah for Penn State coach Cael Sanderson and his brother and assistant coach, Cody Sanderson. Both wrestled for Wasatch High.
Cody Sanderson started the UVU program from scratch in 2003.
"I know [UVU coach Greg Williams] very well, too," said Cael Sanderson, who began looking around last spring for a dual meet to fill out the Penn State schedule. "We decided to take our team there and help Utah Valley have a big dual meet."
Big is right. Sanderson led the Nittany Lions (11-1) to the 2011 NCAA championship in Philadelphia, the Lions’ first national wrestling title since 1953 and Sanderson’s first as a collegiate head coach.
In addition, eight members of Penn State’s wrestling team continue to be ranked in the latest version of the Intermat national rankings, including four All-Americans who are ranked in the top two.
The Penn State team includes redshirt Matt Brown, who went 149-4 and won three Utah state titles for Cyprus High. He is 22-2 this year and was just moved to the 197 weight class.
"We have a lot of respect for wrestling in the West," said Sanderson, who was 159-0 while competing at Iowa State and owns an Olympic gold medal. "When you wrestle a kid from Utah, you’d better be ready."
The Wolverines (5-7) are coming off of back-to-back victories at ranked Cal Poly and Stanford, but Williams doesn’t plan on making any rah-rah speeches prior to Saturday’s meet. For one, he is also concerned with North Dakota State and South Dakota State, which will wrestle UVU here Friday, beginning at 5 p.m.
There are other concerns, too.
"It would be silly," Williams said. "We don’t expect to win. I do expect progress."
With seven freshmen seeing time on the mat, Saturday’s meet will truly be a learning experience as well as a lesson in intimidation. Williams doesn’t expect his team to meet any school near the power of PSU in its conference competition.
"The philosophy we brought into our program is not about wins and losses," he said. "We want them to fight through all our matches."
The Wolverines are being led by junior Josh Wilson, ranked No. 14 at 149 pounds with a 14-7 record. Colby Christensen is 18-10 at 125, while Ethan Smith is 17-11 at 165 and Dustin Dennison is 22-15 at heavyweight.
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