The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Cael Sanderson, 3-time Hodge Trophy winner
From Iowa State Sports Information
Cael Sanderson’s unprecedented achievements have lifted him to unprecedented heights. His accomplishments have transcended his sport and made him one of the most recognized athletes around the world.
Today, Iowa State new head coach, Cael Sanderson is wrestling’s premier ambassador. He has lived up to his marquee status on and off the mat. The Olympic gold medalist and former four-time undefeated NCAA champion is in his first season as head coach.
Through all of his triumphs, which led to an ESPY Award as the Best Male College Athlete, his appearance on a Wheaties Box and being the focus of an ESPN SportsCentury episode, his focus remains on wrestling and working to further the national stature of Iowa State’s grappling program.
In 2005, Cael was selected to the prestigious 15-member 75th Anniversary team at NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo. Sanderson was also named one of ten finalists for the 2005 Sullivan Award, presented to the top amateur athlete
The summer of 2004 was a magical one for the native of Heber City, Utah. The 25-year-old Sanderson won the U.S. Olympic Trials at 84 kilgorams/185 pounds to qualify for the Athens Olympic Games. There he won five matches, defeating Korean Moon EiuJae 3-1 in the gold medal match. Down 1-0, Sanderson scored on a two-point exposure move at the 4:32 mark of the match and sealed the victory with a takedown at the 5:05 mark.
Sanderson finished his Iowa State career as the undisputed greatest collegiate competitor of all time. When he defeated Jon Trenge of Lehigh for the 2002 NCAA 197-pound championship, it was the culmination of a four-year quest for victory that Sanderson completed with a 159-0 record. Sports Illustrated called his four-year streak of perfection the No. 2 most outstanding achievement in collegiate sports history.
Sanderson earned three Dan Hodge Trophies as the nation’s best college wrestler, a collegiate first. Sanderson was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at all four NCAA Championship meets in which he competed, another unparalleled accomplishment. For anyone associated with the sport of wrestling, the idea of completing a four-year career undefeated was almost unthinkable.
When he won the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award as a freshman at the 1999 NCAA Championships, he was the first freshman ever to claim the honor.
Sanderson had already fashioned a sterling international resume before the Olympic Games. The 2000 World University champion won three U.S. national freestyle championships and World Team Trials titles from 2001-03. He earned the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award at the 2001 meet, winning the 187.25-pound title. Sanderson was prepared to represent his country at the 2001 World Freestyle Wrestling Championship. When the Sept. 11 tragedies postponed the tournament, Sanderson chose to compete for Iowa State during his final collegiate season. He made the U.S. team again in 2002, but the USA squad stayed home when its safety could not be guaranteed at the world tournament in Iran.
The Sanderson name is well-known in the wrestling world. Cael and his three brothers are all Iowa Staters. Older brother Cody is a former ISU three-time All-American and the head coach at Utah Valley State. Older brother Cole was a four-year letterwinner for the Cyclones and younger brother Cyler is a freshman on the Iowa State wrestling team. Sanderson compiled a 127-3 record wrestling for his father, Steve, at Wasatch High School, winning four Utah state titles.
The following is Cael Sanderson’s statistics at Iowa State:
|Season||School||Year of Eligibilty||Bouts||W||L||T||Falls||W Pct.||All-American||Weight|
(The following story on Cael Sanderson was published after he won his fourth NCAA title and third Hodge Trophy award)
By Bryan Van Kley, W.I.N. Publisher:
Iowa State sensation Cael Sanderson has become synonymous with “firsts” in the sport of wrestling.
After becoming the first four-time undefeated Division I national champ and the tournament’s first four-time winner of the Outstanding Wrestling award, he has now become the first wrestler ever to be given wrestling’s most prestigious award for three straight years.
The International Wrestling Institute and Museum and W.I.N. Magazine, co-sponsors of the award, announced on March 29 that Sanderson has been named the 2002 Dan Hodge Trophy winner, given to the sport’s most outstanding collegiate wrestler.
Sanderson was publicly awarded the trophy at his last folkstyle meet, the “Spirit of the Heartland” dual presented by the Dan Gable Classic, in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Sanderson’s coach, Bobby Douglas, said for him to win the Hodge Trophy multiple times is monumental.
“It’s very hard for me to describe how big it is for Cael to win the Hodge Trophy three times because two years ago I didn’t think that was possible,” Douglas said. He added that Sanderson’s accomplishments will change the sport of wrestling forever.
“This is a defining moment in wrestling,” Douglas said after Sanderson won his fourth NCAA title in Albany, NY on March 23. “Wrestling has been like the invisible sport and Cael has lit a fire with the media with his performance which will take wrestling into the 21st century and perhaps keep us alive.”
The media attention surrounding Sanderson’s 159 straight wins has been almost overwhelming at times, especially as he neared the end of his career. A whopping contingent of nearly 300 journalists applied for media credentials for the national tournament. Sanderson’s record-setting final match was broadcasted live on ESPN during “Sports Center” and Fox Sports flew the Cyclone senior to New York on March 27 to be on a sports show with former Iowan Tom Arnold.
As in the past three seasons, Sanderson continued to roll up record-setting numbers during his senior campaign. He recorded his third straight season of 40 wins. And amazingly, only four of Sanderson’s matches this year went the entire seven minutes — three of those were against Lehigh’s Jon Trenge, who Sanderson beat 12-4 in the NCAA finals. The fourth bout was an 18-7 major decision over Ohio State’s Nick Preston in the semis.
Of the other 36 bouts, Sanderson pinned 23 opponents, the most falls he has had in his four years at Iowa State. Those 23 pins gave him a pinning percentage of over 60 percent on the year. Sanderson, who moved up to 197 pounds from 184 this season, also had 11 tech falls and two forfeits. Sanderson’s pin totals his first three years were: 10-10-18.
The only other real contender for the award after the dust settled of the national tournament, was Fresno State’s Stephen Abas. Abas was the only other Division I wrestler to finish the year as an undefeated national champ. He racked up his third NCAA title this year at 125 pounds. Abas finished his senior season with a 35-0 record but was not as dominant as his 197-pound counterpart. Only twelve of his wins came by fall, three by tech fall and nine were major decisions.
Mike Chapman, the executive director of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum and founder of the Hodge Trophy, agreed with Douglas and is amazed college wrestling has produced a wrestler who is able to win the award three times.
“Only one man in the long and storied history of the Heisman Trophy has ever won the award more than once, dating back to 1935. I thought someone would eventually win two Hodge trophies,” said Chapman. “But I never thought anyone would win three, nor did I think anyone would win four OW awards at the NCAAs. He is simply amazing.”
The Hodge Trophy is named after former Oklahoma collegiate star Dan Hodge. Hodge was a prolific pinner who won three NCAA titles (1955-57) for the Sooners and finished with an undefeated 46-0 record. Hodge epitomized the word dominance on the wrestling mat and set the standard for which all other great wrestlers were compared after never giving up a takedown in his three collegiate seasons.
Hodge said Sanderson’s accomplishments are great for the sport.
“To know that he won the award three times in a row is an honor. I feel honored to have had it happen while I’m still living. I’m very proud of Cael,” said Hodge. “It’s not just a great accomplishment for Cael, but for amateur wrestling.”
Hodge will present the award to Sanderson personally at the Iowa State wrestling banquet on April 16.
A number of criteria are used to select the Hodge Trophy winner as college wrestling’s most outstanding wrestler: dominance on the mat, number of pins, record, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship, citizenship and heart.