Cael Sanderson’s appearance at Pitt-Johnstown on Wednesday wasn’t the first time he worked out at the Sports Center on the Richland Township campus.
The Penn State wrestling coach said he stopped in Johnstown on his way to the 1999 NCAA tournament, which was being held in Happy Valley. Sanderson, who wrestled for Iowa State, won the first of his four national titles that year.
Coincidentally, the person who helped bring Sanderson to Johnstown the first time was the same one responsible for his return: Jody Strittmatter.
Sanderson was a guest clinician at Strittmatter’s Young Guns Summer Heat camp on Wednesday. Sanderson, who went on to win a 2004 Olympic gold medal in Athens, said his Iowa State coaches were recruiting Strittmatter, a Cambria Heights graduate who had already won two Division II national titles for UPJ by then and was looking to test himself at the highest level.
Strittmatter did, but not at Iowa State. Instead, he went to the Cyclones’ biggest rival: Iowa.
“I give him a hard time as much as I can about he made the difference,” Sanderson said of the NCAA team championship. “History, obviously, (shows) that he went to Iowa and made a big difference. We took second and they took first.”
Sanderson and Strittmatter, who is now an assistant coach to Pat Pecora at UPJ in addition to his role with Young Guns, were on the same side on Wednesday. Sanderson was the third clinician at the weeklong camp, which attracted about 120 of the best wrestlers in the state, ranging from elementary-school students to those who will be high school seniors.
“This is a very advanced group of wrestlers,” Sanderson said. “You’ve got a lot of top (Division I) wrestlers in this room. That’s really a joy to be able to work with these guys. We’ve got a lot of kids on our team (at Penn State) that have come from this area and that have gone through this system with the Young Guns club.”
Young Guns was named the top club in the nation last year by flowrestling.com, and Sanderson was quick to credit Strittmatter.
“He has a great system and really does an incredible job,” Sanderson said. “His kids are very blessed. I think they are realizing that. I don’t think that’s any secret to them.”
For 14-year-old Central Cambria student Max Morin, the chance to learn from someone like Sanderson, as well as the other NCAA champion, All-American and elite-level coaches at the weeklong camp, was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s a great camp. The technicians are amazing,” Max said. “It’s definitely the best camp that I’ve been to.”
Strittmatter said that many of the other campers felt the same way.
“They’re really excited,” he said. “We talk about these guys all the time, and they see them. They’re going to Penn State matches. (Monday’s guest clinician) Cam Simaz was the first Young Guns NCAA champion.”
There could be a few more on the horizon, as Young Guns alumni Nico Megaludis, who was a national finalist for Penn State in March, and A.J. Schopp, who was an All-American for Edinboro this season, will be working at the camp today.
“It’s been neat to mix the older coaches, an Olympic gold medalist and Nico and A.J., who some of them actually practiced with growing up,” Strittmatter said.
For Sanderson, it’s a chance to talk to some of the wrestlers he likely will be coaching in the next few years, including Jason Nolf, a Penn State recruit from Kittanning.
“I’m working the camp here, but also get to work with the young wrestlers and see the future,” Sanderson said.
And make a little connection to his past as well.
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