The talented Mr. Sanderson

Jeff Stell

After three seasons of glory and perfection, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson is entering the home stretch on his march to history.

Sanderson is eyeing a fourth NCAA title and finishing his career unbeaten, something no other collegiate wrestler has done.

“I know I have to be at my best every time I get out on the mat and that’s what I’m planning on doing this year,” he said.

The Cyclone senior has piled up some impressive numbers in his first three years in a Cyclone singlet. Sanderson is 119-0, with three NCAA titles and three Outstanding Wrestler awards at the national tournament.

“Obviously he’s on a historic journey,” ISU wrestling coach Bobby Douglas said. “It’s where no one else has gone and it’s hard for me to describe, I haven’t stopped to smell the roses. He’s very capable of achieving all of his goals and if he goes undefeated, that would be huge.”

There will be a slight change from the past in Sanderson’s quest as he is moving up a weight class to 197. The last three seasons, Sanderson’s dominance came at 184.

Sanderson wanted to get bigger and stronger during the offseason and knew he’d grow out of the 184-pound weight class. Cutting weight won’t be a problem as Sanderson currently weighs 202 pounds.

“I’m too big to go 184,” Sanderson said. “For my own personal preference as far as maintaining weight, I decided to go up. I’m comfortable where I’m at and feel good at 197.”

Douglas sees a distinct strength addition to Sanderson and feels it’s part of the body development of his wrestler.

“He is developing, he’s the heaviest he’s ever been in his life, and his strength has gone up quite a bit,” Douglas said. “He’s really gotten a lot stronger. His workout partners have passed that on to me and they say he feels like he’s been wrestling the whole wrestling room.”

Sanderson’s main workout partner is two-time All-American Zach Thompson.

Thompson, who graduated last season, competed at 197 pounds and his size is helping Sanderson get prepared for the bigger wrestlers at 197.

“I’ve been wrestling with him ever since I got here and there’s not anybody that can get me more ready than he can,” Sanderson said.

Moving up a weight class means a lot of new opponents for Sanderson.

At 184, Sanderson made several wrestlers repeated victims on his perfect tally.

“It’s exciting because I’ve wrestled the same guys 10 or 12 times during the course of three years,” he said.

“It’s definitely going to be a little different, a little more exciting. It’s going to be a different kind of challenge and I’m going to keep my style that I had at 184 and try and wrestle the bigger guys the same way.”

While his physical skills have never been a question, Sanderson’s mental toughness will be tested this season due to all the attention his achievements will draw.

“It’s [pressure] has been huge since he was a sophomore,” Douglas said. “It’s been building and building and building. That’s one of the reasons we’re (coaching staff) hoping we can keep him focused.” Sanderson’s talents are earning him fans even outside of the Cyclone fan base.

“Cael is the first wrestler I’ve seen get a standing ovation in enemy territory,” Douglas said. “That speaks volumes for wrestling fans and how people feel about his accomplishments.”