Cael Sanderson stepped onto the collegiate wrestling mat 159 times during his career at Iowa State University including four national championship matches and stepped off a winner every single time. He is the first wrestler ever to win four NCAA titles with an undefeated record.
Pat Smith of Oklahoma State is the only other wrestler to win four national titles, but he lost five matches during his career. Dan Gable of Iowa State was undefeated going into the championship match his senior season but lost.
Cael capped his career with a 12-4 victory in the 197-pound weight class over Jon Trenge of Lehigh (Pa.) University on March 23 in Albany, N.Y., and for the fourth time was recognized as the national tournament's outstanding wrestler. His other championships were at 184 pounds.
He has also won academic all-America honors and the Dan Hodge Trophy, the equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy.
The pressure mounted during his senior year as attention poured down on him, Cael admitted during a Church News telephone interview following his triumph. "I just tried to have fun and not put too much pressure on myself." He added, "I definitely prayed a lot."
Currently a member of the Iowa State University Branch, Ames Iowa Stake, he grew up in an LDS family in rural Heber City, Utah. He credited his family as the primary factor in his success.
He was encouraged by older brothers Cody and Cole who also wrestled at Iowa State. "I had to wrestle up to their level," Cael said. "They set a huge example that was very positive, especially how hard they worked. I tried to keep up with them, but couldn't."
The three won several Utah state high school wrestling championships with their father, Steve, coaching them at Wasatch High School. Cael lost three high school matches but was a four-time state champ. He said younger brother Cyler recently added another state title at the end of his freshman season.
Cael said his dad's attitude helped the boys. "He didn't ever put pressure on us to win. The pressure was just to do our best. That made it fun for us."
His dad and mother, Debbie, have made many sacrifices for the boys, Cael said, including transporting them to tournaments throughout the country. However, he added, the parents required that the boys abide by family rules and be fully prepared before they were allowed to go to a tournament.
Cael has his future mapped out. He is engaged to marry Kelly Kinnard this spring. They met at Iowa State and she became interested in the Church, leading to her baptism. In wrestling, he will move onto world competition.
He graduated from Iowa State with a degree in art, but ultimately would like to be a wrestling coach and has set his sights on helping bring collegiate wrestling back to Utah.
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