If you’re a 197-pound wrestler checking the brackets at a tournament, and you see that your next match is against some guy named Sanderson from a school named Iowa State, you’re in for a ride. That Sanderson on the bracket is Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson and his name is always at the top.
The senior from Heber City, Utah has gone undefeated in his four years at Iowa State and has captured three NCAA titles.
That’s right, he hasn’t lost a single match in four years!
This coming weekend, Sanderson hopes to join Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith as the only four-time national champions.
“He’s special, he really is,” Michigan head coach Joe McFarland said. “He’s got a lot of confidence in himself. He’s able to chain wrestle really well. He’s constantly looking for ways to score. If one move isn’t working, he’ll just go right to another.”
When Sanderson wrestles, he doesn’t just win – he usually destroys his opponents. A good example would be last year’s NCAA Championships, in which Sanderson faced Indiana’s Victor Sveda in the semifinals. For the first part of this season, Sveda was ranked No. 1 at 184-pounds, but he was still no match for Sanderson. Iowa State’s superstar gave the crowd a takedown clinic en route to a 21-7 victory.
His teammates are usually so confident that he’ll win his match that they simply joke and laugh whenever he wrestles.
Last year, Sanderson broke Iowa legend Dan Gable’s 30-year-old consecutive win record – a mark the wrestling community thought would never be topped. Gable’s previous mark of 100 straight victories has been shattered by Sanderson, who has won all 154 of his collegiate matches.
Michigan’s Kyle Smith knows all too well how good Sanderson is. The last time the two squared off was at National Duals in January, when Smith became Sanderson’s victim No. 144. In that match, Sanderson pinned Smith 2:24 through the first period – it was Smith’s only loss by fall all season. Smith, currently ranked No. 5 in the nation at 197 pounds, is one of the wrestlers with the daunting task of trying to blemish Sanderson’s perfect 154-0 record to win the national title.
Sanderson may seem unbeatable, but Gable looked the same way 30 years ago. Gable’s perfect 100-0 record fell to 100-1 when he lost to Washington’s Larry Owings in the finals of the 1970 NCAA Championships – the last match of his college career. Can Smith play spoiler in much the same way that Owings did back in 1970?
“Everyone’s beatable,” McFarland said. “You just have to be well prepared.”