Ed Ruth, who competed at 184 pounds last season, is a three-time national champ who compiled a career record of 136-3. Meanwhile, 165-pounder David Taylor won two crowns and finished his career at 134-3. Both were four-time All-Americans.
Always a cool customer, Sanderson does not appear to be sweating the job of winning a fifth straight title without the two stars. In fact, he said the program has been preparing for this for quite some time.
You don't look at it like you're trying to replace them, Sanderson said during a stop of the PSU Coaches Caravan here Tuesday. We're tying to build another championship team. We want to win more championships, and that just comes from getting good kids who can score a lot of points at the national tournament. Kids that love wrestling that have that same passion -- obviously that have tremendous ability in addition to a great work ethic and passion for the sport.
We do that every year, he added. That's all you do. If you're not planning three and four years ahead, you're a year behind.
None of which is to diminish what the dynamic duo did at Penn State.
We knew those guys were gonna graduate, and we're gonna miss them, Sanderson said. What they accomplished here in their time is nothing short of amazing. But I think we're excited about the challenge of continuing on.
In a way, however, Taylor and Ruth are already back at Penn State. So, too, is former Lion 149-pound national champion (2012) Frank Molinaro, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Rutgers.
All three have joined the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, the U.S. Olympic Regional Training Center based in the Penn State wrestling complex. Each is shooting for a spot on the 2016 United States Olympic team.
All three of them are knocking on the door, Sanderson said. They're right there. It's just a matter of making the adjustment to international style, and you're also competing at a high level. They have to keep on getting better. All three of them are good enough to make the team and medal for the United States.
"They have to keep on getting better. All three of them are good enough to make the team and medal for the United States."
At the U.S. Open in April, Molinaro finished fourth at 143 pounds, Taylor second at 163 and Ruth third at 189.
Penn State seniors-to-be Andrew Alton (149) and Dylan Alton (157) are both coming off disappointing junior seasons. Sanderson attributed their struggles to shoulder injuries.
Stay with us here. Following the 2012-13 season, Andrew had surgery to repair an injured right shoulder. About the same time, Dylan had a procedure done on his left shoulder.
This year, each had his other shoulder repaired. Andrew did not make it through the season and had surgery before Big Tens. Dylan had surgery after going 2-2 at NCAAs and coming up short of All-America status.
We knew they both had two bad shoulders last year, Sanderson said. But you can only (fix) one at a time, otherwise life gets very tricky. So they picked the worst one (first), and they got the other one as soon as they could.
If healthy, the twins should have strong senior seasons, according to Sanderson.
We're counting on them, he said. Obviously, we need them big time. They're both seniors, they're both experienced. Yeah, the last two years, they've been injured. Shoulders are a big deal in any sport. But in wrestling, with the pulling and pushing and the positions you are put in, shoulders make a big difference.
We just want them to be back to full speed, he added. When they're full speed, they're pretty remarkable at what they do. They haven't had that opportunity, and I know it's frustrating for them. It's tough with guys competing when they're not 100 percent. Hopefully they get back to 100 percent. If they're full speed, they're contenders. And we need them.
Speaking of injuries, Sanderson said 197-pound All-American Morgan McIntosh had postseason surgery to clean up his right elbow. Sanderson expects Penn State to wrestle one match in the Bryce Jordan Center again next season. No word yet on the opponent, though. Sanderson said no decision has been made on whether to redshirt star 125-pounder Nico Megaludis next winter. We're gonna figure that out as we get closer to the season.