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Onward Debate: A Tale Of Two Dynasties

Rec Hall has hosted countless Penn State sporting events since its debut on January 15, 1929.  In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a venue with as much history as the beloved Penn State staple that sits on Curtin Road.

Two of the nation’s premier programs call Rec home, but which owns the more impressive dynasty? Cael Sanderson’s dominant wrestling squad soaks up the excitement of a sold-out crowd each time it takes the mat, while women’s volleyball weekends are just as thunderous when Russ Rose’s high-flying ladies take the hardwood.

With 13 national championships between the two powerhouse programs, we asked two of our writers to take on the unenviable task of debating which team reigns supreme.

Matt Coleman — Wrestling

Penn State wrestling has won five National Championships in six years, and it looks ready to capture another two or three in the coming years. With talented freshmen and senior leadership setting the tone, the Nittany Lions went 16-0 in regular season competition and won the NWCA Dual Meet Championship, the Big Ten Championship, and the NCAA Championship. On top of that, they had three individual Big Ten Champions, two NCAA Champions, three national runner-ups, and six All-Americans.

While I can definitely see the argument for Russ Rose’s program and the remarkable success its achieved during his time at the helm, what Cael Sanderson has done for Penn State wrestling over the past decade is nothing short of incredible. The legendary wrestler went 159-0 with four National Championships to his credit as a collegiate wrestler at Iowa State, so he knows a thing or two about winning. He’s brought an offensive-minded attitude to Penn State and has thoroughly developed almost every wrestler that has stepped foot on the mats in Happy Valley.

With rising sophomores like Bo Nickal, Jason Nolf, Nick Nevills, and even Shakur Rasheed gaining experience this year, and Zain Retherford continuing to do what he does best, the question for Penn State wrestling next year is not if they can win the National Championship, but how far they can distance themselves from second place. This team is a frightening presence on any team’s schedule, but the challenge of tackling Goliath becomes steeper for opposing teams when they’re forced to visit the raucous environment created by the sold-out Rec Hall crowd.

Penn State has blossomed into one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant, wrestling programs in the nation, and it only figures to improve from here. Cael Sanderson led the team to four straight National Championships and Big Ten Championships from 2011 to 2014, and it’s very easy, at least for me, to imagine that same dominance happening in the years to come with the talented underclassmen. This team has been outstanding and completely dominant all year, and it deserves the honor of boasting the most dominant dynasty at Penn State.

Ethan Kasales — Women’s Volleyball

I definitely agree with Matt that Cael Sanderson’s brought home an unbelievable amount of hardware during his first eight seasons in State College, and at only 36-years-old, Penn State wrestling will surely find the winner’s circle again and again. Five National Championships in six years is something to be extremely proud of — but, like Kanye West infamously said to Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, “I’ma let you finish, but Russ Rose has one of the best dynasties of all time.”

Here’s why Rose’s Nittany Lions deserve the title of most dominant dynasty in Happy Valley. Since taking the job in 1979, Rose has brought a clinic-like aura to his women’s volleyball program, capturing a record seven National Championships over the past 16 seasons (1999, 07-10, 13-14). His 1,189-186 record (No. 1 all-time) keeps pushing the limits of what’s possible in collegiate athletics. Four of those title matches were won in a 3-0 sweep, by the way. Only Stanford comes close to matching Penn State’s regal roots, but let’s not forget that the Cardinal haven’t come out on top since 2004. The Nittany Lions have rolled to six of their seven titles since John Dunning brought his second back to Palo Alto, which leads me to my next point.

If Penn State’s been able to accomplish this much in such a relatively short period of time (the NCAA started naming a women’s volleyball National Champion in 1981), just imagine what’s on the horizon for Rose’s bunch. Despite failing to make it past Hawaii in the Sweet 16 this past season, the Nittany Lions are almost always lethal when the calendar flips to December. The fact that they were able to rattle off 20-straight wins on their way to the 2014 crown — only losing four of 64 sets during that span — is simply ashtonishing given their predominantly young roster. That was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year, and look how things turned out.

Collegiate wrestling has historically been dominated by midwestern programs like Oklahoma State, which has a record 34 National Championships (three unofficial) to its name. Russ Rose has single-handedly turned Penn State into the lone East Coast powerhouse in women’s volleyball in a sport that features far more parity.

When nothing short of a National Championship is considered a “failure,” you know you’ve got something special. Though savvy veterans Megan Courtney, Aiyana Whitney, and Kendall Pierce have all graduated, Penn State has more than enough talent on its roster, including the incoming true freshmen, to make an unprecedented eighth Rec Hall banner a possibility. Get ready for Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti to run roughshod on the Big Ten and dethrone Nebraska.

When Cael Sanderson has a Creamery flavor named after him, give me a call. Jokes aside, he definitely should. How does Pecan Sanderson sound?

*****

There you have it; the case has been made for both wrestling and women’s volleyball. Which dynasty do you think is the best?

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