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How Penn State Wrestling Stacks Up Among The Greatest Sports Dynasties

When Penn State wrestling won its eighth national title in nine years over the weekend, the Nittany Lions further solidified their standing as the team of the decade and their place among the greatest dynasties in the sports. In addition to its dominance during the postseason, Penn State has won its 59 last dual meets and just capped off its third consecutive undefeated season.

Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions have officially surpassed comparisons to the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and New England Patriots. They’ve now secured the right to be in conversations along with John Wooden, Red Auerbach, and perhaps the one name most meaningful to wrestlers: Dan Gable.

There have been plenty of great teams that strung together championship seasons. But few have been able to do so for a decade. Fewer have been able to do so for even longer. If there’s one common thread among these teams, it’s a renowned head coach who’s been able to survive the tests of time and evolve without losing touch, a level of distinction Sanderson has quickly attained.

Here’s a look at some of the longest-standing dynasties that rival the success Sanderson has been able to find in Happy Valley.

Iowa wrestling
1975-2000

If we’re talking about legacies in college wrestling, we can’t talk about Sanderson without mentioning Dan Gable. Dan Gable was Cael Sanderson, before Sanderson was Cael Sanderson.

As the head coach of Iowa, Gable won nine national titles in a row from 1978 to 1986. In 1991, he began another streak of nine titles in ten years. If you count the two won before Gable’s arrival and three right after his departure, the Hawkeyes won a total of 19 titles in 26 years at the end of the last century.

Sanderson is more than halfway to Gable’s record of 15, and he’s only 40 years old. If he sticks around the sport for an extended period of time, even if he doesn’t continue his current insane rate of winning, Sanderson will almost assuredly eclipse Gable’s record.

One area that Gable stands apart from Sanderson is conference titles. Gable won the Big Ten Championships every year he coached. That’s a total of 21. Comparatively, Sanderson has only won the tournament six times in ten years, including only twice in the last five years.

Interestingly, in addition to their sustained runs of success, both Sanderson and Gable were Iowa State wrestlers and coaches before they left their alma mater for greener pastures. To this day, Cyclone fans are still disgruntled about this.

New York Yankees
1947-64

Really, the entirety of the New York Yankees’ franchise has been one big dynasty. They’ve won 27 World Series in 115 seasons, for an average of once every four or five years.

The Yankees have had multiple long runs, but none compares to what they accomplished in the 1950s. Between 1947 and 1964, there were only four World Series the Yankees didn’t play in. Of their 15 trips to the Fall Classic during that span, the Bronx Bombers won 11 national titles. Those teams were some of the best in baseball history and featured Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle.

Boston Celtics
1957-69

As longtime fan Bill Simmons would say, the Boston Celtics had a moment under head coach Red Auerbach. In fact, they had a whole decade. Led by the immortal Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, the Celtics were the NBA’s first great dynasty, winning 11 championships in 13 years.

UCLA basketball
1964-75

Around the same time Auerbach and Russell’s Celtics torched the rest of the NBA year in and year out, another empire reigned over the college ranks. As the head coach of UCLA, John Wooden won 10 national championships in 12 years. During that time, the Bruins had an 364-22 record and four undefeated seasons. Their rosters featured future NBA stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and Gail Goodrich.

To this day, Wooden and his UCLA teams remain the epitome of greatness in college sports, something Sanderson is moving toward infringing on.

UNC women’s soccer
1981-2003

Between 1981 and 2003, the UNC women’s soccer team won 18 national titles. In the five years the Tar Heels didn’t win a title, they lost in the finals three times and semifinals twice. Plenty of United State national team members like Mia Hamm, Tobin Heath, and Heather O’Reilly passed through Chapel Hill during this run.

It’s too early in Sanderson’s career to begin making comparisons to UNC head coach Anson Dorrance, but he’s certainly taken the first few steps. What Dorrance has built at UNC during the last four decades might be the closest thing, outside of wrestling, to what Sanderson is doing. Both programs have taken a smaller scale sport by storm and developed a reputation for developing the best athletes in the country and put them on a path to representing the United States. It’s just a question of how long Sanderson keep it up.

De La Salle (California) high school football 1992-2004

The subject of 2014 film When The Game Stands Tall (a great watch for any football fan), De La Salle is best known for its 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004. Led by head coach Bob Ladoceur, De La Salle won seven national titles during that span.

As astounding as the Nittany Lions’ current string of dual wins seems, the Spartans’ streak more than doubles it and stood for more than four times as long.

St. Anthony’s (New Jersey) high school basketball
1981-97

St. Anthony’s sat atop New Jersey high school basketball throughout legendary head coach Bob Hurley’s 39-year career. But for a two-decade span, the Friars were nearly unbeatable.

During this 18-year stretch, St. Anthony’s won 15 New Jersey state championships and a pair of national titles.

Unfortunately, despite Hurley’s efforts for nearly 40 years not just to win games but to keep the school solvent, St. Anthony’s was forced to close in 2017. During his career, Hurley, a Naismith Hall of Famer, compiled a 1,184-125 record and won 26 state championships and four national championships.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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