Jenn Page Senior Nationals

Former Penn State All-American and current NLWC coach Mark McKnight (left), with NLWC resident athlete Jenn Page. Page won the 62 kg Senior National Title on Saturday, Oct. 10 in Coralville, Iowa.

The success of Penn State's collegiate wrestling team during the Cael Sanderson era is well documented.

The Nittany Lions have won 152 matches and eight NCAA titles entering Sanderson's 12th season in Happy Valley, but his success doesn't stop there.

Sanderson has long been an advocate for growing the sport and has backed up his words with tangible steps he feels need to be taken to accomplish that.

The Salt Lake City, Utah, native has said the sport needs to become more digestible and easier to understand to the general public and needs to see an increase in the number of scholarships.

But there's one other area where Sanderson has quietly grown the sport, and it's paid dividends.

Sanderson also oversees the freestyle arm of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, and it's here where Sanderson's commitment to women's wrestling has shown his seriousness toward growing the sport.

The NLWC has several prominent female wrestlers training in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, most notably Jane Valencia and Jennifer Page.

While competing for the NLWC, Valencia became the first-ever Mexican woman to qualify for the Olympics after winning the 57 kg at the Pan-American Championships back in April.

Page has also been similarly successful under the guidance of Sanderson and company, as she became the 2020 US Senior National champion at 62 kg on Saturday.

Page knocked off No. 1 seed Macey Kitty in the finals by a score of 4-3, going 3-0 at the tournament en route to the title and posting two shutouts along the way.

The tournament was just Page's third since 2017 after a string of injuries sidelined her.

She attributed her win to the training partners in the Penn State room, notably Valencia and some of the smaller wrestlers in Penn State's lineup, she told USA Wrestling after her win.

Both Page and Valencia also competed in front of a captive audience last month and got potentially even more exposure when the NLWC hosted a 13-bout card on Sept. 19.

Valencia had a close match with Julia Salata, which ended 6-6 but saw Valencia win on criteria.

Page also had success at the NLWC's first freestyle event, putting on an impressive display of offense by scoring 10 unanswered points to win her bout against Desiree Zavala by a score of 14-10.

There's a push by the PIAA to sanction girls wrestling throughout the commonwealth, and though Sanderson hasn't put his thumb on the scale and weighed in on this directly, his recent actions could have a ripple effect.

The organization WrestleLikeAGirl has set out to have 100 high schools recognize the sport and field teams, thus leading to it being sanctioned at the state level.

There are 23 state high school associations across the country that sanction girls wrestling. And even in Pennsylvania, all 12 PIAA districts have high schools where girls compete on the boys wrestling team.

It's no secret that Pennsylvania is a hotbed for wrestling, both men's and women's.

Now, with several prominent names at the state's most-prominent program, and what seems to be a commitment to women's wrestling in some capacity on Sanderson's part, the landscape of the sport could change.

So the fact that some of the sport's best women's freestyle athletes are in Penn State's room — and that Sanderson is working to actively promote them and coach them — could be what's needed to grow the sport even more.


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