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Penn State Wrestling HC Cael Sanderson Explains why PSU Hired Nick Lee

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Nick Lee

On the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club’s podcast, “Strong and Grateful,” the voice of Penn State wrestling, Jeff Byres, asked iconic coach Cael Sanderson about the search to replace Jimmy Kennedy as assistant coach. 

Kennedy, who was at Penn State for two seasons, working with lightweight wrestlers, left State College earlier this month for Stillwater, Oklahoma. There, he’ll be Penn State wrestling legend David Taylor’s second-in-command as associate head coach. 

When asked about the opening, Sanderson initially said Penn State was going to “fill the position ASAP.” That made it seem like a decision had yet to be made.

“We have so many incredible people around here,” Sanderson said.

After this, Sanderson decided to let the cat out of the bag, and Penn State has since made the news official.

“And I think…. I don’t think, I know we’re going to hire Nick Lee in that position,” Sanderson said.

Lee’s no stranger to Penn State wrestling or its fans. 

He’s only a little more than two years removed from putting a bow on a fantastic career with a second national championship in March 2022.

Along with the two national championships, Lee was the first five-time All-American in Penn State history. That feat has since been matched by Roman Bravo-Young (2023) and Aaron Brooks (2024.)

After college, Lee stayed with NLWC and embarked on a folkstyle. At this April’s Olympic Trials held at Penn State in the Bryce Jordan Center, Lee was two wins away from a chance to go to Paris. But he fell twice in a row in a best-of-three series to fellow Penn State great Zain Retherford. 

Penn State fans know all about Lee the wrestler. 

But what about Lee the coach?

“He has a knack for coaching,” Sanderson said. “He’s really smartHe has really taken a vested interest in helping the people around him get better. Even at times when he’s supposed to be training, he’s trying to help others. So I think he’s going to do an outstanding job.”

Lee is only 26, which makes him the youngest member of Penn State’s staff by a significant margin.

Cael and associate head Cody Sanderson are each in their 40s, as is head assistant coach Casey Cunningham. 

Director of Operations Adam Lynch, who wrestled at Penn State during Cael’s early years, is in his early 30s.

For Sanderson, Lee’s youth is an advantage. 

“Gives us a younger mind who’s going to see things a little differently,” Sanderson said, “and add a lot to what we’re doing as a staff and kind of come in and say ‘Well, why don’t we do this or ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’ 

Sanderson then hinted that Lee will work with the “bottom five weight classes,” which is noteworthy since there’s been debate amongst wrestling fans as to what’s considered a “lightweight” and what isn’t. 

Assuming Lee will work with the bottom five, that means he’ll coach 141-pounder Beau Bartlett, who was teammates with Lee for two seasons. 

Among Lee’s former teammates still wrestling at Penn State are four-time national champ Carter Starocci and defending heavyweight champ Greg Kerkvliet.

It hasn’t yet been confirmed what this will mean for Lee’s competitive career. 

In any case, Sanderson’s stoked to have him on staff.

“He’s the guy,” Sanderson said. “He’s excited about the job, and we’re excited to have him join our staff.”

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