Resident Athlete Program


The NLWC Coaching Staff, comprised of Cael Sanderson, Cody Sanderson, Casey Cunningham, Jake Varner, Mark McKnight, and Eric Thompson select and recruit elite athletes to live in Central Pennsylvania and train at the NLWC’s Olympic Regional Training Center where they practice in the Penn State Wrestling Room.  This program is designed to provide the coaching, training environment, and financial support necessary for these athletes to compete for and win Olympic and World Championships.  Over the past several seasons, the wrestlers in the Resident Athlete Program have enjoyed tremendous success on both national and international levels.

NLWC wrestlers compete around the U.S. and the world throughout the year.  Listed below are some of the past season’s highlights.  

From October, 2018 to August, 2019

In October at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, David Taylor dominated the 86 kg weight class and won a World Title.  Also competing at the World Championships, Franklin Gomez (wrestling for Puerto Rico) won his first match but lost his second match to the eventual gold medalist and fell short of placing.  Bekzod Abdurakhmonov (wrestling for Uzbekistan) won a bronze medal at the World Championships and joined the NLWC that same month.  At the conclusion of the 2018 calendar year, David Taylor, was recognized by the international governing body of wrestling as the top pound for pound freestyle wrestler in the world in 2018!  Also at the conclusion of 2018, NLWC Coach Casey Cunningham was recognized by USA Wrestling as the U.S. Freestyle Coach of the year!  In March, 2019, Bekzod Abdurakhmonov earned a silver at the Dan Kolov International Tournament in Ruse, Bulgaria.  Josh Rodriguez and Riley Lefever also competed but fell short of placing in Bulgaria.  At the 2019 World Cup Championships held in Yakutsk, Russia, in March, Zain Retherford went undefeated and led the U.S team to a bronze medal.  The month of April was a big month for the NLWC with Penn State stars Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Nick Nevills joining the Club, and former Resident Athlete and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist, Jaime Espinal, returning to the Club.  At the Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April, both Josh Rodriguez and David Taylor captured gold medals with Jaime Espinal earning silver and Franklin Gomez bronze.  David was also awarded the OW award at the Pan American Championships.  At the U.S. Open National Championships in Las Vegas in late April, Bo Nickal captured gold, Zain Retherford and Roman Bravo-Young (collegian wrestling Junior Freestyle) silver, Jason Nolf bronze, Mason Manville (collegian wrestling Greco) bronze, Ben Provisor (Greco) bronze, Geno Morelli fifth, Jarod Verkleeren (collegian wrestling Greco) fifth, and Riley Lefever sixth.  In early May, Mark Hall (collegian) and Nick Nevills captured gold at the Last Chance World Team Trials Qualifier Tournament.  The U.S. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and took place in Raleigh, NC in May with Zain Retherford, Ben Provisor (Greco), and Bo Nickal all winning gold in the final best of three series, Jason Nolf and Mason Manvillle (collegian wrestling Greco) finishing with silver in the final best of three series, Roman Bravo-Young (collegian wrestling Junior Freestle) and Mark Hall (collegian) earning silver in the Challenge Tournament, and Josh Rodriguez and Riley Lefever earning bronze in the challenge tournament.  In June, Brady Berge (collegian) won the U23 World Team Trials Tournament in Akron, OH, with seven straight technical falls.  In the Final X held in June at Rutgers University, Zain Retherford defeated Yianni Diakomihalis two matches to none to win the U.S. World Team spot, and during the same weekend, Roman Bravo-Young (collegian) won the Junior Pan American Championships while also earning the OW award.  At the Grand Prix of Spain in July, Josh Rodriguez and Franklin Gomez both captured gold medals, and also in July in Fargo, ND, Bo Nickal won a special wrestle-off two matches to none to win a spot on the U.S. U23 World Team.  

Upcoming Competitions.  

September 14-22:  Senior World Champ. in Kazakhstan.  Zain Retherford, Bedkzod Abdurakhmonov, Franklin Gomez, & Jaime Espinal competing.

October 19, 2019:  U23 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.  Brady Berge and Bo Nickal competing.  

April 4-5, 2020:  Penn State hosts the 2020 Olympic Trials.  Mark your calendars…the opportunity to see first-hand and support both the NLWC Wrestlers and Team USA!  

August 2-8, 2020:  Olympics in Tokyo, Japan

Throughout the 2019-20 season, the Club’s Resident Athletes will again be competing at a variety of national and international tournaments.   The Club will keep members and sponsors updated on these competitions via twitter, e-mail updates, and mailed newsletters.  

Current Season’s (2019-20) NLWC Resident Athletes

The NLWC currently has 12 athletes on the roster to train at the Club’s Regional Training Center and to compete for the Club during the 2019-20 Season.

Josh Rodriguez (57 kg/125.5 lbs)

Josh is from Guadalupe, California where he competed at Righetti H.S. In college, he attended North Dakota State University where he was a 3X NCAA qualifier, placed high or won numerous top collegiate tournaments, and defeated many of the top 125 lb. wrestlers in the country. Josh joined the R.A. program in late summer, 2017. During his first season with the NLWC, Josh earned a bronze medal at the U23 World Team Trials, placed 5th at the Outstanding Ukrainian Tournament in Kiev, and earned a bronze at the Canada Cup. Josh has been a tremendous addition to the NLWC Resident Athlete roster. He is a tough competitor, an extremely hard worker, and an outstanding training partner at the Regional Training Center practices, and is rapidly improving at freestyle.

Jordan Conaway (61 kg/134 lbs)

A 2X All-American and a fan favorite for his attitude and conditioning while competing for Penn State, Jordan joined the NLWC Resident Athlete Program in the summer of 2016. Jordan’s outstanding technique and work ethic make him an excellent training partner at the Club’s Regional Training Center practices, and he is a tremendous asset for all of the lightweights who work out with him. Jordan is also a fine representative of the Club!

Zain Retherford (65kg/143.5 lbs)

Zain joined the R.A. Program in April, 2018, after completing one of the finest careers ever for a collegiate wrestler. Zain was a 3X NCAA Champion who finished his career with 94 straight wins. He also won two Hodge Trophies as the nation’s most dominant wrestler. And won the NCAA Most Dominant Award three straight years. In March 2019, Zain went undefeated at the World Cup tournament in Russia and lead the U.S. team to a bronze medal. Zain has goals of winning Olympic and World Titles, and the NLWC is very excited to have Zain as part of the Club’s Resident Athlete Program. A ferocious competitor on the wrestling mat, Zain is a gentleman off of the mat. He has every quality that the Coaches look for in the Club’s Resident Athletes.

Franklin Gomez (74 kg/163 lbs)

A NCAA Champion and All-American for Michigan State, Franklin has been with the Resident Athlete Program for many years. Representing his native Puerto Rico, Franklin earned a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, was a 2012 Olympian, competed at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships, and also competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Franklin has won or placed high in numerous international tournaments along the way, most recently winning a gold medal at the Canada Cup. Franklin is simply a tremendous wrestler, an excellent workout partner in the Club’s Regional Training Center practices, and is a class act both on and off of the mat.

Ben Provisor (85 kg/187 lbs)

Originally from Wisconsin, Ben is a top U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler who joined the R.A. program in Oct., 2017. He is a former 2X U.S. Open National Champion and a Pan American Champion who was also a 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympian. Ben has had a great first year in the Club’s R.A. program, winning gold at the U.S. Open and the Pan American Games (up a weight class and competing in freestyle to help team U.S.A. no less). In 2018, Ben finished 2nd in the Greco-Roman world team trials and followed that with a silver at the Canada Cup.  Ben is a tough and rugged competitor who is committed to being the best and as one of the top Greco wrestlers in the United States brings a different knowledge base and techniques to the Club’s Regional Training Center practices. Ben has been a welcome addition to the NLWC R.A. Program.  

David Taylor (86 kg/189 lbs)

David had an outstanding college career at Penn State where he was a 4X All-American, a 2X NCAA Champion, and a 2X Hodge Award winner, recognized as the most dominant wrestler in the country. Four years ago, he had an excellent season in his first full year of freestyle, winning several international tournaments and the U.S. Open National Championship, and finishing 3rd in the 2015 World Team Trials.  In 2016, he made the jump from 163 lbs. to 189 lbs., and continued having success, finishing 3rd in the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2017, David won his weight and the OW award the U.S. Open National Championships. During the 2018 season, David was virtually unstoppable in every competition he entered, including a gold medal at the Yarygin Grand Prix, considered the “toughest” freestyle tournament in the world. To conclude his 2018 campaign, David won a World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and was voted by UWW as the outstanding freestyle wrestler in the world for 2018. 

Riley Lefever (92 kg/202.4 lbs)

Riley joined the Resident Athlete Program in early summer, 2017, after graduating from Wabash College in Indiana. Riley finished his collegiate career with an outstanding career record of 158-6 and was a 4X Division III National Champion (only the 2nd wrestler to ever accomplish this feat) while twice winning the OW award at the National Tournament. Riley had an outstanding first season with the NLWC, earning a bronze medal at the U23 World Team Trials, a bronze at the Dave Schultz International, and a bronze at the Outstanding Ukrainian Tournament. Riley suffered an injury early in 2018 and was unable to compete the U.S. Open and World Team Trials. He has since fully recovered and will be competing in 2019. Riley has an excellent attitude and work ethic and is an outstanding representative of the Club.  


The coaches of the Club’s Regional Olympic Training Center and Resident Athlete Program are so well known that they really need no introduction. In addition to their tremendous success as collegiate coaches leading the Penn State Wrestling team to numerous NCAA Championships, Casey Cunningham, Cody Sanderson, and Cael Sanderson have at the same time been very successful at leading the NLWC Resident Athlete Program and the Club’s Regional Training Center. They were joined a few years ago by former Resident Athlete, Jake Varner, who was a 4X NCAA finalist, 2X NCAA Champion, 2011 World Bronze Medalist, and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist. More recently, Mark McKnight and Eric Thompson transitioned to the Club’s coaching staff.  Mark is a former All-American at Penn State who reached the 2012 Olympic Trial semi-finals and was a 2013 Pan American gold medalist. Eric was an NAIA National Champion and a former coach at Lock Haven University and was also one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in the U.S. for many years. Both Mark and Eric also assist with many other Club functions including the scholastic programs, the golf tournament, clinics, and wrestling tournaments.  

Knowledgeable, disciplined, and extremely hard-working, these coaches set the example for the work ethic, training habits, and lifestyle necessary to win against the best in the world. Their leadership has been instrumental in the success of the NLWC wrestlers!  

2018 - 2019 NLWC Regional Training Center Practice Schedule (Lorenzo Wrestling Complex)

Monday - Friday 2:00 p.m.

Saturday 9.00 a.m.

*Depending upon competition schedules, the days and times of practices may be adjusted.

NLWC Coaching Staff

Jake Varner

A former resident athlete, Jake joined the NLWC coaching staff in 2016 and also became the Volunteer Coach for Penn State. Jake also serves as a Director on the NLWC Club's staff and performs many other duties for the Club. Jake was a 4x NCAA Finalist, 2x Champion, 2011 World Bronze medalist and won an Olympic Gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Eric Thompson

A former Resident Athlete, Eric is a 3 time NAIA National Champion at Grand View University, and was one of the top heavyweights in the U.S. during his time as a training athlete, and a 3 time Senior level All American. Eric performs many different duties for the club and successes of the Clubs wrestlers.

Mark McKnight

A former All-American for Penn State, Mark reached the 2012 Olympic Trial semi-finals at 57 kg/125.5 lbs. before dropping a close decision to the eventual champion. In 2013, Mark won a Pan American Games Gold Medal and placed 4th at the U.S. Open. Mark has gradually transitioned into a coach for the Club’s Regional Training Center. In addition, Mark has directed the NLWC scholastic programs, and his leadership has led these programs to new heights. Mark has also assisted with many other Club functions including the golf tournament, clinic, and tournament.

Upcoming Happenings
With The NLWC

Stay tuned for more info!

Recent NLWC News & Club Updates

Jan 21, 2020

Matteo Pellicone International

Zain Retherford (65kg) and Kyle Snyder (97kg) both earned bronze medals at the Matteo Pellicone International in Rome, Italy over ...

Read More