Resident Athlete Program

Resident Athlete (R.A.) Program

The NLWC Coaching staff comprised of Cael Sanderson, Cody Sanderson, Casey Cunningham, Jake Varner, Mark McKnight, and Eric Thompson select elite wrestlers who have Olympic aspirations to live in Central PA and train at the NLWC’s Olympic Regional Training Center practices 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 Olympic and World Championships. NLWC Wrestlers have enjoyed tremendous success at both national and international levels!

Some Highlights from the Past Few Seasons (Includes R.A.’s and Collegians who Wrestled Under the NLWC Banner at Certain Tournament

2018

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.

2019

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. Davidwas 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 (Junior Freestyle) silver, Jason Nolf bronze, Mason Manville (Greco) bronze, Ben Provisor (Greco) bronze, Geno Morelli fifth, Jarod Verkleeren (Greco) fifth, and Riley Lefever sixth. In early May, Mark Hall and Nick Nevillscaptured 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 (Greco) finishing with silver in the final best of three series, Roman Bravo-Young (Junior) and Mark Hall earning silver in the Challenge Tournament, and Josh Rodriguez and Riley Lefever earning bronze in the challenge tournament. In June, Brady Berge 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 won the Junior Pan American Championships while also earning the OW award. Zain’s second match at Final X had a controversial ending. After a grievance was filed which ended in arbitration, Zain had to wrestle the second match again, this time winning by a score of 2-1. 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. Zain Retherford, Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, Franklin Gomez, and Jaime Espinal all competed at the 2019 Senior World Championships. In fall, 2019, Bo Nickal captured a U23 World Title. Also in fall, 2019, 3X NCAA Champion, 2015 and 2017 World Gold Medalist, and 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Kyle Snyder joined the NLWC Program. In late November at the Bill Farrell International, Kyle Snyder won gold and Jason Nolf silver. And at the final competition in 2019, the U.S. Senior Nationals, Nick Lee earned a bronze, Nick Nevills a fourth place finish, and Aaron Brooks a sixth place finish.

2020

Former Penn State HWT NCAA Champion Anthon Cassar joined the program in January. Also in January, Zain Retherford and Kyle Snyderearned bronze in Italy at the Matteo Pellicone International Tournament in Italy. In March at the Pan American Championships in Ottawa, Canada, Jason Nolf and Kyle Snyder captured gold medals and Franklin Gomez a silver. The following week at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier Tournament, David Taylor won gold, Franklin Gomez reached the finals, and Zain Retherford earned bronze. In winning his semi-final match at this tournament, Franklin Gomez qualified for his third Olympic Games. Also noteworthy at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier tournament, Jane Valencia (wife of NLWC R.A. Jaime Espinal) who also trains at the NLWC made history by becoming he first-ever Mexican women’s wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games. The COVID-19 Pandemic brought all competition to a half immediately following the Pan Am tournament. However, in late spring, the NLWC welcomed two new wrestlers to the Club: Iowa’s 3X All-American and 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman and Penn State’s 3X NCAA finalist and 2X Champion Vincenzo Joseph.

Upcoming Competitions

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, there are no competition scheduled at this time. The 2020 Olympic Trials that were to take place in April, 2020 at Penn State are expected to be held at Penn State in 2021. The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have been rescheduled for 2021.

Current NLWC Wrestlers

The NLWC currently has 15 athletes on the roster to train at the Club’s Olympic Regional Training Center: Thomas Gilman, Josh Rodriguez, Jordan Conaway, Zain Retherford, Bekzod Abdurakmonov, Franklin Gomez, Vincenzo Joseph, Jason Nolf, David Taylor, Jaime Espinal, Riley Lefever, Bo Nickal, Kyle Snyder, Anthony Cassar, and Nick Nevills.

2020 NLWC Olympic Regional Training Center Practice Schedule

*Practices are in the Penn State Wrestling room in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex

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

Monday-Friday:  TBD due to COVID-19

Saturday:  TBD due to COVID-19


NLWC Resident Athletes

Josh Rodriguez (57 kg/125.5 lbs)

From Guadalupe, California, Josh attended North Dakota State University before joining the R.A. program in late summer, 2017.  During the 2018-19 season, he won a Pan American gold medal, finished with a bronze at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, and won a gold medal at the Grand Prix of Spain.

Thomas Gilman (57kg/125.5lbs)

Thomas was 3X All-American for the University of Iowa and has had tremendous success at the International Level.   He was a 2017 World Silver Medalist and placed 5th at the 2018 World Championships.  He has also won or place highly in numerous other international tournaments, including winning 2020 Pan American Olympic qualifier tournament to qualify his weight class for the Olympic Games.  Thomas joined the NLWC Program in Spring, 2020.  

Jordan Conaway (61 kg/134 lbs)

A 2X All-American while competing for Penn State, Jordan joined the NLWC Resident Athlete Program in the summer of 2016.  In addition to being a top competitor, Jordan’s outstanding technique, positive attitude, and work ethic have made him an excellent training partner/coach at the Club’s Regional Training Center practices.  

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.   He was a 3X NCAA Champion who finished his career with 94 straight wins.  Zain also won two Hodge Trophies as the nation’s most dominant wrestler and won the NCAA Most Dominant Award three straight years.  During the 2018-19 season, Zain went undefeated at the World Cup Championships, finished 2nd at the U.S. Open National Championships, won the World Team Trials Challenge tournament, won the Final X, and represented team U.S.A. at the 2019 World Championships.  

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.  Moving up in weight the 2018-19 season, Franklin proved that he can still compete with the best in the world by winning the Grand Prix of Spain and earning a bronze at the Pan American Championships.  Franklin continued his run of success through the 2019-20 season and just before the 2020 Olympics were postponed, he had recently qualified for his third Olympic games with a win in the semis of the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier tournament.  

Bekzod Abdurakhmonov (74kg/163lbs)

A native of Uzbekistan, Bekzod joined the NLWC Resident Athlete Program in the fall of 2018.  He was a 2014 World Bronze Medalist, a 2016 Asian Gold Medalist, and a bronze medal match finalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Bekzod finished the 2017-18 season by earning another bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships.  

Vincenzo Joseph (74kg/163lbs)

Vincenzo had an outstanding collegiate career at Penn State where he was a 3X finalist and 2X NCAA Champion.   He was looking for his third title but didn’t get the opportunity when the 2020 NCAA tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Vincenzo joined the NLWC program in spring, 2020.  

Jason Nolf (74kg/163lbs)

Jason had a spectacular career at Penn state where he was a fan favorite for his exciting go all out and dominate style.  He won 3X NCAA titles in his collegiate career before joining the NLWC Resident Athlete Program in April, 2019.  He earned a bronze in the 2019 U.S. Open National Championships and won the World Team Trials Challenge tournament before dropping a close best of three series in the final world team trials.  In March, 2020 Jason won the Pan American Games to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials.  

David Taylor (86 kg/189 lbs)

David had an outstanding collegiate 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.   During the 2017-18 season, David was virtually unstoppable in every competition he entered, including the 2018 World Championships where he dominated the 86 kg weight class on his way to a World Title.  And at the conclusion of the season, the international governing body of wrestling recognized David as the 2018 top freestyle wrestler in the World!  David started off the 2019 season right where he had left off in the 2018 season.  He won a gold medal and the OW award at the 2019 Pan American Championships by tech falling or pinning every opponent.  David suffered in injury in late spring, 2019, returning to competition in March, 2020 to win the Pan American Olympic Qualifier tournament.  

Jaime Espinal (92kg/202lbs)

Jaime was a member of the NLWC Resident Athlete Program and had trained at the Club’s RTC on his way to the Silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.  He decided to return to competition and rejoined the NLWC in 2019.  Jaime is a phenomenal athlete and an outstanding competitor and training partner.  When Jaime returned to training at the NLWC, his wife Jane Espinal also started training at the Club.  In spring, 2020, Jane made history by becoming the first-ever Mexican women’s wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games!

Bo Nickal (92kg/202lbs)

Bo joined the Resident Athlete Program in spring, 2019, after finishing an outstanding career at Penn State where he was a 3X NCAA Champion and earned the Hodge Trophy as the Nation’s most dominant collegiate wrestler during the 2018-19 season.  Bo transitioned from collegiate style to freestyle without missing a beat.  He won the 2019 U.S. Open National Tournament in dominating fashion and followed that by winning the world team trials best of three final.  After dropping two close bouts to the returning world champion in the Final X series, Bo challenged for the U23 World Team spot which he won.  Bo then went on to capture the 2019 U23 World Title!  

Riley Lefever (97kg/213.4lbs)

Riley joined the Resident Athlete Program in early summer, 2017, after graduating from Wabash College in Indiana.   Riley finished his collegiate career with a 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 a very successful first season with the Club but didn’t compete in his second season (2018) due to an injury.  In his return to competition in 2019, he improved rapidly.  At the U.S. Open National Championships, Riley finished in sixth place.  Less than a month later, Riley finished third at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

Kyle Snyder (97kg/213.4lbs)

Kyle joined the NLWC Program in fall, 2019.  A 3X NCAA Champion for Ohio State, Kyle made U.S. history by becoming the youngest American to win a World title (2015) at 19 years old and the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal (2016) at 20 years old.  Kyle is widely recognized as one of the top wrestlers in the world!

Anthony Cassar (125kg/275lbs)

Anthony, a former Penn Stater, joined the NLWC program in January, 2020 after an phenomenal collegiate career where he won an NCAA title in 2019.  Anthony had a lot of freestyle success early in his collegiate career, and he looks forward to competing for Olympic and World titles.  

Nick Nevills (125kg/275lbs)

After a fine career at Penn State where he was a 2X All-American, Nick joined the Resident Athlete Program in April, 2019.  In his first freestyle competition after joining the Club, Nick tech falled his way through the bracket at the Last Chance World Team Trials Qualifier.  At the U.S. Open National Championships in late fall, 2019, Nick placed fourth to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

NLWC Coaching Staff

Jake Varner

A former NLWC Resident Athlete, Jake had an outstanding competitive career.  He reached the NCAA finals 4 times, winning 2 titles, earned a 2011 World Bronze Medal, and won a 2012 Olympic Gold Medal.  Jake joined the NLWC coaching staff in 2016, and also performs many other duties for the Club.  In addition, Jake serves as the Penn State Wrestling team’s volunteer coach.  Jake had played a significant role in the success of both the NLWC and Penn State Wrestling programs.  

Mark McKnight

A former All-American for Penn State, Mark was a top senior level wrestler for many years, reaching the 2012 Olympic Trial semi-finals and winning a 2013 Pan American Gold Medal.   After finishing his competitive career, Mark transitioned into a coaching position with the NLWC.  An outstanding youth coach, Mark also directions the Club’s scholastic programs and assists with the Club’s golf tournament, clinics, youth tournament, and various fundraising initiatives.  Mark has also played a significant role in the development of the Club’s senior level wrestlers.  

Eric Thompson

Eric was a 3X NAIA National Champion at Grand View University was one of the top freestyle heavyweights in the U.S. for many years.  A former NLWC Resident Athlete, Eric transitioned into a coaching role and also performs many other duties for the Club.  Eric has played a key role in the development of the NLWC wrestlers, especially the upper weights while also assisting with fundraising, scholastic programs, wrestling clinics, golf tournaments, and directing the Club’s youth tournament.  

Upcoming Happenings
With The NLWC

Stay tuned for more info!

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