By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Heading into the 2013-'14 season, the only questions that the three-time defending national champion Penn State wrestling team had to face in regards to their lineup centered around their lower weight wrestlers.
Three dual meets into the season, redshirt sophomore Jordan Conaway and true freshman Zain Retherford have done a nice job putting those questions to rest at the 133-pound and 141-pound weights, respectively, as evidenced by their performances in the Nittany Lions 34-6 victory in the team's home opener against Lock Haven on Sunday.
"They put in a good effort and that's what we want from them from here on out," said head coach Cael Sanderson. "They gave us what we're looking for and that's what got them good results."
Following All-American Nico Medaludis's dominant 21-5 tech fall over freshman Ronnie Perry to open the match at the 125-pound weight, Conaway took the mat against sophomore Matt Bryer, looking to continue the Nittany Lions momentum.
After falling behind 2-0 early, the second-year wrestler took control of the match, coming up with a quick escape and takedown to end the first period with a 3-2 lead which he then refused to give up, notching three more takedowns en-route to a 10-5 victory.
"It took me a little while to get a rhythm going but once I did I thought I wrestled well," said Conaway. "At first I was wrestling his type of match but towards the end I started getting my own shots going."
Coming off of an impressive freshman season in which he went 19-10 and qualified for the NCAA Championships, Conaway entered this year in a deep competition with talented freshman Jimmy Gulibon for the starting spot at 133.
Though the two have split time at the position thus far, Conaway has been extremely impressive, racking up a 6-1 record that he attributes to the weight lifting program he started over the summer.
"I stayed up here most of the summer lifting and trying to put some weight on," said Conaway. "I think that it helped a lot in terms of getting stronger."
With Conaway's win having given the Lions a 10-0 advantage, Retherford stepped in front of the fans at Rec Hall for the first time, eager to continue the hot start that had led to his 7-0 record heading into the match.
Retherford did not disappoint, displaying excellent defense that kept sophomore Dan Neff at bay, before unleashing his offense in the second and third periods, coming up with two takedowns that led to a 5-1 victory.
Having been asked to fill the shoes of departed senior Bryan Pearsall, Retherford has so far done everything possible to impress Sanderson and the rest of the coaching staff.
"Zain faced one of their better kids and he just did what he always does," said Sanderson. "He's tough in every position and he wrestles hard and had a good match today.
Along with the coaches, Retherford's talent and work ethic has impressed the rest of the Nittany Lions lineup, including the team's seniors.
David Taylor, a three-time All-American and 2012 national champion, already feels as though Retherford is ahead of where he was when he had just started at Penn State.
"I love watching Zain wrestle and you can already tell from watching him that he's going to be really good," said Taylor. "To be a true freshman and to go out and do what he's been doing is impressive and watching him keeps me hungry and excited."
Although the day began as a celebration, with another championship banner being raised in Rec Hall, the Nittany Lions wasted little time reminiscing over their achievements of the past.
Being back in Rec Hall means the beginning of a new season, and the mindset of the team is to continue to improve and to continue looking forward.
"I think (raising the banner) is great but we're past that and we're looking at 2014 right now," said Sanderson. "We're very proud of it but it's time to move on and I think we have."
Though it might seem hard to improve after a match in which they won eight matches including six bonus-point victories, the Nittany Lions know there are always areas to improve upon.
"Just like every other match a win helps with momentum but we can still improve in each match," said Conaway. "We know we've got to focus on getting better."
Conaway, Retherford Help Set Tone for Nittany Lions in Home Opener
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student
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