By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since coming to Penn State this fall, true freshman Zain Retherford has proven to both his team and all of college wrestling that he won't back down from any challenge.
Already having opened his first season with the Penn State wrestling team with a 10-0 record, Retherford confronted as big a challenge as any freshman could face during the Nittany Lions' dual against Ohio State on Sunday when he took the mat opposite of top-ranked Logan Stieber.
Going up against a wrestler that had won two-consecutive national championships and hadn't lost a match since February of 2012, Retherford pulled off a superb upset, defeating Stieber 4-2 in overtime to send the Rec Hall crowd into an uproar and highlight the Nittany Lions 31-6 victory.
"(Zain) did a great job and stayed calm," said head coach Cael Sanderson. "That got everyone pretty excited and it's a pretty big win."
With the Nittany Lions holding onto a 5-3 lead heading into the 141-pound matchup, Retherford knew he needed to at least hold his own against the two time All-American, in order to limit the Buckeyes momentum going forward.
Despite giving up an early takedown, Retherford refused to back down, tallying an escape to head into the second period only down 2-1, which is when the bout started to turn.
Starting in the top position, Retherford rode Stieber out for the entire period and rebuffed every attempt the Buckeye made to escape, giving him a significant riding time advantage heading into the third.
"That's what I'm known for when I'm on top and I felt pretty confident that I could ride him," said Retherford. "The crowd helped a lot today and it worked out for the best."
While neither wrestler was able to score in the third period, Retherford's riding time point tied the score at 2-2 and sent the match into overtime, as the fans in the building all rose from their seats.
Once the sudden victory period started, Retherford wasted little time, quickly taking a shot that the previously unbeaten Stieber was unable to defend, giving him the takedown and ending the match in dramatic fashion.
Retherford's takedown thrilled his teammates as well as the already screaming fans, who raised the decibel level in Rec Hall as they went into a frenzy.
"I usually don't celebrate too much after a match but the crowd got me pretty fired up," said Retherford. "It was electric in there and really exciting."
The win not only pumped up the crowd but also sparked the rest of the Nittany Lions, who then went on to win six of the last seven bouts to rout the Buckeyes.
Entering the match as the sixth-ranked team in the nation, Ohio State boasted a lineup featuring six ranked wrestlers yet were unable to overcome the setback of having their best wrestler get defeated.
"It was definitely exciting to see my teammate take down a top ranked guy," said freshman Zack Beitz. "It made it fun and it was encouraging to go out there having seen them start to break."
Though most freshmen would be understandably pumped after beating a wrestler considered by many to be among the best in the nation at any weight class, Retherford seemed calm afterwards and admitted that he didn't surprise himself by beating Stieber.
Having prepared for the Ohio State standout all week, the Benton, Pa., native felt confident that Stieber was not unbeatable and that he could put himself in a position to be successful.
"Everybody has tendencies you've just got to be aware of them," said Retherford. "You can't completely focus on what he's doing because you've got to focus on what you're doing and do what makes you comfortable."
The win improved the eighth-ranked Retherford to 11-0 on the season, but it is not simply his record that has endeared him to his head coach.
For Sanderson, the most impressive qualities that Retherford displays are the confidence and poise that set him apart from most wrestlers in their first year of college.
"Zain was relaxed and ready to go and it's exciting to see that," said Sanderson. "Great wrestlers are confident and aren't worried about who they're wrestling and Zain did that."
As hot as he's started, Retherford is refusing to allow himself to get complacent, as he knows his career has just started and there's still much work for him to do.
"I envisioned myself doing this well but you never know and anything can happen," said Retherford. "I'm still working on improving everyday and this isn't the end by far."
Retherford Shocks-Top Ranked Stieber as Nittany Lions Defeat Ohio State
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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