By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With eight undefeated Nittany Lions, top-ranked Penn State wrestling travels to Allentown to wrestle No. 7 Lehigh Sunday.
For Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, Sunday's dual meet brings together a pair of programs with a longtime storied rivalry, perhaps one of the longest in college wrestling. Spanning 105 meetings, Lehigh is tied for Penn State's second-oldest opponent, but by far the most common for the Nittany Lions.
"Lehigh always has a great team," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. "They're very well coached and they always peak at the end of the year and wrestle great at the national tournament."
The Nittany Lions enter the week following a dominant showing in their most recent outing at the Keystone Classic. Among the consistency throughout the lineup this year, Jered Cortez, Zain Retherford and Vincenzo Joseph have all combined for a 17-0 record and two Keystone Classic championships ahead of this weekend's trip to the Lehigh Valley.
From fresh starts to fearless approaches, catch up with all three ahead of Penn State's final outing before opening the Big Ten slate Sunday, Dec. 17 against Indiana.
Two-time reigning national champion Zain Retherford is 7-0 to start the 2017 campaign. Similar to his teammates, Retherford hasn't been afraid to try some new moves and sometimes that means getting taken down, something he isn't afraid of.
"Just don't worry about it," Retherford said. "If I'm worried about getting taken down then I'm not worried about my own offense. I think I'm kind of defensive minded so if it happens it happens but my whole thought is just keep scoring points no matter what happens out there."
While Retherford doesn't spend too much time thinking about his season as a whole, he does take the time to break down each performance.
"I don't like to give myself a grade," Retherford said. "I kind of just do that after each day, like on the bus, for example after the Keystone Classic. I'm just thinking about what I did well and then what I need to work on. So I don't really grade myself, but I keep track of what I want to be doing and what I want to be learning. I don't think that's ever something that stops, I'm always going to be doing that, learning and trying new things."
It has been an interesting journey for the redshirt junior. Cortez had to sit out the 2015-16 season after transferring from Illinois to Penn State and was sidelined last season with an injury.
Now wrestling at 141 pounds, after starting at 133 pounds last season, Cortez is grateful for the opportunity.
"A lot of times people take it for granted," Cortez said. "With injuries that can happen and so I'm just very grateful for the opportunity and am just excited to get better every day."
With a 7-0 start to the season, Cortez is more comfortable at the new weight class.
"It's night and day," Cortez said. "I feel a lot better. I just feel good, I can feel my legs all the time, my lungs feel good, I feel strong and fast. Overall I'm just focusing on the right things and that's important in a sport like this where every little detail matters. I can focus on the small things and just getting better every day than just focusing on my weight."
change in weight, Cortez is excited to start each dual meet.
"I wish we could start at 141," Cortez said. "I'm ready to go in that one hour weigh in and I'm that third match up usually. My body feels good, I feel fresh. It's good I can feel my feet, move my hands and get to my attacks."
The reigning national champion at 165 pounds is off to a perfect start at 3-0 this season. After missing the Keystone Classic, Joseph is ready to wrestle and happy with his efforts so far.
"I think I've been doing a good job of just wrestling hard," Joseph said. "That's really my goal every time I step on that mat, just to wrestle hard and score points.
Over the next few weeks, Joseph is focusing on improving technique."I'd like to work on top a little bit better," Joseph said. "But, overall just keep being able to push the pace and find different ways to score."