By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions prepare to host Buffalo Sunday, the seniors are also ready for their final dual meet in a Penn State singlet at Rec Hall.
Ahead of a special ceremony planned to honor the eight Nittany Lion wrestlers set to depart the program, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson took just a moment to reflect on the group.
"This has been a special class," Sanderson said. "These guys have had a lot of success in their career but it's a little strange because senior day is the national tournament really. Hopefully Saturday night is the last match and that's kind of our mindset, but at the same time you have to take a second and reflect, and we are very grateful for the seniors and their leadership and the example they've set."
For Sanderson, the real time to reflect comes roughly a month after the season at the team's end of the year banquet following the NCAA national championship. When asked about a few individuals in the class though, Sanderson spoke to imprint the Nittany Lions would leave behind when the time arrives.
Two-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford is among the eight Nittany Lion wrestling seniors.
"Zain's brought everything," Sanderson said. "He has been a great example, he's a tenacious competitor, consistent. Every day he has been in here he's giving us his best and he does the same thing in the classroom. Socially he has been a great leader. Very rarely do you have all those things align in a leader and we've been fortunate the last five years to have Zain in the program. He's been a special one."
For Retherford, it isn't just the success he will remember when his Penn State career comes to a close in mid-March.
"(I'll remember) the relationships I've made with the team, my teammates, with my coaches here and outside of that, with the student body too," Retherford said. "The time I've had here, the experiences, the places we've gotten to travel, I'll just remember all the experiences. I think that will be the biggest thing."
Throughout his career, Retherford has lost just three matches and enters the weekend three pins away from eclipsing the Penn State career falls record. During his time at Penn State, the three-time All-American has always been keen on keeping his focus locked in on the task at hand, taking things one day at a time.
"If you look too far ahead or focus too much on the past results and things that have happened, you don't really compete as well," Retherford said. "I think that's just something I've learned about myself. I compete my best when I'm focusing on the next task at hand. That's what is true to me, so I'm just going to focus on what's ahead."
For someone like junior Nick Nevills, he's learned so much from his senior teammate, but perhaps the most from his work ethic.
"I've never been around somebody that has ever worked this hard and somebody who has pushed himself to a different level," Nevills said. "It's laser-like focus, it's almost unreal. It seems like when it's time to focus, he's a robot, where he can just tune everything out except for what he's doing in the moment. It's pretty cool, but he can also just switch it right back to relaxing and having fun the second we're done with practice. He can put a huge smile on his face and make anyone else on the team laugh."
Penn State will also celebrate the contributions of Matt McCutcheon within its senior group. Although he hasn't been on the mat much this season, his impact and legacy is greater than what the fans might see from the outside looking in.
"Matt has been one of my all-time favorite people in the program," Sanderson said. "He's just a great leader and everybody trusts him. He's a great competitor - this year he's just banged up. Just a great individual, a kid that you would trust with anything and an honest kid. I don't know if there's a better compliment than that, he's an honest, hardworking kid. He means enough to us that he has been with us everywhere and will be through the remainder of the year."
Both McCutcheon and Retherford will join fellow seniors Jered Cortez, Corey Keener, Carson Kuhn, Devon Van Cura, Ethan Wissler and Kenny Yanovich in Rec Hall for one last time, Sunday at 2 p.m.
Sanderson noted whoever starts at 197 pounds Sunday will most likely get the nod to represent the Nittany Lions in the postseason. Both Anthony Cassar and Shakur Rasheed have battled for impressive wins this season, leaving Sanderson with a tough decision that he's yet to make.