By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Success is nothing new for Penn State wrestling junior Zain Retherford. Retherford, a national champion and two-time All-American is 82-3 as a Nittany Lion, with a combined 212-6 record dating back to his high school career.
"He's just an incredibly solid individual," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "His progress has been in all aspects of his game. To say where is he going to continue improve, it'll be kind of a progression you don't even really notice because he's so consistent. He'll just get better and better."
Retherford closed out his high school career going 47-0 and captured two state titles in his four years at Benton High School. Arriving at Penn State for the season in 2013-14, Retherford came out with a bang wrestling in the starting lineup at 141 pounds as a true freshman. In just his sixth collegiate dual, and third at home, Retherford upset Ohio State's top-ranked Logan Stieber with a 4-2 win in sudden victory - a win that still gives him chills thinking back on.
"The crowd I think I remember the most," Retherford said. "I don't think a lot of people expected me to win or even to fight off a major decision so just having confidence in myself in that environment and then getting the crowd electric in there, I felt like the ground was shaking literally, I don't know. I just remember being really pumped up, being a true freshman, not a lot of expectations and just having fun."
Retherford finished the season placing fifth at the NCAA national championships with a 5-2 mark. Both losses coming to the first and second overall seeds. In 2014-15 Retherford took a redshirt season to prepare to wrestle at 149 pounds. While the move isn't a rarity, it certainly isn't the common way of redshirting a first-year wrestler.
"In the case of Retherford I don't think it's all that uncommon to wrestle a year and then take a year off," veteran Nittany Lion play-by-play radio talent Jeff Byers said. "The most typical is to obviously redshirt that first year, but it's certainly not unheard of. I think a lot of times that will benefit a kid because you see what you need to work on and what areas you want to develop, whereas when you're just coming out of high school sometimes you're not sure what it is you need to develop. But, it is pretty unusual to not compete in tournaments or anything like that during the redshirt season."
Retherford's 2015-16 season proved the redshirt year to be a success as he raced to an undefeated season with a 34-0 record, taken down just one time throughout the entire season. In addition, Retherford was the NCAA national champion at 149 pounds with a win over Iowa's Brandon Sorenson, was the NCAA's most dominant wrestler and was a finalist for the Hodge Trophy.
Along with the Nittany Lion's success, Retherford has continued that momentum into this year, currently out to a 15-0 start this season, one of three unbeaten starters heading into Friday's matchup. Retherford opened the season pinning each of his first seven opponents, before rising to tied for 11th on the Penn State all-time pins list with 30 in his career and 11 pins this year alone.
"I think greatness comes from consistency," Sanderson said. "You know what you're going to get, and it's not 'well is he going to show up this time or not.' He's always going to give his best effort and he's always going to be the same person regardless of where we are; home, on the road, nationals, first match of the year, practice, he's the same person every day. I think that's what the great ones are made of."
The top-ranked Nittany Lions hit the road this week, traveling to Columbus, Ohio to take on the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in a 6 p.m. matchup.Check in with Sanderson ahead of Penn State's trip to Columbus.