Penn State’s Zain Retherford, a two-time defending national champ, wasn’t about to let an aggressive opponent faze him Sunday afternoon.
Bucknell sophomore Seth Hogue came out swinging during a dual meet, but Retherford quickly gained control of the match. He picked up two takedowns, a reversal and six total near-fall points on his way to the fall at the 4:14-minute mark.
“I’ve had that happen before, where opponents come out really aggressive,” Retherford said after the Nittany Lions’ 36-6 victory. “I can’t control what he’s doing, all I can control is my composure with it.”
With a 73-match winning streak, two national championships, two NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler awards and a Hodge Trophy under his belt, expectations for the Penn State senior continue to climb each season — and opposing wrestlers are always eager for their shot at knocking off one of the sport’s most dominant competitors.
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But Retherford collected himself to make sure there was no upset.
“I remember coming back to the center and being a little mad, then I took a breath and was like, ‘OK, just keep your composure,’ ” Retherford said. “I got mad for a second, in my head for sure, but like I said, you got to keep your composure. All I can control is my attitude, and taking a step back and doing that mid-match.”
Followed by audible gasps from the crowd at Rec Hall, Hogue (1-2) was able to score a takedown on Retherford in the second period. Retherford then followed that up with a reversal and a takedown of his own before earning the fall.
Retherford blamed giving up the takedown on a new move he was trying. After already accomplishing a laundry list of major feats over his career, Retherford says he’s trying to have fun and try new things in his senior season.
“I got taken down today, and that was something,” he said.
Retherford’s dominant performance Sunday earned him the Ridge Riley Award at the end of the dual, given to the meet’s most outstanding wrestler. But true to form, Retherford was quick to deflect praise to his teammates. Coach Cael Sanderson said Retherford and the other wrestlers were joking about it in the locker room, saying that with his seven takedowns and pin, teammate Jason Nolf should have gotten the award. “I won the award, but I think he deserved it,” Retherford added.
Said Sanderson: “With guys like Nolf, and Zain, talking about expectations, people just expect to come and watch them score 20 points, and if they don’t, you wonder what’s wrong with them.”
But with a technical fall and a pin in his first two matches of the season, Retherford hasn’t given fans anything to wonder about.