Zain Retherford waited nearly two years to make his return to high school wrestling’s grandest stage.
By the time he finally set foot on a mat inside the Giant Center during Thursday’s opening round of the PIAA Class AA Tournament, Retherford had already developed a new kind of appreciation for this level of competition.
He found it last season, when he was forced to sit and watch from the stands.
“It’s something that I was looking forward to for too long now,” Retherford said. “(I was) sitting here watching last year, cheering on my teammates. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to do it with them.”
Retherford, who signed a letter of intent to wrestle for Penn State next fall, missed all of his junior season after he was barred from competing by the PIAA after transferring from Line Mountain to Benton.
Now he’s looking to return to the PIAA finals for the first time since his freshman season, then at Line Mountain, when he won the state title at 103 pounds. Retherford got off to a pretty good start in the first round of the 138-pound bracket Thursday.
The Penn State recruit snared Camp Hill’s Alex Gallaher in a double-leg takedown just seconds into their bout and then clamped him in a headlock for a fall at 1:23. The win pushed Retherford’s record this season to 44-0.
Retherford, who will wrestle Burrell junior Steve Edwards in the quarterfinals tomorrow, said he’s wrestling with a clear mind without a PIAA ruling against him and a college decision hanging over his head.
“There’s that aspect of it, but I’m just excited to keep wrestling,” Retherford said. “I’m looking forward to next year, too, but I still have four more matches this year with Benton. I’m real excited to finish the season strong.”
From the mat onto the gridiron
During the first Class AA session, Lewisburg 220-pounder Brandon Smith was grabbing for his opponents’ legs trying to earn two points.
By July, Smith will be reaching with the intent of tackling opposing football carriers.
After he beat Berlin Brothersvalley’s Mitchell Walker, Smith reaffirmed his plan to walk on and try to make the Penn State football team when the Nittany Lions open training camp this summer.
Smith, who starred at inside linebacker for Lewisburg and helped the Green Dragons to an 8-3 record last season, said he was mainly recruited by Penn State offensive line coach Mac McWhorter.
Nittany Lions linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden has also kept in touch with him, Smith said.
“It’s great. I’m really excited to get up there and work hard and try to make an impact on the team, and give it my all and see what happens,” Smith said.
Smith, who also throws the javelin and runs hurdles for the Lewisburg track and field team, will face Fort LeBoeuf’s Evan Daley in the quarterfinals Friday.
Trinity’s Adam Geiger is also taking his final bows at the Giant Center, and is planning to walk on to the Penn State football team this summer as a running back.
Geiger kicked off his final chase for a Class AA 195-pound title by pinning Somerset’s Jacob Nickelson in 1:52 in Round 1. Geiger will face Muncy’s Skylar Ebner in the quarters.
Other future Nittany Lions fare well
Forest Hills senior Cody Law, who will walk on to the Penn State wrestling team next season, advanced with a 5-1 win over Bethlehem Catholic’s Connor Hedash at 160 pounds.
Law, who is coached by former Penn State All-American Jake Strayer, used a late flurry with a third-period takedown and two back points to post the win.
Meanwhile, all other Penn State commits who were in action fared well.
Chambersburg’s Garrett Hammond (152), Kiski Area’s Matt McCutcheon (195), Council Rock South’s P.J. Steinmetz (195) and Solanco’s Thomas Haines (220) all advanced to their respective quarterfinal bouts.
Hammond and Haines used technical falls to beat Norristown’s Rashon Lusane and Mifflin County’s Kyle Kahley, respectively.
“When I’m scoring, I feel like that’s my best defense,” Hammond said. “I’m just constantly looking to score and just keep the motion and offense coming.”
Steinmetz beat Eastern York’s Alex Cooley 4-2.
Hammond and McCutcheon have signed letters of intent. Steinmetz and Haines plan to walk on to the team.
McCutcheon engaged in a grueling bout with Bald Eagle Area’s Aaron Varner at 195. McCutcheon earned the first takedown, but Varner turned away McCutcheon’s underhook and turned it into an escape. Varner eventually got the upper hand in the third period. With another takedown plus a reversal and late nearfall points, McCutcheon earned the 8-2 win.
The Kiski Area senior who will enroll at Penn State this summer, will wrestle future teammate Steinmetz in the quarters.
“I’m sure we’re going to have lots of battles in (Penn State’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex) next year, but this one’s going to matter right now,” McCutcheon said.
A handful of wrestlers notched milestone wins on the first day of the tournaments.
In Class AA action, Bethlehem Catholic 120-pounder Darian Cruz won his 150th career bout with a first-round pin of Valley’s Josiah Hughes in 1:43. Cruz, a junior, pushed his record to 42-1 on the season.
Council Rock North’s John Dutrow also earned his 150th win with a 5-0 decision in the Class AAA 138-pound weight class.
An announced attendance of 4,891 took in the early Class AA round while 5,372 fans showed up for the afternoon Class AAA slate.