Zain Retherford is on pace to go down as maybe the greatest wrestler in Penn State history.
Through that time, Penn State fans have had the privilege to watch him for four seasons at Rec Hall. Listing all of Retherford's accomplishments almost feels like it is not enough. What more is there to say about a two-time national champion, Hodge trophy winner, world team member and a man who has never lost a dual in his Penn State career?
It is a stunning and incredible amount of achievement, yet it somehow seems easy to overlook given how consistently great Zain has been.
What will we miss most about Retherford? The certainty of dominance that comes when he steps foot on the mat is something that very few can obtain in the NCAA. Everyone experiences losses from time to time. Ohio State's Kyle Snyder is an Olympic champion and two-time world gold medalist - and he lost to another great wrestler in Adam Coon just a week ago.
Retherford has managed to not only survive, but thrive. We've all seen him break his opposition repeatedly, and the look of hopelessness in many opponents' eyes after they had to deal with him on top. Zain is currently tied for the national lead with 15 falls this season and the ones he gets are rarely surprising. Teammates Jason Nolf or Bo Nickal exhibit a bit more ingenuity in their falls from time to time. Retherford, however, leaves people more aghast in the simplicity of it all; he almost makes it look too easy.
Zain will step onto the Rec Hall mat for the final time this Sunday against Buffalo. It only seems fitting to go back into the history books to honor his most memorable moments in State College.
"... Zain has managed to transform the bow-and-arrow into maybe the most feared top move in the NCAA today."
On November 24, 2013, Retherford's first match as a Penn State starter at Rec Hall was against Lock Haven's Dan Neff. Zain entered the contest ranked No. 12 at 141 pounds. Neff was a borderline top-20 wrestler at that weight. Neff felt the Zain Train's wrath, as he was among the first to experience Retherford's dominant top game. Retherford accrued 2:45 in riding time and won 6-1. It was the first of many victories in Rec Hall, offering a sign of things to come for future opponents.
As a true freshman, Zain was not the bonus-point machine we see today. After his redshirt season in 2014-15, he came out as a redshirt sophomore in 2015-16 looking for blood. In his redshirt season, Zain spent a lot of time focusing on freestyle and did not compete in folkstyle at all. However, that freestyle influence was shown before the Rec Hall crowd when he used the bow-and-arrow to pin No. 6 Alec Pantaleo. In freestyle, the move can be used to get back exposure points and/or clinch the takedown, but Zain has managed to transform the bow-and-arrow into maybe the most feared top move in the NCAA today. He isn't just using it to turn, he's using it to pin. Pantaleo found out the hard way. It not only looks incredibly painful - it is painful.
In the NWCA Dual Championships, Retherford took on formidable foe Anthony Collica on February 21, 2016. The Oklahoma State Cowboy has given Zain the toughest matches he had over the last few seasons. Despite never surrendering a takedown, Collica's defense was no easy task to defeat. He remains the only opponent that Retherford faced at least twice since 2015-16 that he did not beat by bonus points. Nevertheless, Zain did Zain things and picked up a tough 4-1 victory. The win helped drive Penn State to a win over Oklahoma State and the dual national championship.
Zain's greatest moment at Rec Hall came against eventual four-time national champion and world champion Logan Stieber. On December 15, 2013, Zain was a true freshman when he took on the two-time defending champion and No. 1 Stieber. Despite Retherford being among the best recruits in the country, he was a considerable underdog to Stieber. Zain did what he has done in every dual he has ever wrestled in for Penn State: win.
After surrendering a first period takedown, Zain was down 2-1 entering the second period and Stieber had choice. Stieber chose bottom against Zain, probably unsuspecting of the two minutes of hell that would follow. Retherford did not get a turn, but he erased the riding time deficit and built up over a minute of riding time. A scoreless third period meant the bout was 2-2 when it headed for overtime. In overtime, Zain was in deep on a shot and the crowd rose to its feet, yelling for the referee to award the takedown. However, Stieber was in the split position for 20 or 30 seconds, fighting off Zain's attempt. Retherford continued to push forward to score the match-winning takedown and pick up one of the biggest wins of his career. The Rec Hall crowd erupted in joy after the takedown was awarded.
It will be a moment of happiness and sadness on Sunday afternoon. It will be great as always to see Retherford compete, but it will be sad to see him go. Rest assured, the most likely person to cry the most will be his opponent.
Tell us your favorite Zain Retherford moments in the comments down below!