By Bryan Van Kley
NEWTON, Iowa — For only the fourth time in the 24-year history of college wrestling’s top award, Penn State’s Zain Retherford has been named the WIN Magazine/Culture House Dan Hodge Trophy winner for a second consecutive year. The three-time NCAA champ got 35 out of 48 first-place Hodge votes from a dominant group of Hodge finalists.
“To win the award that symbolizes dominance in college wrestling two years in a row means a lot to me. It’s awesome,” said Retherford, who was the winner of the Hall of Fame’s Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award in 2013. “Coming into college my first year, I really wasn’t that dominant. I would ride just to ride and would squeak out a few wins. Throughout wrestling at Penn State, I learned to look for more points and expand matches a little bit.”
The Hodge Trophy, presented annually by ASICS Wrestling, was created in 1994 by WIN founder Mike Chapman, who was honored by the Hall of Fame as its Outstanding American in 2007. It is named in honor of Dan Hodge, inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame in the Charter Class of 1976. The former University of Oklahoma wrestler won three NCAA titles (1955-57), never allowed a takedown in his career and pinned 36 of 46 foes. Hodge is still the only wrestler ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, inducted as a Distinguished Member in 2011, said it’s Retherford’s consistency of effort in striving for excellence in every area of his life which makes the two-time Hodge winner unique.
“Zain is very consistent. That’s one of the keys to him being who he is. His consistency is his best every second. And that’s very rare,” Sanderson said.
Retherford dominated his 149-pound peers during his senior season, winning titles at the Keystone Classic, Southern Scuffle and Big Ten Championships leading into the NCAA Championships. Finishing his Nittany Lion career at 126-3, Retherford scored bonus points in all but five matches this year, racking up 17 pins, 5 technical falls and 4 major decisions. His bonus-point percentage on the year was 83.9%.
The Benton, Pennsylvania, native joins the elite group of multiple-time Hodge winners. Sanderson captured wrestling’s version of the Heisman Trophy three times, from 2000-2002 and won four NCAA titles at Iowa State.
Penn State’s 2014 team captain David Taylor, who was the national winner of the Dave Schultz award in 2009, also won the award twice: in 2012 and then as a senior in 2014. Missouri’s Ben Askren was the final multi-year winner, taking home the Hodge 2006 and 2007.
Nittany Lion Bo Nickal, the 184-pound junior who sealed the team title for Penn State with his dramatic NCAA finals pin against Ohio State’s Myles Martin, finished second in the Hodge voting with six first-place votes. South Dakota State’s Seth Gross tallied four first-place votes after winning the 133-pound title. Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (174) earned the other three first-place votes. Nickal was the Texas and Central Region winner of the Dave Schultz award in 2014 while Valencia was the national winner in 2015.