Zach Redding looked around, gathered himself and climbed into the third position on the state championship podium. The body language of the Eastport-South Manor junior screamed disappointment.
That was almost a year ago. Redding finished third in Division I of the state wrestling championships in the Times Union Center in Albany. The defending state champion at 120 pounds had failed to defend his state crown. He stepped from the winner’s podium and his father, Gary, was there to embrace him.
The two shared a moment before leaving the arena.
Zach Redding is a guest on the Newsday High School Sports Podcast
“It seems like yesterday, the disappointment of the state tournament,” said Redding, now a senior with a 34-0 record so far this season. “It’s personal. Thank God for my dad, my family and my coaches. Their love and support always made those tougher moments a little easier to accept.”
Perhaps the hardest loss to overcome in all of high school sports is that first loss in the state wrestling tournament — the one that cleans the slate and forces the wrestler to change his goal to a potential third-place finish. The wrestler has the opportunity to wrestle back through a grueling consolation bracket to place in the top six in the state with third being the highest finish.
The challenge becomes getting motivated and moving forward with the same verve and confidence.
“Some guys just can’t do it,” Eastport-South Manor coach Nick Garone said. “Some guys don’t have the gumption to come back and win three or four bouts in a short period of time in the wrestle-back rounds. They don’t have the desire. They’re spent and mentally broken after losing and the dream of a state title wiped away.”
Redding always has been a prideful wrestler. It was no surprise that he came through the consolation round to beat Dennis Robin of Arlington, 10-1, to claim third place at 126 pounds. He had sandwiched third-place finishes around his state title in 2018. As a freshman in 2017, Redding beat Matt Griffin of Jamesville-DeWitt, 10-1, for third place at 106 pounds.
“The true mark of a great wrestler is to shed the disappointment and come back and win the next match or two or three or whatever it takes to finish third,” Garone said. “Losing in the state semifinals is so hard and it happened to Zach twice. You're one step away from the big stage and you fall. Only true warriors come back from that loss. The guy that ultimately places third has won the last bout of his season just like the champion and everyone else ends with a loss. There’s something about that achievement that resonates with wrestlers."
Redding’s sophomore season was a microcosm of his five-year varsity career. He lost to Rocky Point’s Anthony Sciotto, 6-2, in the 120-pound final of the Suffolk tournament. He earned a wild-card berth to the state tournament.
“He seized the opportunity of the wild card and a second chance to win at the state tournament,” Garone said. “Zach shed the loss of the county final to redirect his focus on the state crown. You need to be mentally strong in this sport.”
Redding won four bouts in a row, including a wild 9-6 win over Sciotto to avenge the sectional title loss and earn the state title at 120 pounds.
“I’ve been able to overcome some tough losses and continue to work toward my goals,” Redding said. “I don’t dwell on the losses. I work with my coaches on always improving my technique, watching film of opponents to set up a game plan and staying focused on the match in front of me.”
Redding, who has a 230-16 career record, has won four tournaments, including the prestigious Eastern States Wrestling Classic at Sullivan County Community College in upstate Loch-Sheldrake.
Redding beat Danbury’s Ryan Jack, 8-6, in the 132-pound final. Jack was the No. 2-ranked wrestler in the country.
It’s been quite the senior year for Redding, who signed his national letter of intent to wrestle for Iowa State on Nov. 15. He wants to punctuate his career standing on the top of that podium at the state championships in Albany on Feb. 29.
“It’s all falling into place,” Redding said. “There’s still work to do. I’m not finished.”