Russo, Winston make nationals in St. Louis
What should have been one of the most decisive tournaments of the season wound up posing just as many questions to the Rutgers wrestling team as it answered.
In this weekend's Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, the Scarlet Knights watched sophomore heavyweight DJ Russo wrestle his way from an eight seed to a fourth place finish, earning him an automatic national tournament bid.
They watched 157 lbs. Scott Winston do the same. Winston bounced back from a 4-2 loss to the third ranked wrestler in the country to win the wrestle-back and take third place.
RU had four wrestlers place in total, but also saw half of their team fail to score any points, leading to a ninth place finish out of 14 teams.
Even more crucial, they are left with three wrestlers whose hopes of wrestling in the national tournament are now in the hands of a selection committee.
"We're thrilled with Russo, and Winston was huge," Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale said. "But this is one of the best qualifying tournaments in the country, and you have to have all ten guys scoring points. So I'm excited about where we are from an individual standpoint, but if we want to take the next step we have to get all 10 guys scoring points in this tournament."
Needing a third place finish to qualify for the national tournament, 165 lbs. Matt Pletcher wrestled a strong tournament but walked away one bout short of an automatic bid.
After wrestling to his bracket's semifinals, Pletcher was pinned by No.1 Mack Lewnes. He proceeded to drop a 7-3 decision in the consolation finals to take fourth place.
"I think [Pletcher's] done enough to make it to the national tournament," Goodale said. "The only problem now is that it goes into the hands of the national committee. That kind of makes you feel a little helpless ... but I truly believe that he's going to be there."
Freshman Trevor Melde found himself in a similar situation as Pletcher. Melde also wrestled to the semifinals of his 141 lbs. bracket, but lost a tough 4-2 decision to No. 5 Corey Jentzen. Melde needed at least a second place finish to automatically qualify for nationals, but finished fifth.
"Melde's probably not in as good of shape as Pletcher but, again, we'll have to wait and see," Goodale said. "He just couldn't bounce back from the loss, and that was disappointing ... We'd like to see him bounce back better and that's part of maturity. So that leaves a bitter taste."
One Knight who may find himself on the outside looking in when national tournament bids are handed out this week is 174 lbs. Mike Whalen. Needing to finish sixth to earn an automatic bid, Whalen came one bout short of that mark.
Despite several wrestlers falling just short of their individual goals, Goodale sees the tournament as a step in the right direction.
"We absolutely took a step forward," Goodale said. "I think every year we're going to keep putting a better team on the mat. But it is better, we had five guys wrestling in day two in one of the best qualifying tournaments in the country. So it's certainly better than it was last year."