Three Knights handed early exits from Wrestling Championships
Their exits seemed to come almost as fast as their entrances, their high hopes vanishing into the St. Louis air.
As quickly as they came to the Gateway City, the three Scarlet Knights competing in the NCAA Wrestling Championships were sent home with nothing more than the thought of what could have and possibly should have been.
"I think anytime you enter the national tournament you want your guys to perform at the highest level and to have an opportunity to become an All-American and a national champ," Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale said. "I don't think those goals are far fetched, I think they're realistic, and from that standpoint we are a little bit disappointed that we didn't bring home any All-American honors."
In three bouts 157 lbs. Scott Winston was out of the NCAA Wrestling Championships. It took 165 lbs. Matt Pletcher only two bouts to be sent home.
Heavyweight DJ Russo represented the only true bright spot for the Knights in the tournament but still found himself on the outside looking in after only four matches.
He was an underdog in every one of his bouts, but in his first contest Russo managed to upset Virginia Tech's David Marone — ranked 23 nationally — by pinning him 4:48 into the match.
Russo's strongest performance came one bout later when he found himself matched up with No. 4 Jared Rosholt.
Russo gave the eventual third place winner all he could handle but fell just short and dropped an 8-6 decision.
"That kid was ranked No.1 [most of the year] and DJ wrestled him. He wrestled him hard. He made one mistake, took one bad shot and that was the difference in the match," Goodale said. "But [Russo's] right there with some of the best kids in the country for sure. He's certainly set himself up to be one of the top ranked kids in the country next year."
Russo went on to beat No. 19 Nathan Fernandez of Oklahoma but lost to No. 15 Zach Sheaffer one bout later, eliminating him from the tournament.
Unlike Russo, Winston came into the tournament as the 10 seed in his bracket. He was favored in all of his matches but opened the tournament with a 5-2 loss to No. 17 Tyler Safratowich. He followed that up with a 10-3 win over No. 26 Jason Johnstone to finish the first day still alive in the wrestle back.
Winston failed to keep that momentum going in day two and dropped his first bout of the day to No. 15 Jason Welch and was eliminated from the tournament.
With all of high hopes surrounding Winston in this tournament, Goodale sees the freshman's surprisingly early exit as a learning experience that could help him in the years to come.
"In this tournament you can't lose matches that you're supposed to win and expect to come all the way back," Goodale said. "Everybody can win at this level. It doesn't matter where you're seeded or who you're wrestling; there are upsets in every round and you need to have your best match every single time out. You can't be off."
The biggest disappointment of the weekend for the Knights was the results of 165 lbs. senior Pletcher. Wrestling in the first NCAA Championship of his highly successful career at Rutgers, Pletcher dropped a 4-0 decision in the first round and followed that up with a 6-4 loss to William Garvin of Chattanooga.
"He's had a great career at Rutgers," Goodale said of Pletcher. "He's one of the main reasons behind the resurgence here and our excitement in the program. Matt Pletcher's been our leader, so in that way it was sad to see his career end."