Three Knights make nationals
When the remaining spots in the NCAA Wrestling Championships were announced yesterday, Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale fully expected to see the names Matt Pletcher and Trevor Melde on the list.
When he found out that only Pletcher will join teammates Scott Winston and DJ Russo in St. Louis March 20-21, Goodale may not have been happy but he cannot help but be excited about the possibilities of sending three wrestlers to nationals.
"I'll be happy if we compete and wrestle hard and win matches out there," Goodale said. "It's nice to have three guys going to the national tournament, but we need to go out there now and win."
The three wrestlers that Rutgers is sending to nationals marks the most the team has sent since 2004, and they are set to be the most competitive group the Scarlet Knights have sent to the NCAA Tournament in an even longer time.
One wrestler that many people are looking for to not only win matches but possibly win a national championship is 157 lbs. freshman Winston.
Winston, who finished the season as the No. 11 ranked wrestler in his weight class, earned an automatic bid to nationals after a third place finish last weekend.
"It's all about getting hot and he has the ability," Goodale said. "He's in the best weight class in the country. But our mind set will be to prepare him to win the national tournament."
Though Russo's and Pletcher's names are not coming up in many national championship conversations right now, Goodale knows that those conversations will not mean much come next week.
"One thing you'll find out at the national tournament is that it's not always the best wrestler that wins this tournament," Goodale said. "It's just the person who puts together the three best days and gets hot at the right time."
From that standpoint, it's hard not to like the odds of both Russo and Pletcher. Both wrestlers finished the year with long win streaks followed by strong conference tournaments.
"DJ Russo is very dangerous right now," Goodale said. "I don't think a lot of people in this tournament would want to wrestle DJ Russo right away"
As for Melde, after wrestling the number five ranked wrestler in the country hard for an entire bout only to fall 4-2 in last weekends EIWA's, Melde was pinned by Army's William Simpson in the consolation bracket.
Despite that loss, which cost Melde his shot in St. Louis, Goodale believes the freshman should have been there.
"I do, but it's one of those things that's hard to argue with because he did lose to Simpson," Goodale said. "I thought his season was good enough to make it, but that's why you don't leave it in the hands of the committee."