Melde, Russo eye showdowns in Pitt
For the third time this season, opportunity is knocking on the door for the Rutgers wrestling team.
Disregarding a match against national juggernaut Iowa, the Scarlet Knights let a chance to upset a higher ranked foe slip through their fingers twice.
First came Penn State, where the Knights won half of the individual bouts but lost due to bonus points, 18-17. A week later, RU came out flat against conference opponent Bucknell and fell 26-12.
RU (5-3) has one more chance to head into the break with a quality win Saturday, when it travels to the Fitzgerald Field House in Pittsburgh to do battle with the No. 25 Panthers.
"We as a team, and I, myself, are very excited for this opportunity," said head coach Scott Goodale. "However, it's all well and good to have the chance to face these guys but we've got to go out there and win one of these. We need to take the next step and knock off some of these better teams."
Pitt (5-1) enters the match in the same mold as the Knights, with ranked wrestlers at both the beginning and end of its starting lineup.
"There will be a lot of toss up bouts," Goodale said. "To win a dual meet like this, those are the ones we need to go out and get. It'll be a great chance for our guys to prove themselves against a nationally ranked program."
A big contest that can turn the momentum either way early comes in the form of the 141-pound bout between sophomore Trevor Melde, ranked No. 19 in the nation, and the Panthers' Tyler Nauman, a wrestler who has risen into the top five nationally throughout his career.
Melde is 10-2 for the Knights with six victories coming in dual meets.
"I just have to go out and wrestle the whole match," Melde said. "I got into trouble earlier in the year where I would be winning a match but then failed to finish. After a good week of practice, I'm looking to maintain a steady pace and get a win for us."
The match concludes with another bout between two ranked wrestlers with redshirt junior Dominick Russo set to face off at heavyweight against Ryan Tomei. Russo enters the weekend ranked No. 8 in the nation with Tomei nipping at his heels at No. 12.
"I've never wrestled him before, but I tend to have the same mindset and gameplan no matter who I wrestle," the undefeated Netcong, N.J., native said. "He just recently beat the returning national champion, so I'll prepare maybe a little more than usual, but I think I can beat him."
Russo leads the Knights with an 11-0 record, eight of which have been pins.
"A win for us would be huge right now," he said. "To beat a team with Pitt with some of our guys still sitting out due to eligibility reasons just would show how good we will be after the break."
Goodale believes that a quality victory against Pitt would propel the Knights into the top 25.
And with more ranked wrestlers than Pitt — four Knights to three Panthers — anything other than a formidable showing will not be considered a plus.
"We are receiving some votes but to jump into the rankings we need to have this one," Goodale said. "This is a great chance for us to head into the new year with a 6-3 record. With our schedule, that's a perfect place to be."