Three qualify for Omaha at EIWA Championships
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Three members of the Rutgers wrestling team punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament in an action-packed second day of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships.
Headlining the group of Scarlet Knights headed to Omaha in two weeks is junior D.J. Russo, who finished second in the heavyweight bracket. Junior Daryl Cocozzo and redshirt freshman Joe Langel also earned automatic bids for finishing fourth in their respective weight classes.
"As you get into this tournament, the competition gets a lot harder," said head coach Scott Goodale. "We've got three guys going to the national tournament for the time being, and that's a good number to have."
It was a bittersweet end to the tournament for Russo, who placed a team-high second. He fell in the finals to Lehigh rival Zach Rey.
Like the other two bouts this year, the contest between the heavyweights went down to the wire. In the end, Russo was unable to escape in the final 30 seconds of overtime, dropping a 2-1 decision at the Stabler Arena.
"I did everything that I needed to do," Russo said. "I just got caught at the end and I got stuck. He's All-American quality and now I know I have to be that much better to be an All-American."
Cocozzo heads back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in his career and first as a Knight. The Edinboro transfer defeated Brantley Hooks of Bucknell 5-2 in the semifinals of the consolation bracket to ensure his spot in Omaha.
After redshirting last season, Langel's dynamic first year continues in two weeks after he won four bouts this weekend to earn an automatic bid.
"I didn't really expect it this early," the Howell, N.J., native said. "Yeah, you want to place high and do well [at EIWAs], but the main thing is to get that spot into the national tournament."
Langel's impact on the RU lineup is something that caught the eye of his coach.
"Awesome," said Goodale of Langel's performance this season. "It's hard to do what he has done, and I knew that he was capable of it. If you look at the final top-33 he is going to have seven or eight wins over guys in the tournament. He's pretty special and he is going to get a whole lot better."
With a handful of at-large bids still available, three Knights still hold onto hope to join their teammates in the Midwest.
Senior Lamar Brown, sophomore Greg Zannetti and redshirt freshman Dan Rinaldi are all next on the list in their respective weight-classes should they be granted an extra bid to the tournament.
The wild card bids are to be drawn today.
"I'm definitely both nervous and excited right now," Rinaldi said. "Hopefully in the end it'll work out in my favor and I can punch my ticket to Omaha."
Whether or not their tickets to the Big Dance are punched, Goodale is happy at the way these wrestlers overcame adversity to reach the podium at the EIWA tournament.
"They did a great job of bouncing back," he said. "They gave themselves an opportunity to get an at-large bid. It really depends on what happens around the country. If there are no major upsets elsewhere, they should be fine."
Junior David Greenwald and sophomore Trevor Melde also reached the podium this weekend, making a total of eight Knights who placed in their own weight-class — the most in school history since 2004.
As a team, the Knights finished sixth with 87 points. Cornell came in first with 160.5 points.
"I don't pay too much attention to the team score here," Goodale said. "There are teams here that we have beaten in the regular season, but they just have great individuals who will be All-Americans and nationals champs."
Junior Billy Ashnault had a tough weekend in his first EIWA tournament. The Lock Haven transfer entered as the third seed, but was eliminated on Saturday when he dropped his first two matches.
"It just comes down to who is the better wrestler these two days. It shows here. Some people have good days, and some have bad days. It happens to everyone," Langel said. "He's upset, but in these types of tournaments, anyone can beat anyone."