Mason leads way in crowded Nittany Lion field
If the competition was not enough for the Rutgers wrestling team at the Nittany Lion Open, then the tournament itself set forth a daunting task for the No. 18 Scarlet Knights.
A total of 437 wrestlers trekked to Happy Valley, Pa., for the Open as each bracket packed talent to the brim.
And while what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, several grapplers certainly felt the effects of a Saturday chock full of wrestling.
"Yeah I'm pretty sore," said sophomore Matt Fusco. "You also get pretty tired. I usually don't sleep too well the day before a match. So I'm tired and sore, but I still feel pretty good."
When the dust settled, six Knights broke apart from the masses to reach the podium, including sophomore Mario Mason, who finished first out of 62 wrestlers at 149 pounds.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't had that many college matches in a row," the Moorestown, N.J., native said. "Usually you only wrestle three to four times in a tournament. I didn't even know that tournament was going to be that big."
Mason, who transferred from Minnesota in the offseason, went 6-0 on the day and capped off the tournament with a 3-1 decision over No. 2 Frank Molinaro of Penn State. The decision came just two weeks after Molinaro got the better of Mason in Rutgers' dual against the Nittany Lions.
This time around, Mason got his revenge.
"It was Mario being in on a lot of shots — being aggressive," head coach Scott Goodale said. "I know he would be alright when Molinaro hit him with his patented double-leg and it wasn't close to scoring. Mario just wrestled hard and he wrestled [Molinaro] harder than he did last time."
The Knights were one semifinal away from having an All-Rutgers final in the 125-pound bracket as sophomores Fusco and Joe Langel breezed through the early field to come close to gold.
Fusco fell to Penn State's Frank Martelloti for the second time in as many weeks while Langel took down Maryland's Shane Gentry.
The Howell, N.J., native fell to Martelloti in the finals, but put together an all-around solid effort by winning four matches by a combined score of 38-0.
"I feel like I'm getting back into the swing of things," said Langel, who has a 6-4 record this season. "Last year I had a rough start and picked it up in the second semester. I'm sure the other guys agree that once you get into that rhythm, you feel unbeatable."
In one of the heftier brackets boasting over 50 grapplers, 174-pound senior Alex Caruso made a strong push for the national rankings by defeating No. 18 Ethan Headlee of Pittsburgh and narrowly falling to No. 8 Mike Letts of Maryland.
Caruso put the exclamation point on his day by defeating No. 9 Scott Giffin of Penn by a convincing 7-1 score.
"[Caruso] hasn't beaten Scott Giffin since the New Jersey State finals when he was a senior in high school," Goodale said. "When he went to Lehigh, he hadn't beaten him. Now he comes here and wins 7-1. That's a big win for him."
Coming off knee surgery, junior Trevor Melde put it all on the line in the 141-pound bracket, taking on the 52-wrestler weight class and coming out with a fourth place finish.
Melde won his first two matches with a pin in less than a minute and an 8-0 major decision.
"He's [healthy enough] to go," Goodale said. "The thing that we want to see with Trevor is to see him finish out a tournament. It's about being consistent and finishing the day."
Heavyweight Carl Buchholz rounded out the placing for Rutgers with a sixth place finish.
While some of the Knights' heavy hitters sat this tournament out, it was still a grueling test for those involved — a test that Goodale's squad took head on.
"It was a good week in that we could give our starters a break, but the starters that we brought, we did for a reason," Goodale said. "Just the fact that we are getting through a day in adverse conditions … that's a good thing."