Eagles provide midweek test for top 10 RU
It may not come with the prestige of a dual at the Louis Brown Athletic Center or the recognition a wrestling powerhouse might bring, but tonight's matchup between the Rutgers wrestling team and American is going to be a test.
And it is a test that head coach Scott Goodale is not going to take lightly.
"Really on paper, they are probably favored at six weights against us," said Goodale, whose team jumped to No. 7 in the most recent coaches' poll. "We are really going to have to wrestle well, but it's a great test. We better bring our best effort."
The No. 18 Eagles (14-5) bring a lineup to the College Ave. Gym that is solid from top to bottom — a balance that may have eluded American teams in the past.
But not this year, and for the Scarlet Knights (19-1) to keep its 15-match winning streak intact they must not fast forward to next week's clash with Lehigh.
"The coaches would never allow something like that to happen," said sophomore Scott Winston. "We know how good American is and we know what they are capable of."
American boasts five grapplers in the top 20 of their respective weight classes, two of which do not feature a ranked Rutgers wrestler at that weight.
More importantly, several matches pit one ranked wrestler against another, including the heavyweight bout featuring No. 3 DJ Russo and No. 5 Ryan Flores.
"They are a team loaded with talent," Russo said. "They have quality guys at almost every weight class. It just so happens that they line up with our quality guys, too."
Russo has never beaten Flores and when the two met just over a month ago at the Midlands Championships, the senior from Netcong, N.J., fell by a 12-5 decision.
The loss came as a shock to most given the score and the rankings, but Russo will be the first to tell you that he was far from top form at the Midlands.
"I can't really take too much from that match because I was not wrestling like myself at that tournament," Russo said. "I was in a different mental place than I am now."
But there are still nine bouts that have to take place in the match before Russo and Flores square off, leaving plenty of chances for either squad to pull ahead.
The middle weights, which has been the strength of Rutgers all year long, will surely have a say in what team gets the upper hand.
Sophomore Mario Mason — No. 4 in the country at 149 pounds — faces off against No. 10 Ganbayar Sanjaa, followed by a marquee matchup at 157 pounds.
Senior Daryl Cocozzo wrestles a top-10 grappler for the fifth time this year when he steps into the circle opposite undefeated Steve Fittery — the consensus No. 1 wrestler in the country at 157 pounds.
"Anytime you get the opportunity to wrestle the No. 1 kid in the country, I know Daryl is excited about it," Goodale said. "[Cocozzo] has nothing to lose. There is no pressure on him. He just has to go out and wrestle hard."
As the tension builds and the matches come down to the wire, one thing working in the Knights' favor is the surroundings. Rutgers has not lost since Dec. 20, 2008, going 21-0 at either the College Ave. Gym or the RAC since a 27-6 loss to Lehigh.
"I guess [the advantage] depends on the crowd," Russo said. "If there is a big crowd, then yeah, it helps. It also helps because crowds tend to influence the refs. It shouldn't be like that, but you see it all the time."
But a rambunctious crowd can only carry a squad so far. In the end it comes down to will, a determination to win the day. And that is a momentum that Rutgers certainly believes rides on its side.
"I think that even if we were away, we'd have the advantage," Winston said. "We're just wrestling that good right now. We're coming off of a couple big wins and we have been tested."