Flexible style aids 125-pounder on mat
If you were to look up conventional wrestling technique, chances are you would not see the name "Joe Langel."
But what the Rutgers wrestling team sophomore may lack in traditional form, he more than makes up for with a funky style and an infectious energy.
"Everywhere I go and the constant e-mails and telephone calls I get, they love watching the kid wrestle," head coach Scott Goodale said of his 125-pounder. "That's one of the things when we first stepped foot on campus, we had to change the culture. Part of it was bringing an exciting style of wrestling and Joey does that."
By wrestling at 125 pounds, Langel is often the first wrestler on the mat in a dual meet for the Scarlet Knights. With his unconventional style and an undefeated home record in his two years starting on the Banks, Langel provides a spark that proved crucial when knocking down schools such as then-No. 3 Virginia Tech and an upstart American program, then No. 18.
"Let's be honest, he's a huge reason for the resurgence of this program," Goodale said. "It's just his excitement. He's been a huge spark. He did it last year and he's done it this year."
The Howell High School product owns a 16-7 record on the year with a majority of his wins coming at home, including upsets over Garrett Frey of Princeton, Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech and last week's 7-4 decision over American's Nick Arujau.
All three wins came at home and all three wins came against ranked opponents.
"I like wrestling in front of a home crowd because when you are doing good, it adds to it," Langel said. "It just amplifies everything. When you do something good and you hear that crowd roar, you just want to keep wrestling and keep winning."
And Rutgers has kept winning behind Langel.
The Knights ride a 16-match winning streak into tomorrow's showdown with Lehigh to go along with a 20-1 record. The match is set to take place at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and preliminary reports are that Rutgers and Lehigh fans alike are going to pack the arena.
With the stakes as high as they will get in a dual meet, Langel's teammates know they can look to him to get the team off on the right foot.
"The biggest thing about wrestling at home is getting momentum and getting the crowd into it," said senior Alex Caruso. "What he's been able to do for us, I don't think many '25 pounders in the country could be able to do it — just setting the pace and the tone for the match. It's huge for us."
Much of Langel's success on the mat can be attributed to his funky style. He does not have the standard stand-up and takedown approach to the sport. Oftentimes, Langel is in a position of vulnerability but is able to swing around and either escape or score a reversal.
"It's his hips, his balance, his agility. Whatever it is, he's not afraid to do it in any spot," Goodale said. "Some of the things he did against Garnett from Virginia Tech I never would have taught or encouraged, but he did it. You have to let those guys go."
When the Mountain Hawks come to town, the Knights not only deal with a perennial powerhouse who owned Rutgers for 60 years, but also the recent memory of a 28-3 loss last year in Bethlehem, Pa.
Langel was a part of that squad and fell, 5-4, to John McDonald in the match's first bout. But that is not to say that he did not take away anything from the loss.
"Don't let the pressure get to you," said Langel on what he learned from that match. "You know it's a big match, but you still have to just go out there and have fun and wrestle your own match. Don't let the atmosphere get to you."
The atmosphere will certainly be at fever pitch come Thursday at the RAC. With the home crowd behind the funker from Howell, N.J., the Knights know they stand more than a fighting chance.
"He's probably one of the biggest keys to our matches when we go out and wrestle a dual," Caruso said. "Whether he's favored to win or not, he goes out there and puts on a show."