September 24, 2018 | ° F

Proving ground

Photo by Andrew Howard |

Head coach Scott Goodale's .769 winning percentage in his four years at Rutgers ranks No. 1 among all time Scarlet Knight coaches with a record thus far of 70-20-1.

The United States saw its fair share of changes between 1950 and the present day. Gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, basketball legend Julius Erving was just born and the mascot for Rutgers athletics was a rooster known as a Chanticleer.

But one truth has stood the test of time since Feb. 22, 1950 — the Rutgers wrestling team has not beaten Lehigh.

The Scarlet Knights are ready to rewrite history at the Louis Brown Athletic Center tonight, when the squad pits its 20-1 record against a team which owned them for over half a century.

"We're not talking about the whole 1950s thing," said head coach Scott Goodale. "We're just going about it as another dual meet."

It is hard to ignore the staggering statistics, however, that favor Lehigh since that 16-11 Rutgers victory in New Brunswick so long ago. The Mountain Hawks won 36 straight duals over the Knights and own the series record with a staggering 39-1 mark.

Since its one triumph, Rutgers registered in the double digits against Lehigh only six times and its closest loss came in 1956, when the Mountain Hawks escaped with a 17-15 victory.

So while the Knights enter today's matchup ranked No. 7 and Lehigh comes in at No. 10, it is clear who is the underdog.

"To be honest, it's not the best matchup in the world for us," Goodale said. "They're probably favored in six of the 10 weight classes, but you don't know. I hope this is the year."

If there was ever a squad primed to knock down the walls of history, this Rutgers group is it. Winners of 16 in a row, the Knights represent some of the top names in wrestling that New Jersey has to offer.

The grapplers are excited to get the chance to showcase their talent in front of what should be a capacity crowd at the RAC, but they are keeping it in perspective.

"I'm just thinking of it as another match," said sophomore Joe Langel, who will begin the festivities for Rutgers at 125 pounds. "It's a rivalry, but you don't want to over hype it too much. You just want to go in there and wrestle your match."

Langel and several Knights got their first taste of the wrestling machine that is Lehigh last year, when Rutgers traveled to Bethlehem, Pa., and lost, 28-3.

Goodale banks on that experience to prove crucial this time around.

"To be honest with you, we were very, very young last year," he said. "Since that time they've had an EIWA [Tournament], they've had a national tournament and they've had three or four huge matches, whether it's at the [College Avenue Gym] or the RAC. That experience can only help."

One Knight who needs no introduction to Lehigh is fifth-year senior Alex Caruso. The Green Brook, N.J., native spent the first four years of his collegiate career with the Mountain Hawks before deciding to transfer to the Banks for his final season.

Emotions are certainly running high in the days leading up to the return of his former team, but Caruso knows there is work to be done.

"I'm close with a few of those guys on the team. We talk weekly and some of them on a daily basis," he said. "I know that [tonight] will be a totally different atmosphere. We might have to put our friendship on hold for a couple of hours."

Caruso's replacement at 174 pounds, Robert Hamlin, now wrestles at 184 and is ranked No. 4 in the country in his weight class.

It is Lehigh's (13-6) ability to corral the best wrestlers from all over the country, coupled with a loyal and stringent fan base that makes this national powerhouse a model of consistency.

"One thing that they have that I think we don't is a rich tradition," Caruso said. "They pride themselves on it. It's a small school, but wrestling is the biggest sport there."

Knowing the following that comes with a program such as Lehigh, Goodale knew this match was destined for the RAC.

"There was no doubt," said Goodale on where the dual would take place. "You couldn't fit the Lehigh people in [the Barn] alone. That goes back to what Lehigh brings, their tradition. Plus we're winning at the RAC. We win at the RAC and want to have all of our big matches at the RAC."

And while nobody can erase what has happened in the past, tonight is a chance for the Knights to seize the day and begin a new chapter 61 years in the making.

"When I was at Lehigh, we kicked the crap out of Rutgers every year and didn't really think much of it," Caruso said. "Now that I am on the other side, it's definitely time for a change. It's time to start building a streak of our own. It's time to win this one and next year and the year after that. It's time to make it a real rivalry."

A.J. Jankowski

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