Same old story
The match could not have started out any better for the Rutgers wrestling team against conference powerhouse Lehigh.
The No. 7 Scarlet Knights sprung out to an early 6-0 lead last night in front of a New Jersey wrestling record crowd of 5,011 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, but the No. 10 Mountain Hawks hung around early and won late, taking the dual, 21-9.
The loss snaps Rutgers' (20-2) win streak at 16 and extends Lehigh's (14-6) winning streak over the Knights to 37 matches.
"It's disappointing," said head coach Scott Goodale, whose team dropped the last five bouts. "But sometimes I have to take a step back because … the reality of it is that it's just one match. I know it was big for the people at Rutgers and it was big for us."
The heavyweight bout between senior DJ Russo and No. 1 Zach Rey did not matter mathematically, as Rutgers already trailed 18-9, but the match-up still featured two top-five grapplers.
It was the same old story for Russo, as the Netcong, N.J., native could not solve Rey's game plan on top. Rey scored one escape and then rode Russo out for a majority of the third period to earn the 2-1 win.
"Not everybody is going to be able to wrestle at their level every match," Russo said. "Guys have great matches and guys have bad matches. In the past, we've been able to equal it out … but we didn't have anyone to equal it out tonight, myself included."
Going against his former team, senior Alex Caruso headed into his 174-pound bout against redshirt freshman Austin Meys. The two spent a year together in Bethlehem, Pa., and Meys earned the 4-1 decision to up Lehigh's lead to 12-9.
Senior Daryl Cocozzo gave Rutgers the 9-6 lead with a 5-3 decision over Sean Bilodeau. The win gives the River Edge, N.J., native 98 wins on his career spanning between Edinboro and Rutgers.
"I've beaten him twice already, 5-1 and 5-0, so I was really looking to get bonus points," Cocozzo said. "He had a good strategy against me to keep it close."
The win also marked the last time Rutgers lead in the dual.
"It definitely hurts a little bit," Cocozzo said. "We were doing so well, and we are going to have a lot of haters now. But I think we are going to be fine."
After two early Rutgers victories, Lehigh pulled even behind a pair of upsets and 141 and 149 pounds.
Sophomore 149-pounder Mario Mason had a rough two weeks after battling the flu and suffering a fall in the rankings following a loss to American's Ganbayar Sanjaa. The tough slide continued for the Minnesota transfer as an early takedown was all he could muster in his match against Lehigh's Joey Napoli. After that takedown in the first period, Napoli controlled the pace and earned the 7-2 decision.
"Not everything is going to go your way in the match and you have to be able to face adversity in the match and we didn't do that," Goodale said. "There were no injuries or no health issues those are just excuses. We are healthy and everybody is fine."
Junior Trevor Melde entered the circle for Rutgers at 141 pounds opposite Stephen Dutton. A takedown late in the first period gave Dutton a 2-0 and the Mountain Hawk thwarted every effort from Melde to try and score a takedown of his own.
Dutton earned the 5-1 decision to get Lehigh on the board.
The dual started perfectly for Rutgers as it jumped out to a 6-0 lead behind a pair of 125-pounders.
Goodale opted to wrestle junior Matt Fusco — normally a 125-pounder — at 133 pounds against his former high school teammate in Lehigh's Frank Cagnina. The Mountain Hawk freshman entered the match ranked No. 17 in the nation, but an early Fusco takedown set the pace for what proved to be a huge upset, as the Belleville, N.J., native took home a 5-2 decision.
Sophomore Joe Langel got the RAC rocking early and is still undefeated at home after his 7-2 decision over Mitch Berger. The Howell, N.J., native scored two reversals and a takedown courtesy of his funky style to put the Knights up early.
But as the match wore on, Lehigh's attacking style smothered the Knights, who were unable to counter.
"I leaned over to coach [John] Leonardis halfway through and said, ‘These guys are all over us,'" Goodale said. "And they were. They were all over us. They wanted it and they finished matches.
"The reality of it is that we are going to wrestle them in two weeks at the EIWA Tournament, and we have to do a better job."