Refreshed Winston prepares for shot at EIWA title
Scott Winston was 12 years old when he first started thinking about the postseason. The sixth grader from Jackson, N.J., sat down and wrote out a list of goals.
First, high school, where he went 137-0 with three state titles in his career.
Then, college, where he has an EIWA title, but still plenty more he wants to accomplish.
“I definitely feel a little bit of heat,” the junior 165-pounder said. “I thought for sure I’d have a couple more credentials than an EIWA title at this point. Things happen, so you just have to eat it and roll with the punches. It’s a new year, a new competition and a new me, so let’s go.”
Winston enters the postseason having missed each of the Rutgers wrestling team’s past three matches with a pinched nerve in his neck.
He wrestled and won an EIWA title last season with torn ligaments in his knee, but then he fell one decision short of All-American status at the national tournament.
It prompted a change in every manner of how the Rutgers program operates.
So Winston sat out and rested with his neck injury, as he did earlier in the season after he dislocated his shoulder in a Jan. 6 match.
It sends him into the postseason ranked 17th nationally and second in the conference with a 16-5 record, but also in the best shape of the season.
“He just trained really, really hard without injury and has a lot of energy,” said head coach Scott Goodale, who said Winston’s past two weeks of practice are the best since his freshman year. “It hasn’t been his shoulder, it hasn’t been the trainer’s room. He’s been here. He’s been doing stuff in the morning. He’s been doing stuff at night on his own. He’s running mountains. He’s running stadiums. He’s focused. He’s focused.”
Winston is focused on those sixth-grade goals.
He wants to win another EIWA title, then a national championship.
“People might think that’s far off, but I’ve been up and down this season, and I’m on my way up this last part of the season,” Winston said. “I want to turn some heads and open some eyes.”
He wants to start with Lehigh’s Brandon Hatchett, the ninth-ranked 165-pounder in the nation who enters this weekend’s conference tournament as the favorite.
Hatchett beat Winston, 7-2, to shift the momentum of a dual meet last season at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, then beat him again in overtime to catapult himself onto the podium at the NCAA Championships and eliminate Winston.
So Winston is not traveling to Princeton to defend his title.
“I’m going after somebody,” he said. “He’s taken a lot from me.”
It is the mindset Goodale wants from the star of his program.
Winston followed Goodale, his former Jackson Memorial High School coach, to Rutgers as the second-ranked recruit in the country, according to Intermat.
Immediately, there were expectations.
Goodale believes pressure from the state’s ardent wrestling community weighed on Winston, although Winston denies it.
“I try my best and I know we have a big following here,” Winston said, “but at the end of the day, the guy who’s going to be mad if he loses is going to be me, and the guy who’s going to be happy if he wins is going to be me. I’m the only one out there.”
More than anything, the injuries weighed on Winston.
He spent an entire summer away from the mat for the first time since he started wrestling this offseason, when he underwent knee surgery.
Then he returned only to injure himself two more times.
“It was starting to get a little frustrating,” he said. “I feel clear in my mind [now], because it’s been one thing after another these past two years with injuries.”
Now he says he feels “rejuvenated and alive,” and his coach sees it.
Goodale sees Winston preparing the same way he did for last season’s conference tournament, when Winston checked off one of his college goals for the first time.
But there is still a lot more he wants. That starts with another title and a fresh, new mindset.
“Maybe the time away from the mat rejuvenated me mentally more than anything,” Winston said. “I’m excited. Everything I’ve done this year comes down to these two weeks.”