Rutgers?preps for postseason play on Senior Night
Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale long said senior 133-pounder Michael DeMarco is the type of wrestler that embodies his program.
The Lyndhurst, N.J., native went winless in the state tournament as a high school senior, walked on at Rutgers, then fought his way into the lineup for four years.
But he will be out of the lineup for Senior Night tonight against Drexel at the College Avenue Gym as he continues to recover from a torn lateral collateral ligament. This year, getting healthy for the postseason is what Goodale’s program is all about.
“It would be awesome to wrestle, my last chance ever to wrestle here,” DeMarco said. “But when it’s all said and done, I haven’t worked and came where I came from the past five years to wrestle Senior Night against Drexel … to get my hand raised and hobble off. It would mean more than anything to get to the national tournament and make a run.”
So DeMarco will continue to practice the next two weeks — he began wrestling live late last week — in preparation for the EIWA Tournament, where Goodale estimates he will need a top-six finish to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
“We just don’t want to push it because there’s no real reason to,” Goodale said.
Demarco’s absence leaves 141-pounder Billy Ashnault and heavyweight Dan Hopkins as the only seniors in the lineup.
Each has his own postseason aspirations.
Ashnault is an All-American contender — he is a two-time NCAA qualifier that last weekend took last year’s national runner-up Boris Novachkov to overtime.
Qualifying would be its own victory for Hopkins. He never had a full year in the lineup after transferring from Middlesex Community College to rejoin Goodale, his former Jackson Memorial High School coach.
Jesse Boyden and Carl Buchholz each appeared at heavyweight this season, but Hopkins will represent the Scarlet Knights at the EIWA Tournament.
His final test comes tonight against Drexel’s 19th-ranked Kyle Frey. Goodale calls Frey an athletic wrestler, which presents a better matchup for the 215-pound Hopkins, who constantly faces larger competition in his first year up from 197 pounds.
“It’s hard when I weigh in at 215 and at match time I’m probably even lighter than that after sweating and warming up,” Hopkins said. “I get dudes that are 255, 260 and just laying on me. That’s hard to deal with. Some of them are deceptively fast.”
A pre-match ceremony will honor Ashnault, DeMarco and Hopkins before the first bout of the Knights’ final dual meet, but it will not mark the end of their involvement with the program.
Ashnault and DeMarco — both captains — will live together in New Brunswick next year and take on a role with the program, they said. DeMarco is considering a career in fighting after working with the team for at least a year.
He will likely undergo surgery to repair his LCL and a ruptured muscle connected to it in his right knee after his season. It could end any time he takes the mat.
Doctors told DeMarco he is at risk of injuring himself more if he wrestles, even with a brace, prompting his decision to sit against Drexel. His career will end in the postseason, whether it is because of injury or a result. That is the way he wants it.
“You have to weigh the worst-case scenario and cost versus benefit,” DeMarco said. “The worst-case scenario is my career would end on a Thursday night match and not even have the opportunity to make a run at the tournament. Ultimately the goal is the NCAAs.”