Memory of loss motivates junior, program
Scott Winston is done losing sleep over last year’s NCAA Championships, but that does not make the cinder block wall he sat and stared at any less clear in his memory.
The junior 165-pounder already knows if he gets into any tough spots next week at the national tournament in St. Louis, the image will be fresh in his mind.
“If I get into a dogfight and it’s about advancing … and it gets tight and I’m hurting a little bit, I’m going to start thinking about that hallway,” Winston said. “It was the worst feeling in the world. That’s when that feeling will come into play. If it really gets tight, I can tough it out, or I can be sitting in that hallway again crying. You might as well just suck it up and fight.”
That is the attitude head wrestling coach Scott Goodale wants from the five Scarlet Knights that qualified for the national tournament.
Winston and junior 149-pounder Mario Mason are back after dropping their Round of 12 bouts last year in Philadelphia, where they needed one more decision to reach the podium as All-Americans.
Both were favored in the seedings last season. Now, neither is.
“The reality is it doesn’t matter where you’re placed,” Goodale said. “You’re going to have to wrestle those guys anyway. You might have to wrestle them in the first round, but there are so many upsets. There’s going to be dudes falling, and then some guys will get through, but you’ll see a lot of upsets. You have to be able to come off a loss, too.”
It is the final event of a season geared solely toward performing this month, when each weight class names eight All-Americans — the one thing Goodale acknowledges is missing from his program to take the next step.
But with Mason, Winston, senior 141-pounder Billy Ashnault, junior 174-pounder Greg Zannetti and junior 197-pounder Dan Rinaldi, Goodale has the five wrestlers he always expected to contend for a spot on the podium.
Ashnault, Mason, Rinaldi and Winston all qualified for the tournament twice before.
“The mindset is that we’ve been talking about it all year,” said Ashnault, a captain. “The work’s been done. We just have to focus on staying healthy, taking care of our body and wrestling seven minutes hard against anybody in the country.”
Health is the biggest concern for Mason, who remains on crutches after spraining his ankle Saturday at the conference tournament.
Mason’s Round of 12 loss last season was one of the motivating factors for an offseason of change around the Rutgers program, which devalued its dual-meet season in an attempt to peak at the March 15-17 championships.
“We built it up for this weekend, built it up for March, so then we have to do something,” Goodale said. “If we don’t … we have to go back to the drawing board. We’re not going to quit at trying to do what we need to do here. We have some talented kids who are talented enough to win at this tournament and become All-Americans or national champs. We just have to find a way to break through.”
For Winston, that way might be his motivation.
He expected to be an All-American already, and he knows what it looks like when he falls short. The only thing blurry from last season’s loss is the cinder block wall he sat and stared at, but only because he looked at it through tears.
“I found out the hard way the past couple of years that it only matters at this tournament,” Winston said. “To be honest, in my mind it’s two-time All-American or bust at this point. Next year is all fine and dandy, but I’m worried about right now — what’s going on today, what’s going on tomorrow. There’s no reason why not.”