Moment of truth
Goodale, Knights put altered training philosophy, regimen to work with final test before NCAA?Tournament
The individual portion of the season that the Rutgers wrestling team stressed all year long begins Saturday, and it finally has a team goal to go with it.
After toiling through four months of a dual-meet season that was little more than a formality, the postseason starts with the EIWA Tournament at Princeton, where 10 conference titles and 46 NCAA Championship bids will be awarded.
At the tournament geared toward individuals, the Scarlet Knights want to finish in the top three of the 14-team field. They finished in third place last year at Bucknell.
“Everyone knows what’s at stake now,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “We finally have a team goal. A top-three finish in this conference would be great. We want to be a top-three team in the EIWA. That’s our goal and I think it’s fair.”
But yet again, Goodale’s eye is on the next tournament.
Just as he kept an eye on March throughout the entire dual-meet season, he will enter Jadwin Gymnasium with the NCAA Championships on his mind.
He says junior 165-pounder Scott Winston is practicing as well as he ever has, reminiscent of the lead-up to last year’s tournament, which Winston won.
He says junior 149-pounder Mario Mason is fully healthy and back in his groove.
Mason and junior 174-pounder Greg Zannetti will likely be the top seeds in their weight classes, and Winston will likely be a No. 2 seed.
Conference titles are on the table, but are not necessarily the focus.
“We want to be great this weekend, we certainly do, but it’s about putting yourself in a position to be involved in the national tournament and be an All-American,” Goodale said. “It doesn’t matter what you place. You might not see the best Mario Mason, Scott Winston or Billy Ashnault, etc., etc. It’s about getting through and going from there.”
That is because for this program to take the next step, it needs to put someone on the All-American podium in St. Louis at the national tournament.
Rutgers has nine All-Americans in its history, with the most recent in 2002. Before that, there are none since 1983.
Three Knights entered last season’s national tournament with a seeding that favored to put them on the podium, but each lost before they got there.
It prompted Goodale to re-evaluate and alter the way he ran his program, and it labeled the dual-meet season as secondary to the postseason.
But Goodale had no idea what type of toll the losing would take.
“We made it through the grind,” Winston said. “That month of January, beginning of February is tough as it is … but once you add injuries and losses from an individual and team standpoint, everybody’s morale starts going down a little bit.”
Rutgers won its dual-meet finale against Drexel, then took five days away from the mat before starting a training cycle that will take the team through the postseason.
Intense training workouts give way to two-a-days on the mat, then two days off before the strength training resumes. The Knights followed a similar pattern last year, but not as focused and with less emphasis on rest, Goodale said.
“We wanted to keep doing what we were doing because we had such a good dual-meet season,” Goodale said.
That was never an issue this year, when the Knights used the regular season to work their way toward peaking in postseason tournaments.
Although it will take another two weeks to see whether the program’s shift in emphasis — which Goodale is already re-evaluating for next season — was worth it, the first look comes at Princeton. Goodale is encouraged.
“This is by far the best two weeks we’ve had,” Goodale said. “Everybody is on board with what they have to do. We’re going to be healthy, we’re going to be fit, we’re going to be in shape, we’re going to be rested, we’re going to wrestle as hard as we can. Whatever happens at that point happens.”