Rookies react to new surroundings
Freshman 125-pounder Sean McCabe was adamant with what he felt was the biggest adjustment in his first year with the Rutgers wrestling team.
“Come to practice on time,” he said.
Head coach Scott Goodale validated McCabe’s statement.
“We’re stickler for that,” Goodale said. “They have to understand that they are held accountable for everything they do.”
The schedule of a Division-I wrestler is not the only thing Scarlet Knights freshmen have to get used to, which includes waking up at 6 a.m. to run stadium stairs.
The rookies also have to deal with the fact they may not be the best on the team at the moment.
“They were great in high school and the big man on campus, and now they come here and they are the low man on the totem pole,” Goodale said.
McCabe is a prime example.
He won a state title last year at Connetquot (N.Y.) High School, where he compiled a 37-2 mark as a senior under head coach Bill Santoro.
He now works with senior 125-pounder Joey Langel, a two-time NCAA qualifier, and junior 133-pounder Vincent Dellefave in practice as McCabe redshirts this season.
The talent McCabe wrestles every day is something he could not have gotten at his former school, and he has not had a problem with taking on a reserved role.
“My workout partners are awesome, and [their talent] pushes me a lot,” McCabe said. “I just keep working hard and trying to do the best I can.”
Classmate Phillip Bakuckas also pointed to the increase in talent and knowledge as something he has never seen before.
Like McCabe, the 174-pounder also had a successful high school career, as he collected a school-record 132 wins at Hammonton (N.J.) High School.
Bakuckas said assistant coach Joe Pollard and the rest of the staff have been helpful in setting up shots and moving wrestlers with whom he once had a problem.
It is a noticeable difference from where he was less than a year ago.
“Goodale and the rest of the coaching staff know a lot more technique and a lot of things that will help me in matches,” Bakuckas said. “They push me a lot harder. It’s a big difference, but it’s great.”
Unlike most of the freshmen on the roster, Bakuckas could be plugged into the lineup right away without the team suffering, Goodale said.
Bakuckas placed seventh Sunday at the Nittany Lion Open, where he compiled a 5-2 record as an unattached entree.
“He’s had a lot of success in these early tournaments,” Goodale said.
But talent can sometimes cover up the adjustment period Goodale’s younger wrestlers still face.
So while the rookie wrestlers deal with nuances of their young careers, like getting to practice on time, Goodale continues to work with them no matter what their backgrounds are.
“We don’t stress a certain style or change it, but we tinker with it,” Goodale said. “Sometimes, guys come in and they have a certain way of drilling, wrestling, dieting and making weight and all their habits have to be tweaked, because we have a pretty good idea of what it takes to succeed at this level.”
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