Win against Lehigh holds special value
As Billy Smith jumped up off the mat and pumped his fist, the redshirt freshman heavyweight broke a barrier that has been more than 60 years in the making.
Smith’s 6-0 decision against Lehigh’s Jack Delia on Friday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center clinched a 17-16 victory, the Rutgers wrestling team’s first win against the Mountain Hawks since 1950.
While this year’s Lehigh team does not feature the talent head coach Scott Goodale’s teams have faced in the past, it does not take away from a program that has given the Knights problems before Goodale was even born.
“Just to say we beat Lehigh [is a benchmark],” Goodale said. “We don’t have to hear about the 61 years or that we can’t win big matches. Lehigh is still Lehigh. They are a young team, probably not the best team they have put out, but it’s still Lehigh. They feel good every time they come here and feel like they are going to win.”
Senior 174-pounder Greg Zannetti knows firsthand the difficulties Lehigh has handed Rutgers. The closest the Knights came to a victory while during Zanetti’s career was a 21-9 drubbing in 2011 at the RAC.
The Edison, N.J., native provided the spark Rutgers needed for a win in an otherwise one-sided rivalry that dates back to 1940.
After sophomore 165-pounder Nick Visicaro delivered a major decision against Lehigh’s Ben Haas to give the Knights an 11-10 lead, Zannetti took the mat to face the nation’s No. 12 174-pounder in Nathanial Brown.
A back-and-forth match resulted in a 3-3 tie in the third period. As both grapplers looked to earn position, Zanetti scored a crucial takedown with 10 seconds remaining in the period to deliver a 5-3 decision and put Rutgers on top, 14-10.
Zannetti’s win may have been the highlight of the evening, but he did not see it that way.
He only saw it as a contribution to a goal the program has been looking to accomplish since he stepped foot on campus.
“Everyone’s match was as good as mine, it was a team effort,” Zannetti said. “No one’s takedown or major decision was any bigger. That’s just being a team right there.”
The win was also special for Smith, who said he has witnessed Lehigh’s dominance before he was a member of the team.
“I grew up watching these guys battle each other,” Smith said. “It is just awesome. Just being in this atmosphere and being able to replace those guys I’ve looked up to when I was little, it is an awesome feeling.”
Goodale said defeating Lehigh has always been a personal goal, and the win came at the right time.
Rutgers is set to move all of its sports to the Big Ten in 2014, a shift that can put the series between the two schools in jeopardy. Both programs are members of the EIWA Conference.
Goodale believes the series will remain intact.
“I don’t think so,” Goodale said when asked if the rivalry will not be as important. “That’s a pretty important series. I think both programs draw really well. I [would’ve] liked to see us draw better, but they draw really well when we wrestle there, so I don’t think we will lose that.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.