Knights underperform at Nationals
Despite seven qualifiers, Rutgers fails to send wrestler to day three of competition
DES MOINES, Iowa – In the tunnels of the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night was the podium where the top-eight wrestlers in each weight class stood upon the following night when crowned All-Americans.
Head coach Scott Goodale stood close by — a metaphor that represents the Rutgers wrestling team’s distance from just competing at the National Championships to having one of their own stand among the top.
“Until we have All-Americans, it’s not going to be a positive thing,” said Goodale. “It’s not going to be a positive thing for the community — it’s not going to be a positive thing on our team. That’s what’s breaking our back right now.”
Five Scarlet Knights received automatic bids thanks to their performances in the EIWA Tournament. Another two qualified as at-large selections to give the program its most representatives — seven — in the National Championships since 2011 and second most since 2007, when Goodale took over the program.
Despite the number of participants and Goodale’s emphasis on getting at least one wrestler on the podium, it never came to fruition.
“The guys wrestled hard,” Goodale said. “I thought everything was where it needed to be. We just didn’t win.”
After all seven of his competitors were eliminated from the championship bracket in the first round, only a trio of seniors — 141-pounder Trevor Melde, 157-pounder Scott Winston and 184-pounder Daniel Rinaldi — were left in the second part of Friday’s session to give Goodale any chance at what has eluded him during his tenure.
As each weight class went, the bracket continued without a Rutgers wrestler present.
Melde had the best shot out of the three — as Goodale believed he controlled the whole match — despite losing 4-2 to Virginia Tech’s Zach Neibert in overtime on a takedown.
After a takedown by Neibert in the first period, Melde was on top for most of the match — an effort that allowed for an escape and riding time to force the overtime period.
It was not enough, despite the phantom back points awarded to Neibert, said Goodale, who used one of his three challenges during Melde’s bout.
Winston’s match was not nearly as close, as he suffered an 8-1 loss to Oregon State’s No. 10 Roger Pena— Rinaldi, the last Knight to take the mat at the Wells Fargo Center, fell 5-2 to Missouri’s No. 11 Mike Larson.
As Rinaldi ran off of the mat and into the locker room, all Goodale could do was follow in disappointment after a tournament that began on a positive note.
Despite senior 174-pounder Greg Zannetti, sophomore 165-pounder Nick Visicaro and redshirt freshman heavyweight Billy Smith all going 0-2 to finish their performances in the first round — Rutgers had four wrestlers left in the championship bracket after session one.
Vincent Dellefave delivered the biggest victory in the first round.
Tied 1-1 into sudden victory overtime against Penn State’s No. 12 Jordan Conaway, the junior 133-pounder avoided a move by Conaway and responded with a pin with 28 seconds remaining. But thanks to being unseeded, Dellefave was put up against Minnesota’s No. 5 Chris Dardanes, resulting in a fall just 15 seconds into the first period. Virginia’s George DiCamillo handed the Toms River, N.J., native a 4-1 loss in the wrestlebacks to leave Dellefave with a 1-2 finish in his first trip to the championships.
Dellefave’s win against Conaway served as a reminder to Goodale of the positives that he can take out of Rutgers’ performances over the weekend, but he was also quick to point out that one upset means nothing in the grand scheme of things if it does not lead to a spot at the podium. Goodale said Friday night that the championships would be a failure if they were not reached by at least one of his wrestlers.
“There was some good wins along the way, no doubt about it,” Goodale said. “But in this tournament, it’s not about one win — it has to be about three or four.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D.