Three returners provide Rutgers with leadership
Vincent Dellefave barely raised his voice last season when the Rutgers wrestling team featured eight seniors.
Those guys — which included four NCAA qualifiers — are all gone now, leaving the Toms River, N.J., atop the Scarlet Knights’ roster in terms of seniority.
“I don’t really talk to much,” said Dellefave, who is one of just two seniors for Rutgers. “So when the guys started asking me stuff and I have to start being vocal, it’s a little out of my game.”
In head coach Scott Goodale’s rebuilding program this season, Dellefave serves as the Knights’ blueprint for success. The senior 133-pounder will begin this season ranked 17th in his weight class, according to WIN Magazine.
Dellefave boasted an impressive season last year, finishing 27-10 in the regular season and 16-4 in dual competition. He was also the lone Rutgers returning NCAA qualifier who registered a first-round victory at the NCAA Championships.
He sees better things ahead for him this year.
“Last year was last year. I’m definitely focused on working off last year’s result to reach the podium this year,” Dellefave said. “The goal is to win every match. Guys who are looking up to me will see my effort, fight and the work I put in to accomplish that goal.”
According to sophomore heavyweight Billy Smith, there is no question who is the leader of the Knights.
“Vinnie has the biggest role on this team. He is the older kid who everyone looks up to,” Smith said. “He is the figure who has been here for a while and everyone respects him. He is the face of the team and has a role I can only hope to work towards someday.”
Smith is off to a good start in that regard.
The heavyweight competed in the NCAA Championships during his first year wrestling attached, compiling a 27-9 overall record. The Wantage, N.J., native also went 17-3 in dual-action. Smith will begin this season ranked 20th by Amateur Wrestling News.
Although Smith said in the past the team cares little about rankings, Goodale takes a different approach.
“I do look into rankings, although I don’t necessarily bring it up with the guys,” Goodale said. “I thought Billy was disrespected as a national qualifier. There are wrestlers on the list ahead of him who he beat last year and I hope that motivates him to move up.”
Smith is on the rise for a program that actually may have underperformed last year. He placed sixth among heavyweights in the EIWA Tournament.
“He had a great freshman year a season ago, but really struggled towards the end in his last six matches,” Goodale said. “Unfortunately those are the ones that count. We as a staff need to do a better job getting him rest throughout the year since he is our only heavyweight due to injury and is therefore vital to the team.”
Rutgers’ only returning qualifier who competed at the wrestle-offs Saturday was junior 165-pounder Nick Visicaro. The Long Branch, N.J., native won his matchup in impressive fashion, 11-3 against Anthony Pafumi.
Visicaro had an impressive season last year and joins Dellefave and Smith in terms of bring experience back from last season.
“Obviously the team has high expectations, but I think the most important thing is that everyone does their own job,” Smith said. “As individuals we sometimes lose track of that. If everyone concentrates and takes care of the little things, then as a team we will find success.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.