Youthful roster offers excitement
One by one, eight wrestlers from each weight class navigated up the podium March 23 in the darkness of the Wells Fargo Arena.
In all, the PA system announced 80 names at the 2013 NCAA National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, as 17,000 screaming voices echoed off the walls.
Then-junior 133-pounder Vincent Dellafave was not even in the building to hear the noise that night. Neither were the six other members of the Rutgers wrestling team who made the trip to the middle of the country but missed out on All-American status.
“I would say it was a disappointment because you always want to finish as high as you feel like you deserve, and we didn’t finish anywhere near where we thought we would be,” Dellafave said.
Four of those wrestlers are gone now, leaving Dellafave, junior 165-pounder Nick Visicaro and sophomore heavyweight Billy Smith as returners this season with championship experience.
All three inherit reasonable expectations to at least qualify again for nationals, but it will also fall on them to produce the Scarlet Knights’ first All-American since 2002, when Tom Tonis stood on the podium in Albany, N.Y.
“The bottom line is we need to do something at that tournament, and I’m hoping this is the group that carries us through it,” said head coach Scott Goodale.
Though last season’s roster failed to produce Goodale’s first All-American since he inherited the program in 2007, the Knights were successful in dual-meet action with a 16-4 record.
Goodale will attempt to replicate that number with at least five new starters.
The uncertainty is a complete 180 from last year’s roster, which featured eight upperclassmen in the lineup.
“It’s scary. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s absolutely scary,” Goodale said. “We’ve built this up and there are expectations now. Everybody wants to see 16-4 and top 20 in the country. I think we have guys that are really, really good that are going to be really good down the line. You hope they’re going to be really good right away. I have no idea.”
Goodale’s excitement lies up and down his unproven roster — 88 percent of which consists of sophomores and freshmen — and begins with Phillip Bakuckus, who will attempt to fill the hole left by 174-pounder Greg Zannetti.
Bakuckus posted a 22-11 individual record last season wrestling unattached, but has looked improved both physically and mentally during workouts.
“I’ve been doing a lot of extras lately,” Bakuckus said. “I’ve been coming in on Wednesdays — our day off — Sundays. I’m just trying to get in the best shape physically as possible. I have big shoes to fill.”
Goodale also has 12 freshmen from a recruiting class which ranked 11th in the country, according to Intermat.
Three rookies — 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault, 133-pounder Corey Stasenko and 125-pounder Scott DelVecchio — all won Saturday during the Knights’ wrestle-offs.
The Knights’ youth coupled with their impending move to the Big Ten has Goodale anticipating the future’s potential.
But his focus is on this season and trying to gain a type of success he has not yet experienced during his time in Piscataway.
“What is our stigma? What’s the problem with Rutgers wrestling?” Goodale said. “We don’t have anyone on the podium. So they’re focused on that.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.