Rivalry offers opportunities for postseason
The history of the matchup between the Rutgers wrestling team and Lehigh dates back to February 1941, when the Mountain Hawks defeated the Scarlet Knights, 34-0.
Since then, Rutgers and Lehigh met more than 40 times.
The all-time record between the two programs is not exactly even, as the Mountain Hawks hold a 41-2 overall-series record. The matchup serves as one of the longest-running rivalries for the Knights.
The matchup means more than just a win or loss. It serves as a legitimization for the Rutgers program, according to head coach Scott Goodale.
“It’s a good rivalry and a big match, although I don’t know if they think it is a rivalry,” Goodale said. “It’s kind of our measuring stick of where we want to go. It’s something we look forward to every year.”
Rutgers’ first victory against Lehigh came in February 1950, and the Knights had to wait 63 years before they would win again versus one of the top programs in collegiate wrestling.
That was last season.
Rutgers defeated the then-No. 14 Mountain Hawks in the last bout at 285 pounds when then-redshirt freshman Billy Smith gained the 6-0 decision to put the Knights up, 17-16.
The win propelled Rutgers to win five out of their next seven dual meets entering the EIWA Championships.
The stronger opponents help establish the Knights, which hold a two-match losing streak, before they enter postseason play. The match against Lehigh on Saturday could end up being ideal for Rutgers, according to senior 133-pounder Vinnie Dellefave.
“I think it is almost like perfect timing for us. We wrestled Cornell last week, and they are No. 1 in the EIWA’s and now wrestling Lehigh who is No. 2,” Dellefave said. “We are wrestling the better competition come tournament time. It should be a good one on Saturday.”
The win last season helped before postseason play by establishing EIWA Tournament rankings. It can accomplish the same thing, according to Goodale.
“It is seeding and it’s matchups,” Goodale said. “There are huge individual matches [against Lehigh] because these matches come down to seeding in three weeks for the EIWA tournament.”
As an NCAA qualifier last year, junior 165-pounder Nick Visicaro, who came away with bonus points in his 11-1 major decision against Lehigh last year, benefitted from the win to help towards postseason.
A victory this season against the Mountain Hawks could serve as another lift for the Knights, according to the Long Branch, N.J., native.
“Last year, beating Lehigh was probably as good as it gets,” Visicaro said. “We hadn’t beaten them in something like 60 years and it gave us a little confidence boost and made us so good going into the EIWA [Tournament]. I don’t feel like this year is much different. Although we beat them last year, I still feel like we have to win again to prove that it’s not a fluke.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.