Rutgers eyes postseason after loss
The Rutgers wrestling team has accomplished several team and individual goals entering its last two matches of the season.
The Scarlet Knights (9-5, 6-2) have an impressive record in dual competition and been able to win six of their eight matches against EIWA conference opponents. Both records set the team up nicely for postseason wrestling.
Rutgers has three of its grapplers ranked in the first NCAA Division I coaches panel that was released Jan. 23. The rankings help establish who will qualify for NCAA Tournament in March.
The Knights took a step back Saturday from their ultimate goal for the season — to have as many wrestlers as possible take the podium March 22 at the end of NCAA tournament — when they lost, 27-9, to No. 23 Lehigh.
Some matches might have slipped away for Rutgers, according to head coach Scott Goodale, who expected better results.
“We left some matches out there,” Goodale said. “On paper, you have to win at 165-pounds and 184-pounds. Those are matches we have won in the past and it is disappointing.”
Rutgers dropped its third match in a row against the Mountain Hawks. The loss also accounts for the Knights’ third loss against a ranked opponent.
Goodale believes the score is not always indicative of how closely competitive a match truly is.
“I thought we competed really hard. 125-, 133- and 174-pounds were really close bouts and the score didn’t indicate that,” Goodale said. “There are four or five bouts there that we can turn around at the EIWA Tournament.”
The dual meet ended with the Knights dropping bouts at 133-pounds and 125-pounds, with the score 21-12. Rutgers needed to pick up two pins to even the scoring and win on criteria.
Senior Vinnie Dellefave was unable to pick up a decision at 133 pounds after facing No. 5/6/6 ranked Mason Beckman — according to AWN/InterMat/W.I.N. — ultimately losing by the one-point riding time bonus.
Although Dellefave dropped the 2-1 decision, he impressed his team and coach with his effort.
“He wrestled a perfect strategic match, but he just didn’t get off the bottom. We knew that [Beckman] was good there, he’s fifth in the country for a reason, and he finds ways to win close matches,” Goodale said. “Two weeks ago at Cornell he won a close match, yesterday he didn’t.”
After Rutgers lost five matches in a row, sophomore Billy Smith took a 5-3 decision at 285-pounds to keep the match from getting out of reach.
The heavyweight needed the second tiebreaker of sudden victory to take the decision. Smith scored an escape after starting down and then registered a takedown of the Mountain Hawks’ Max Wessel.
The win for Smith pushes his record to 20-5 and marks his seventh straight victory. The Wantage, N.J., native has won 11 of his 13 dual meets.
Smith’s record indicates the stability he provides for Rutgers.
“He is on course and is solid. He is in great shape, much better than last year,” Goodale said. “He has to keep getting better and training hard to get ready for March. He has been fantastic all year, and there is no doubt about it.”
Bonus points for the Knights came from the grappling of sophomore Ken Theobold.
The 149-pounder gained a decision by fall in the second bout of the evening to even the score at 6-6. Theobold pinned No. 13/10/11 Mitch Minotti.
The win by fall brings the Toms River, N.J., native’s record to 17-10 overall and 8-5 in dual competition. Theobold surpassed his win total from last season.
Theobold’s win is validation to what Goodale has been stressing.
“That is what we have been preaching. He went up against a nationally ranked kid and he put him on his back and he ended the match,” Goodale said. “That’s huge for Kenny [Theobold] coming forward and that’s what we have been preaching — let’s knock off these nationally ranked guys.”
Although Rutgers lost its third match in a row, the team is still on pace for the ultimate goal of the season.
“I’m disappointed we lost, but there are still matches we can turn around at the EIWA tournament. We just have to stay the course,” Goodale said. “As disappointing as it is, we wrestled hard. I think the training is right, we just have to wrestle smarter. I think we can turn some of those matches around in three or four weeks.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.