Time off gives edge against Lehigh
A three-match stretch against three ranked opponents is not exactly the easiest way to wrap up the last part of a team’s schedule on the road.
For the Rutgers wrestling team, the difficult stretch, where it grappled then-No. 17 Iowa State and then-No. 3 Cornell, will come to a close when it wrestles No. 23 Lehigh (7-5, 3-2) tomorrow in Bethlehem, Pa.
The Scarlet Knights’ (9-4, 6-1) tough schedule is exactly what they asked for as it will help them entering the postseason, according to assistant coach John Leonardis.
“We’re in great shape and we have a great gameplan for each guy,” Leonardis said. “I believe in these guys come tournament time. We still have a ways to get there, but we are moving in a great direction right now.”
The Knights will also look to carry over their success against the Mountain Hawks. Last season, Rutgers was able to win its dual-meet against Lehigh for the first time in 63 years.
The win last year gives the Knights confidence entering this season’s dual and allows senior 133-pounder Vinnie Dellefave to put the match in a simple perspective.
“We are definitely trying to build on the match from last year, and we beat them,” the Toms River, N.J., native said. “We definitely want to come out, have a good match and get two in a row against them.”
The matchup against one of the top-25 teams in the USA Today Division I coaches poll seems easier than a year ago or even more likely accomplished than dual competition against other ranked opponents this season.
For starters, last season Rutgers had less than a week to prepare for the Mountain Hawks. Also, it had a packed schedule in January with four matches in 12 days.
Thirteen days stood between the Knights’ last match against the Big Red and the match against Lehigh tomorrow.
The time off provides Rutgers with an advantage heading into its match against Lehigh, according to junior 165-pounder Nick Visicaro.
“A tough loss against Cornell will only make us better. We had some time off that gave us a chance to rest, some time to prepare and train, and get our head straight while working on our technique,” the Long Branch, N.J., native said. “This time off really let us rejuvenate ourselves, but also gives us the extra push to get better and we will be going into this match fairly confident because of that.”
With the EIWA Conference Championships slated for early March, each match leading up to it is important for both individual records and the team’s dual-meet record.
While Rutgers will face as many as five ranked wrestlers Saturday in the Leeman-Turner Arena, according to AWN/InterMat/W.I.N. rankings, the team knows it must take advantage of the opportunity to take down ranked opponents entering the conference tournament.
“Last year was last year. We just want to focus on what we are doing this year. It’s been a couple of matches since we got a win, so we are going to try and get one,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “There are 10 individual wars and they are huge matchups, so we need to win them. It’s a tough task, though, but we approach it with the idea that these matches are to determine seeding for the EIWA Championships in three weeks. We have to focus on us.”