April 25, 2019 | 56° F

EIWAs ignite postseason dreams

Photo by Tian Li |

Sophomore heavyweight Billy Smith finished 10th in the final RPI of the season and earned the top seed in the EIWA tournament.

Chances are the Rutgers wrestling team has already departed, or is leaving soon, for what it has waited on for more than a month: the opportunity to move one step closer to its preseason goal.

The Scarlet Knights travel to UPenn for the EIWA Championships this weekend, which will be held at the 87-year old Palestra arena in Philadelphia, looking to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Although the Knights had two weeks off since last competing, preparation for the conference championships this weekend have gone on longer than that.

“We’ve been preparing for this probably for the last month,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “The day after Lehigh (Feb. 8) we put together a cycle and have been sticking to it. It’s the status quo. Individually, you put together your own individual workouts and work on yourself to prepare for it. But right now you prepare the mind.”

For Rutgers, the chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament lays heavy on its mind.

Last season, seven Knights were sent to compete in Des Moines, Iowa.

This year, Rutgers will hope to get a head start to qualifying for Oklahoma City by ensuring automatic bids by winning the EIWA tournament or by placing high in the tournament. Otherwise, they will have to rely on at-large selections.

While some grapplers like sophomore heavyweight No. 16/13/17(TheOpenMat/InterMat/W.I.N.) Billy Smith may receive a bid because of an impressive regular season — finishing 10th in the nation at 285 pounds in the final RPI and going 22-5 — other Knights may have to rely on the NCAA qualifier allocations per conference.

The EIWA conference has the second-most allocations per weight class behind the Big Ten. Forty-seven wrestlers will qualify from the EIWA conference.

The 133, 149, 184 and 285 pound weight classes all have four allocations each to make the tournament. The 141, 157 and 165 weight classes have five allocations each. The 125-pound class has six while 197 pounds has seven allotted.

While rankings and seeds do not affect how the Knights wrestle, Rutgers featured seven wrestlers who received seeds for the tournament.

Smith highlights the seeding, earning the first seed in the tournament.

For senior Vinnie Dellefave, he has experience wrestling in the EIWA tournament and grappled in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Dellefave knows what to expect in his last conference tournament, earning a modest fifth seed.

“For me, it’s about scoring in the first period, which will open up the rest of the match for me,” Dellefave said. “I’m definitely done wrestling after this year, so I just have to wrestle my hardest, let it all fly and good things will happen.”

Some wrestlers will have it harder than others at their individual weight classes, like Phil Bakuckus. The redshirt freshman will more than likely have to win the EIWA tournament in order to qualify, as only three spots were allotted at 174 pounds.

Grappling in the first conference tournament of his career, Bakuckus is stress-free entering the weekend as a sixth seed.

“I’m definitely going to keep attacking. I know sometimes when I wrestle I stop my attacks,” Bakuckus said. “I’m going out there with nothing to lose. I’m not expected to win, so I’m going out there to prove people wrong. I’m going to upset these kids and give it my all.”

For reasons of allocations, Goodale knows the EIWA tournament is vital for Rutgers.

“I want to advance as many people as possible,” Goodale said. “We didn’t do enough during the course of the year to put ourselves in a position individually to get an allocation at each weight class for some of us. So we need to wrestle our tails off to get to the National Tournament. Other than Billy [Smith], for the most part, we are fighting for our lives.”

By Tyler Karalewich

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