Trio qualifies for NCAA Tournament
PHILADELPHIA — After a successful first day of competition at the EIWA Championships, it was supposed to go better for the Rutgers wrestling team when it wrapped up competition yesterday.
Three Scarlet Knights were slated for the semi-finals after Day 1, and another three were alive in the consolation bracket.
The main season goal for Rutgers was to advance as many wrestlers to the podium at the NCAA Tournament as possible.
The ticket to Oklahoma City was easier for some than others.
After being the top seed in the whole open competition, sophomore Billy Smith made it to the finals as the favorite against Bucknell’s Joe Stolfi.
Smith gained a win by fall and a major decision Saturday, followed by an uncomfortable 2-1 decision over American’s Blake Herrin earlier in the day.
Smith and Stolfi exchanged takedowns and escapes to trade the match lead six times before they parted ways.
A back-and-forth matchup at heavyweight ended the EIWA Championships, but left a bitter taste in Smith’s mouth. He was drenched with sweat and consoled by his family after the 9-7 decision did not go his way.
“It was everything we knew the kid was going to do. The game plan was there, I just didn’t execute it,” Smith said. “I think my conditioning could’ve been a little bit better, but I pushed pace, and I think we wrestled a really good match. He came out ahead on a couple of scrambles and he rode me. That’s how you win the big matches. He did a good job today.”
Smith would finish as the runner up at heavyweight, already ensuring that he will qualify for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year.
But qualifying, in the short run, is only touching the surface of what Smith wanted the Knights to accomplish.
“Anytime you can get half your team to the NCAAs is awesome,” Smith said. “But, we kind of wanted to be conference champs too. It starts here and then builds there. We’ll see what happens in two weeks.”
While the end result disappointed Smith, other wrestlers ended up achieving their goals.
Senior Vinnie Dellefave and freshman Tyson Dippery have to wait to see if they receive at-large bids at 133 pounds and 141 pounds, respectively.
Two additional wrestlers knew their fate.
Sophomore 157-pounder Anthony Perrotti knew he would not receive an at-large selection to qualify for NCAAs after an average season finishing 13-11.
The eighth seed needed to place at least fifth for a chance to continue his season.
After finishing 2-1 on the Day 1, Perrotti needed two victories to keep his postseason alive yesterday during the second day of competition.
A win by fall in his first bout, followed by an injury default, sealed his fate, giving him at least a bid to the NCAAs.
But Perrotti wanted more.
A third-place finish was on Perrotti’s mind entering his bout with Cornell’s second-seeded Brian Realbuto.
Entering the third period, Perrotti led 7-6 following an escape reversal from Realbuto. After Perrotti chose down, Realbuto rode him until there were less than 10 seconds left.
Perrotti scored a reversal and gained a near fall with three seconds remaining in the bout to avoid extra time and sudden victory.
The win provided redemption for the Roseland, N.J., native.
“I lost to that dude twice this year, so getting that last win over him was obviously important,” Perrotti said.
For sophomore Ken Theobold, the EIWA Championships seemed easy on the first day. Theobold would win both his bouts at 149 pounds by fall in the first period.
“I’m feeling good,” Theobold said after the first day at the EIWA Championships. “I’m just really positive about today.”
The second day would not be as easy for Theobold.
The Toms River, N.J., native drew the top-seeded Christopher Villalonga of Cornell.
Villalonga recorded a takedown in the third after a neutral start. Theobold escaped late, but it was not early enough, as he dropped the decision, 3-1.
Theobold then needed one win to have his shot at the NCAAs.
Three takedowns and a nearfall would guarantee Theobold of the NCAAs, taking a 9-1 decision, while injury default would ensure that Theobold placed third in the tournament.
The qualification and third-place finish gives Theobold confidence entering the tournament.
“I just had a really good performance this weekend. I am peaking at the right time,” Theobold said. “Being a sophomore, it was a little rough at first. But now, when you win, it’s all very exciting. The crowd, the atmosphere — I’m ready to go.”
With three automatic bids on the way, and possibly two at-large qualifiers, head coach Scott Goodale is satisfied.
Goodale was also satisfied with Rutgers third place overall finish for the weekend. The Knights scored 91 points overall, finishing behind tournament winner Cornell (165.5) and second-place Lehigh (101).
“We may be sending five guys to the tournament who won a trophy here in the hardest conference other than the Big Ten,” Goodale said. “We really battled all the way through. We wrestled really well this weekend. But I’m really proud of our guys and staff doing a good job preparing more importantly.”
Qualifying is not enough for the confident Perrotti.
His NCAA expectations are high.
“I seeded eight in the tournament in a weight class loaded with ranked guys, so I felt I had to prove myself,” Perrotti said. “I had an up and down season losing to all these good kids. But it’s my time now. I want to get on top and carry this momentum. Most importantly, bring back an All-American to Rutgers — that’s the goal.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.