Rutgers enters second season in Big Ten with ambition
Head coach Scott Goodale started his press conference at the Rutgers wrestling team’s media day by offering up an example of how the change in the event's location is an accurate reflection of the program's recent growth.
“Last year, we were upstairs at College Ave. in a classroom (for media day)," he said. "And here we are today at the RAC with a pretty neat set up."
Goodale's views from the Louis Brown Athletic Center set the stage for what expects to be an even bigger season in wrestling on the Banks.
The Scarlet Knights are just one year removed from leaving the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) and entering arguably the best wrestling conference in the country. Yet, after just one season in the Big Ten, the Knights have established themselves as one of the top teams in the country.
Rutgers will hit the mats for the first time this season as the No. 18 team in the USA Today/NWCA Preseason Coach’s Poll, marking the first time the Knights have been ranked to open the season since 2011.
“I looked at the rankings and I was just excited cause I could see us climbing,” said junior college transfer Richie Lewis. “We have a lot of factors on our team added this year that’s going to show how good we truly are. I feel like we still haven’t shown all our cards.”
Goodale was open about how much he enjoys the rankings and how much merit he puts into them. He said he uses the ranking as a benchmark to gauge where the program currently is and where he eventually wants it to go.
“I’m kind of different than any other coach that you talk to where they say, ‘I don’t care about the rankings,'” Goodale said. “I care about the rankings. I want to know where we’re at and I get mad if we’re not where we’re supposed to be. I think where we’re at, we should be at ... now we gotta climb it … It means we’re doing something right and now we have something to shoot for. Our job is to make this a top-10 program.”
Rutgers is coming off a season in which it finished as the No. 21 team in the country with a 14-7 record. During its inaugural season in the Big Ten, the team tallied a 2-7 record, but 8 of its 9 conference matches came against opponents that were ranked.
The Knights will have nine returning dual starters from last season, three of which are seniors. Rutgers also welcomes a redshirt-freshman with All-American potential to the lineup in Anthony Giraldo.
The lineup contains All-Americans from the previous two seasons in Anthony Perrotti and Anthony Ashnaut. Ashnault’s finish at the NCAA Championships last year marked the second consecutive year that the Knights had a wrestler on the national podium.
The Big Ten is going to offer up the same kind of challenge this time around, with five top-10 teams and three other programs rounding out the top 25. In addition, Rutgers will face six more ranked opponents during the out-of-conference portion of their schedule.
With a stronger non-conference schedule and a deep roster, Rutgers feels it can improve its conference record.
“One hundred percent,” said sophomore Tyson Dippery. “I think definitely we’re stronger this year. Everyone’s improved. We worked real hard in the offseason, got stronger, better at wrestling. I think we’re mentally ready to take on those teams as well.”
Despite all the accolades that are being thrown the Knights’ way, Goodale said this coming season will be defined as a success if Rutgers can get more than one wrestler on the national podium.
“You gotta put more than one guy on that podium," Goodale said. “So that’s kind of our mindset and we truly believe we have guys in this program and that are in this lineup that can do it … But for us to be successful, it can't just be one guy anymore. This program is too good and we need to put two and three on that podium and then our breakout year will be four or five.”
For more updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.