Rutgers prepares for weather conditions in first ever outdoor dual meet
With the Battle at the Birthplace, a dual meet against in-state rival Princeton to be played outdoors at High Point Solutions Stadium, fast approaching, one would think the Rutgers wrestling team has spent as much time preparing for the weather conditions than it has the Tigers. But with a tradition of practicing outside on Friday mornings and the forecast for early Saturday morning at sixty degrees and sunny, the elements will be one of the last things the No. 10 Scarlet Knights are worried about.
“We’ve had it, a couple outdoor practices to prepare for it,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “Fridays traditionally, since I’ve been here for 10 years, we train at the football stadium. I think three weeks ago, it was 38 degrees on a Friday morning, and our shirts came off and we started wrestling to prepare for that cold. There was no sun out at 7 a.m., so it’s going to be nicer than it was.”
The current forecast for Saturday’s affair is encouraging for the Knights and their opponent, but of course, weather is fundamentally fickle and predictions of it should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Goodale said that as long as there is no precipitation, his troops will be ready to wrestle. Even without rain, though, the outdoors are a far cry away from an insulated and heated basketball arena in the Rutgers Athletic Center, the usual home venue where the Knights went 7-2 last season, snagging the one of the biggest upsets in program history over then-No. 4 Nebraska.
“Seven A.M. stadiums are not a first year thing,” said junior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina, ranked 14th in his weight class by Intermat. “I think it was nice to get out there and start wrestling in the stadium, because I feel like I got a little more confident with it. And I think that it made us get used to the weather a little bit, and it was really helpful.”
Gravina will most likely wrestle junior No. 17 Ian Baker on Saturday.
Another Rutgers wrestler who will square off against a ranked opponent this weekend is junior 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault, and he testified to ongoing Friday morning practices that have shaped the Knights’ preparation for Saturday.
“It’s nothing new that we did,” Ashnault, ranked No. 3 by Intermat, said. “It was definitely a little testing of our minds to have to take our shirts off in 40 degree weather at 7 o’clock in the morning ... I know when I step on the line (Saturday), I’m probably not going to even notice (the weather). I’m just going to be looking to win the match and put up points for my team.”
But as Goodale has stressed, the weather should not pose a problem once the guys step on that line and the bell sounds.
“I would like to think when the lights come on and two guys put their foot on the line, it’s going to be about— forget the weather and what it feels like— trying to score points and win matches,” Goodale said. “And ultimately, get your hand raised.”
But in order to win matches and put up points, those matches need to occur first. In the event 62 degrees and sunny does not hold up, Goodale said that he has discussed alternative plans, but nothing is concrete.
“We’ve had some contingency plans along the way,” Goodale said. “Last weekend, we started talking about bringing tents. We really wanna wrestle this thing outside, but it’s important for the fans to be able to see the mat.”
The question of weather has been hammered into the minds of all involved in the months leading up to this historic dual, and if it takes one of two extremes, the end result may be folded mats and at least 14,000 disgruntled fans.
In the week prior, showers have splotched across New Brunswick, and as forecasts go, the day after the event may continue that trend.
Princeton head coach Chris Ayres would certainly like to go by forecasts, especially with how positive they are looking.
“The weather’s cooperating," Ayres said. "I’ve been checking it obsessively for the last two weeks basically, and it looks like it’s gonna be really nice."
Wet or dry, outdoor conditions will still have an effect on the abilities of the wrestlers come Saturday. There’s merit in following the forecasts, as many within the two programs have done, but not much can be done in light of them. It is a day-by-day thing, and though it looks like the weather may hold up now, on match day, that could change.
“We don’t really know what the weather’s going to be like even though the forecast says it’s going to be 60,” Ashnault said. “You never know, I don’t think weathermen are always too true on their word.”