One last chance for Whalen to stop skid
For the last four years, the wrestling room in the College Avenue Gym has been a second home to Mike Whalen.
The overheated room with its red padded floors and walls is where the senior wrestler transformed himself into one of the most successful wrestlers in Rutgers history.
For the last two weeks, he's been in there trying to save his college wrestling career.
After spending most of this season as a nationally ranked wrestler on the verge of a national tournament bid, Whalen fell off in the last month of the season. He dropped his final four bouts and dropped out of the national rankings.
With one last chance at this weekend's Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Tournament to wrestle his way into his first NCAA Tournament, Whalen knows that either his current slump or his college wrestling career will end this weekend in Philadelphia.
"It's a bad time to slump," his coach Scott Goodale said. "And it's the one reason that I like the two weeks off between your last dual meet and your qualifier: You have time to fix things, you have time to train at a high level."
With a 20-13 record this season, Whalen is no stranger to wrestling at a high level, and even many of his recent losses have been against some of the highest ranked 174 lbs. wrestlers in the country.
His losing streak began when he lost a 14-2 major decision against American's No. 2 Mike Cannon. He also lost a tough 7-6 decision to No. 19 Luke Rebertus for Navy.
But it was his two other losses to unranked opponents against Bloomsburg and Drexel that ensured that Whalen would not keep his ranking heading into the tournament this weekend.
In his past three appearances in the EIWA Tournament, Whalen has only placed one time.
In 2007, he placed fifth but followed up with a disappointing 2008 tournament that saw him lose his first match and get knocked out by Lehigh's Alex Caruso in the second round of the consolation bracket.
Whalen will have to match his fifth place tournament at least to keep his hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
While he may not be the favorite this weekend, both Whalen and his coach believe the senior is poised to make a run at a conference title.
As unpredictable as this tournament has proven to be in the past, Goodale knows that while he may need to wrestle the tournament of his life, Whalen's destiny is in his own hands.
"It's all up to him whether he wants to go further to the nationals or check out," Goodale said. "And you'll see a lot of guys around the country check out, and I'm hoping Mike Whalen is not one of those guys."