September 19, 2019 | 69° F

Challenging slate awaits in Brockport

Photo by Jeffrey Lazaro |

Senior heavyweight D.J. Russo started his final season on the Banks on the right track by posting a third-period pin on Paul Swagheart of Sacred Heart. Russo returns to Brockport, N.Y., this weekend, where he took home first place in the heavyweight bracket at last year's Oklahoma Gold Tournament by pinning four grapplers.

When the Rutgers wrestling team's bus pulls into Brockport, N.Y., this weekend for the Oklahoma Gold Tournament, the wrestlers waiting in the circle will not be the same as those from a year ago.

The Tournament — which boasted three ranked teams last November — reloaded, featuring upper-tier programs from Oklahoma and Maryland to upstart Clarion, Buffalo and fellow EIWA school American.

"We've always said that we are going to wrestle a tough schedule and it's the reason we are still in this tournament," said head coach Scott Goodale. "There's a lot of good individuals and a lot of nationally-ranked kids, so it's a challenging event and that's kind of why we keep going back"

The No. 23 Scarlet Knights head to the tournament looking for gold after finishing third last year led by heavyweight champion DJ Russo.

The defending champion heads upstate looking to get back into the groove of wrestling premier opponents.

"I'm not really too familiar with Buffalo's lineup, but I know Maryland and American are some good ones. Both of those teams have some heavy hitters in certain weights," the senior from Netcong, N.J., said. "It's good, though. We are going to get hammered with All American-caliber kids all year long. It's good for us to not go to a tournament where we are going to roll through the entire thing."

Despite the stingy opponents, Russo still rolled through the entire tournament last season, going 4-0 with all of his victories coming via pin.

That tournament crown propelled Russo into an impressive campaign and it has the propensity to do the same for the entire lineup, according to Goodale.

"It springboards you into the rest of the season," Goodale said. "DJ got unbelievably confident after those four pins and won his first championship as a collegiate wrestler. We've got guys that as good as they are, haven't won a tournament yet. It's a confidence thing."

A tournament on the road this early in the season also helps the team come together as one. And with a team riddled with transfers — although several wrestlers know one another from high school — some time away from campus together might be a good thing.

In fact, they embrace it.

"That's where you really get to know the guys on your team. Those are the things you remember most about the season," Russo said. "You'll remember a big match or whatever, but some of my best memories are just good times during the traveling process. We basically live together over the season. That's why we're very close. We're like a family."

And nothing can bring the family closer than an impressive showing in Brockport —a showing that, if good enough, can yield a team championship.

"[Winning is] the goal. That's what we want to do," Goodale said. "We'd have to knock off Oklahoma who is No. 8 in the country. It'll be tough to do, but heck, this is why we go. We're going there to try and win the tournament."

A.J. Jankowski

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