Missed chances hang over RU's runner-up spot
For the second straight season, the Rutgers wrestling team left Brockport, N.Y., with a certain heavyweight winning his individual bracket.
But apart from senior DJ Russo's dominance, the No. 23 Scarlet Knights' second-place finish at the Oklahoma Gold Tournament can be remembered not for what it was, but for what it might have been.
"There were some ups and downs," said head coach Scott Goodale, who saw nine wrestlers reach the semifinals of their respective brackets. "I thought we competed hard, then we got in that semifinal round going up against a lot of nationally ranked guys. We won some and we lost some. It's hard to win a tournament unless you start knocking off those guys. We weren't able to win enough in that round consistently."
Four grapplers survived to make it to the finals, but in the end only Russo came away victorious in the title bout.
The Netcong, N.J., native took down Quintas McCorkle of Clarion in the finals after pinning three heavyweights in a bracket that lacked star power when heavy hitter Ryan Flores of American withdrew due to injury.
"I was kind of disappointed that he wasn't wrestling," Russo said. "But I was planning on winning regardless."
Sophomores Matt Fusco, Scott Winston and Dan Rinaldi fell in the finals of their brackets. Fusco and Rinaldi dropped decisions to Oklahoma grapplers and Winston lost, 11-3, to the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler in Maryland's Josh Asper.
"We beat some nationally ranked guys and we lost to nationally ranked guys," Goodale said. "The competition got good. Danny Rinaldi beat the No. 10 guy in the country in a huge match in the semis, but then just didn't have enough in the finals. All day long we were knocking off ranked guys."
The Knights entered the later rounds of the tournament with a sizeable lead in front of No. 8 Oklahoma. But once all was said and done, the Sooners overtook Rutgers thanks to five individual tournament champions.
"We didn't score a lot of points at 141 and when you don't score a lot in one weight and Oklahoma is [scoring], then it's hard to keep up," said Goodale, whose Knights finished with 124.5 points to Oklahoma's 145.5. "They won the tournament at that weight."
While there certainly were some rough patches in the bracket for Rutgers, one positive was the depth the Knights displayed. Not usually in the starting lineup, wrestlers such as sophomores Joe Mcauley and Carl Buchholz stepped into the circle to prove their worth.
Buchholz took fifth in the heavyweight bracket after falling, 2-0, in a heated bout against nationally ranked Nathan Fernandez of Oklahoma.
In a weight class filled with talent, Mcauley reached the semis of the 149-pound bracket before a medical forfeit forced him to take sixth place behind fellow Knight Mario Mason.
"Depth is important because everybody keeps getting injured," Russo said. "Guys are dropping like flies in the practice room. We need to have guys that can perform in the same situation."
It was also a chance for the wrestlers to showcase their talent to the coaching staff as they evaluate the roster in terms of the future.
"I think from a coaching staff standpoint there are always question marks along the lines of, ‘How is Carl Buchholz going to perform? Is he going to be that good? Is he going to be our future?' There's always questions like that," Goodale said. "He's got a bright future and it's great to see that.
"Mcauley had a nice run through the tournament and he's one of those guys that needs to finish and if you lose, you need to bounce back. It's good to see that depth."
While everyone in the two-deep shined bright in the early rounds, the result was not there when it mattered. Luckily for Goodale and Co., they have all season to work out the kinks.
"We just need to get tougher in certain situations," Goodale said. "We lost some semis because we weren't tough in the overtime period and that's where you've really got to go to another level. As the season goes on we are certainly going to get better in that aspect."
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