Sophomores split time at 125 pounds
When the Rutgers wrestling team takes the mat in a dual meet this season, the biggest question outside of who will win has been who will be the team's first grappler in the ring.
The No. 18 Scarlet Knights boast two quality 125-pound wrestlers eligible to compete this season in sophomores Joe Langel and Matt Fusco, and only one available spot on the starting lineup.
It is a problem that head coach Scott Goodale embraces, but will eventually find a solution to.
"It's a good problem to have, but we have to find a guy," the fourth-year coach said. "It's an ongoing process. We'll probably split this next dual meet and then there is Midlands. We are going to have to make a decision after Midlands."
Fusco started in the 125-pound spot in five of Rutgers' first eight duals, with Langel getting the nod in the other three. The two competed in the Nittany Lion Open this past weekend, with Fusco taking fourth and Langel finishing second.
But any notion of a position battle goes unnoticed between the two sophomores.
"It never comes up. It's not something that we talk about," said Fusco, who owns a 7-6 record on the year. "We always just talk about other things, like school and stuff like that. We don't talk about who's starting or who's doing what. Whatever happens, happens."
Langel, who paced the squad at 125 pounds last season, has a 10-5 record with most of the victories coming during the Nittany Lion Open and the Oklahoma Gold Tournament.
To the Howell, N.J., native, it all comes down to the matchups as their differing styles provide problems for opposing teams.
"It's all about matchups. I wrestle better against certain kids and Matt wrestles better against other kids," Langel said. "For now, it's all up to the coaches and we know that."
The opposing styles have also been the deciding factor for the coaching staff, which meets once a week to break down the opponent and pick the wrestler best suited for success.
"How we go about it, we sit down the night before as a staff and we go through matchups. Joey wrestles guys differently than Matt wrestles guys," Goodale said. "They know that there is some competition there, but at the end of the day, they are still teammates. They are still pushing each other, and they are still working hard."
One thing is for sure: Both wrestlers will compete this weekend, when Rutgers (7-1) hosts Princeton (0-2) and George Mason (0-7) in a double dual at the College Avenue Gym.
While it is highly unlikely that the Knights will drop either of those matches, the individual matchup against Princeton's No. 11 125-pounder Garrett Frey is a great chance for either Fusco or Langel to make a push into the national rankings.
"It's a big opportunity," Langel said. "It's something that can get either of us on the spot. I was ranked at the beginning of the season, but I'm not anymore. A win like this could get me back in there or get Fusco his first ranking."
And a win against the ranked Frey can go a long way toward one wrestler earning the upper hand going forward.
"With this sport you never know," Goodale said. "These two are going to continue to push each other. It's going to come down to who has the hot hand."
But no matter who wins the starting job, their relationship will remain unchanged.
"When we were at Penn State, we kept talking to each other about the other wrestlers and strategizing against them," Langel said. "When you work out with someone like Fusco, it makes it that much more interesting and pushes you that much more than if you were working out with a stranger."