August 23, 2019 | 79° F

Familiarity propels Fusco over former teammate

Photo by Neil P. Kypers |

Matt Fusco wrestles his former high school teammate.

When Matt Fusco approached Scott Goodale two days before the Rutgers wrestling team's match against Lehigh, it confirmed what the head coach already knew.

The sophomore 125-pounder gave the Scarlet Knights their best chance against the nation's 17th-ranked wrestler at 133 pounds — a weight class above his usual spot.

But Goodale did not know Fusco would spring a 5-2 upset over Frank Cagnina and give Rutgers a surprise 6-0 advantage after the match's first two bouts.

"Nobody saw that coming, right?" Goodale said. "That was shocking to me, too," Goodale said. "I was hoping maybe just don't give up a major decision, but he turns around and wins the match."

Fusco approached Goodale with the same idea the fourth-year head coach already had, and usual 133-pound grappler Mike DeMarco was scratched from the lineup.

Goodale called it a "big brother" mentality, as Fusco and Cagnina are close family friends who wrestled together at Queen of Peace.

The pair train together during the summer, and that familiarity gave Fusco the confidence that not only could he avoid a major decision but he could also take Cagnina down.

"I knew I could take him down from wrestling him in practice all the time," Fusco said. "I knew if I just stopped his shots with movement, then I would be fine. That's what I did. I think I broke him a little bit by fighting him off in space."

After Fusco put the momentum securely in Rutgers' favor, Trevor Melde and No. 9 Mario Mason lost their bouts at 141 and 149 pounds, respectively.

Goodale told his team any improvements from the 21-9 loss will not come with technical changes from coaches, but from within — exactly what he saw in Fusco.

"That's what I'm talking about, that's something deep down within," Goodale said. "That's a kid bumping up, beating a nationally-ranked guy. That doesn't happen at this level, but it happened tonight, so you'd think we'd carry that momentum."

After Mason's unexpected 7-2 loss to unranked Joey Napoli, 15th-ranked Daryl Cocozzo brought momentum right back to Rutgers.

The 157-pounder won his bout in a 5-3 decision over Sean Bilodeau, sandwiched in the strength of the Knights' lineup.

Rutgers boasts a ranked wrestler at 149, 157 and 165 pounds, but only Cocozzo earned three points for the Knights.

"I feel it did [grab momentum] a little bit," Cocozzo said. "But then it went right back down."

Coaches and grapplers alike tabbed Mason's loss as the turning point of the match, but it could easily have been Cocozzo's win if fifth-ranked Scott Winston followed up with a decision at 165 pounds.

Instead, 19th-ranked Brandon Hatchett earned the subsequent decision for Lehigh, which won each of the final five bouts.

"Losing '49 I think was a huge shift," Fusco said. "Mason is ranked very high in the country, and they weren't expecting to win that, I'm sure. That match and then Scottie losing started turning it for them."

Steven Miller

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