Road to redemption
Winston, Rutgers begin season in?Brockport against challenging field
Scott Winston does not expect the taste of last season to leave his mouth any time soon.
Instead of his lasting image of the NCAA Championships being atop a podium, it is a cinderblock wall underneath the Wells Fargo Center, where he sat and stared after falling one win shy of All-American status.
The junior 165-pounder is not quite pleased with how his last trip to the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Classic ended, either — the wrong end of a major decision against Maryland’s Josh Asper in the championship bout.
The third-ranked Asper and the Terps will be back in Brockport, N.Y., on Saturday, and while a rematch win will not get Winston on the podium, it will be a good start.
“I don’t like the way things went at all last year,” the sixth-ranked Winston said. “Obviously I want to wrestle him again and settle that score.”
Asper and Winston are two of three ranked 165-pounders in a strong eight-team field. Clarion’s 11th-ranked Bekzod Abdurakhmanov is the other.
Winston did not participate in wrestle-offs Friday at the College Avenue Gym, and he underwent knee surgery last March, so it marks his first time on the mats since Lehigh’s Brandon Hatchett eliminated him from the national tournament.
He took six months off to recover from surgery on his MCL and PCL for the second consecutive year, but practiced for the past two and a half months.
He does not expect any rust — “I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old,” he said — and neither does head coach Scott Goodale.
“I expect him to be firing on all cylinders, ready to go and prepared,” Goodale said. “He knows the competition, he knows who’s in front of him. I expect him to compete hard and be in the thick of it — that’s where he should be at.”
A number of Scarlet Knights have tough draws in a field that includes No. 10 Oklahoma, along with Maryland and American, which are tied at No. 11.
Goodale, who consistently builds a tough schedule, welcomes it not only for the challenge, but also for the opportunity to clear up some questions in his lineup.
Each team is allowed to take two wrestlers per weight class, allowing Goodale to see how grapplers on his 15th-ranked squad match up against equal competition.
The 174-pound weight class remains contested between No. 18 Gregory Zannetti and Brendan Ard, who met in a wrestle-off Zannetti won and could meet again.
It also gives Goodale an opportunity to get a better understanding of how senior Dan Hopkins, who wrestled at 197 pounds last season, can fare as a heavyweight.
Goodale called the weight class the Knights’ biggest question mark, and while he would still like to use Hopkins at 197 pounds occasionally, he won his wrestle-off.
Hopkins will make the trip to enter a bracket with second-ranked Ryan Flores of American, Maryland’s third-ranked Spencer Myers and Oklahoma’s 16th-ranked Elijah Madison. Sophomore Carl Buchholz could also participate, but freshman Billy Smith will not to save his redshirt.
“It’s good to wrestle somebody with a different color singlet on to see where we’re at,” Goodale said. “At the same time, these matches are huge for national rankings. I know it’s early in the year, but the bottom line is, if you have a great tournament, it really catapults you to get in the national rankings and polls.”
Winston does not particularly need that catapult, he just wants to get on a mat against real competition.
Goodale said the sentiment is shared throughout the team, which finished in second place in last year’s Classic, but this tournament is more about individual matchups.
That is true for no one more than Winston, who has at least one potential bout on his mind.
“Any time you can test yourself against a top-20 guy, it’s awesome,” Winston said. “The way my weight falls and with our schedule, I’ll be wrestling a bunch of them all year.”