Wrestle-offs kick off RU season
Heavyweight, 174-pound matchups highlight night at Barn for fans
The Rutgers wrestling team will not waste any time tonight in addressing its biggest question mark entering this season.
Heavyweights Carl Buchholz and Billy Smith meet on Mat 1, and Jesse Boyden and Dan Hopkins meet on Mat 2 in the second set of matches at the annual wrestle-offs at the College Avenue Gym.
Boyden will miss the first semester with an eligibility issue, but head coach Scott Goodale said any of the four could replace former top-five heavyweight D.J. Russo.
“We need someone to fill those shoes and win matches, and that’s probably our biggest question mark,” Goodale said. “We have some good guys, but I don’t know if they’re prepared to go through the grind of the season and win in big spots like D.J. did. Until they do it, we’re very unproven.”
No one is more unproven than Smith, and a win for the freshman would force Goodale and the rest of the Scarlet Knights’ staff to make a decision.
They want to redshirt last year’s New Jersey state champion at 285 pounds, but are not against wrestling him, either.
“If he’s the guy,” Goodale said, “he’s going to go.”
But Goodale is quick to admit he does not put too much weight into wrestle-offs.
The 17-match event is geared more toward the fan, but the victors of certain weight classes will likely find themselves in the lineup at the start of the season.
They are not guaranteed to stay there.
“It’s about who is consistent in matches and tournaments and who can win in a big spot,” Goodale said. “I care about the guy who over the course of the season is getting better and winning big matches. Those are the guys who are going to wrestle.”
Goodale pointed to junior Joey Langel as an example.
The 125-pounder never won a wrestle-off, but routinely beats ranked opponents to start dual-meets for the Knights. Langel will not have to worry about wrestle-offs this season, as he underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will not participate.
That leaves sophomore Vincent Dellefave as the starter at 125 pounds.
Junior 165-pounder Scott Winston will not participate either, but will be back for the season, which begins Nov. 12 at the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Classic.
Winston will not be able to put on the same type of show he did last season in a 25-7 wrestle-off victory, but there are other intriguing matchups.
Sophomore Brendan Ard, a Wisconsin transfer, and junior Gregory Zannetti follow the heavyweights in another bout that could determine the season’s starter.
Ard has two New Jersey state championships on his résumé. Zannetti had one of the best offseasons of anyone in the Knights’ wrestling room, Goodale said.
“That’s a great problem to have,” Goodale said. “Over the course of the year we’ll see who emerges as the guy, but it’s not a question mark. We’re going to be really, really good at 174, whether it’s Greg or Brendan.”
The 197-pound matchup is also one to watch, as junior Dan Rinaldi debuts at the weight class. Rinaldi, who wrestled at 184 pounds last season, faces off against Michael Wagner, who wrestled at 197 pounds last year as a freshman.
Like Smith, Goodale would like to redshirt Wagner, but the wrestle-off will have little impact on that decision. Goodale wants to see how Rinaldi fares.
“I work out with [former Michigan wrestler] Nick Roy and my brother, [former Cornell wrestler Jerry Rinaldi], who were both All-Americans at ’97,” Rinaldi said. “I feel pretty good up there. Once competition starts it’s a little different atmosphere, but I feel like everything should be good.”