Teammates split time until decisive wrestle-off
The wrestler that head coach Scott Goodale consistently calls the Rutgers wrestling team’s spark already lost. The spark’s competition at 125 pounds was about to do the same, but for Goodale, it did not matter Sunday against Navy.
Junior Joey Langel, the spark, wrestled with an illness this weekend, and sophomore Vincent Dellefave battled Aaron Kalil, ranked in some polls, until the final whistle.
“That’s a step in the right direction for Vinnie Dellefave,” Goodale said. “He wrestled six hard minutes against a nationally-ranked kid. He competed hard. That’s what we’re trying to get this team to do.”
Each wrestled one match at their usual 125 pounds this weekend and one at 133. Senior Michael DeMarco will return to his spot in the lineup Friday at 133 pounds, leaving one opening for Langel and Dellefave.
They will likely split dual-meet action for the rest of the season until early March, when the EIWA Tournament arrives and Goodale must find his man.
But he will let Langel and Dellefave decide.
The pair will wrestle off in a best-of-three format, with the winner representing the Scarlet Knights at the EIWA Tournament and potentially the NCAA Championships.
“It’s somewhat unfortunate, but it’s the situation we got into,” Dellefave said.
Dellefave had all season to prevent it, but he never took firm hold of the weight class.
Langel underwent off-season shoulder surgery and wrestled his first match on Jan. 6 against Brown. Dellefave had a 7-5 record at that point, allowing Langel to stake his own claim for the 125-pound spot he occupied the past two years.
“It’s my first real college wrestling season,” Dellefave said. “It has a lot of ups and downs. I’m not really used to losing … so I’m trying to bounce back from every loss. It’s been tough, but I feel like I’m going in the right direction.”
Langel qualified for the NCAA Championships each of the past two seasons after winning his spot in the lineup.
The first opportunity came as a redshirt freshman, when Dellefave suffered an early-season injury that allowed Langel to take hold of the position. Langel entered as the favorite last season and won the position against Matt Fusco.
Goodale knew the pair would present him with a tough decision this season, but it was one he was willing to let play out, hoping the competition would help.
Dellefave and Langel face each other every day in the practice room, matching their differing styles.
Dellefave describes himself as an athletic wrestler, preferring constant movement and striking from the outside. Langel’s style can only be called funky, as he finds himself at home rolling around the mat in seemingly awkward positions.
Langel used that funky style to knock off North Dakota State’s ranked Trent Sprenkle at the Virginia Duals in his first real action back on the mat.
“He helps me get better at his style of wrestling, and I help him get better at my style of wrestling,” Dellefave said. “So we’re good for each other.”
They are close friends away from the wrestling room, as well, and the impending wrestle-off will do little to alter that.
After all, everyone knew Goodale would have to make a decision at some point. Now Dellefave and Langel will be the ones to decide it.
“For us, it’s not about battling for the spot, it’s about whatever is best for the team and whoever is going to be healthy at the end of the season,” Langel said. “If the end of the season comes and it’s him in the spot, I’ll proudly be there to be his practice partner and get him ready for whatever. I know if it was me in the spot, and I have that streak going, and they think I’m the best, he would be right there for me.”