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Knights enjoy host luxuries in down year

<p>Sophomore 125-pounder Vincent Dellefave jockeys for position
Jan. 22, when he took on Aaron Kalil of Navy. He meets No. 4 Nic
Bedelyon from Kent State on Saturday.</p>

Sophomore 125-pounder Vincent Dellefave jockeys for position Jan. 22, when he took on Aaron Kalil of Navy. He meets No. 4 Nic Bedelyon from Kent State on Saturday.

When a national dual-meet tournament was little more than an idea a year ago, Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale had to like his chances.

The Scarlet Knights were on their way to a 21-2 dual-meet season — posting 20 wins for the second time in three years and second time in program history. It allowed Rutgers to host a regional bracket of the National Duals on Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, even though the Knights are struggling in duals.

“It’s unfortunate we’re not having a year like last year,” Goodale said, “because we could have competed and beat a lot of them.”

Instead, Rutgers is the No. 6 seed in a six-team bracket, drawing 14th-ranked Kent State in a regional that features four top-15 teams. Of the 60 wrestlers in the lineups, 33 are ranked in the top 20 of their weight classes nationally.

No weight class is more top-heavy than 125 pounds, which features the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 wrestlers in the nation. Minnesota and Missouri boast the Nos. 2 and 3 wrestlers and each team has a first-round bye, but Rutgers’ day starts against No. 4.

Sophomore 125-pounder Vincent Dellefave begins the dual meet against fourth-ranked Nic Bedelyon, a fifth-year senior who was an All-American as a sophomore.

Dellefave had opportunities against ranked opponents before. He lost to ninth-ranked Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma, 8-3. He fell to Central Michigan’s 17th-ranked Joe Roth, 3-2. And he dropped to 17th-ranked Steve Bonanno of Hofstra, 8-3.

His strength of schedule is likely enough to earn him an NCAA Championships bid, regardless of his results this weekend against any of the ranked wrestlers.

“I’ve had a lot of close matches with a lot of ranked guys this year. I’m just coming up 1 or 2 points short,” Dellefave said. “To pick off one of these dudes would feel good, but I feel like with my strength of schedule, I’m going to get in anyway.”

Now would be as good a time as any for Dellefave to figure it out.

The weekend regional marks the first dual-meet national tournament, something Goodale believes is necessary to determine a team national champion. The NCAA acknowledges its team champion based on individual points at the championships.

So Dellefave will start the Knights off — “I’m the [Derek] Jeter of the team,” he said — even with fewer expectations for a team more focused on individual postseason success.

“In years past, we won these matches — not all of them, but a lot of them,” Goodale said. “We’ve always picked off somebody, so pick [Bedelyon] off, it’s a good opportunity. We can win the dual meet if that happens. We can get the magic back.”

The magic filled the RAC the past three years, contributing to the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s decision to choose it as a host site. Storied programs Cornell, Iowa State and Oklahoma State host the other regionals.

But Rutgers put 5,011 people in the seats last season for a dual meet against Lehigh — one of two marquee programs, along with Penn State, that opted not to participate in the National Duals.

“They looked at what we did with attendance and said, ‘Wow, if we get all these good schools here, we can pack this place,’” Goodale said. “Unfortunately we’re not having the year we had last year.”

So the mindset is to bolster postseason résumés with individual success and maybe pull off an upset along the way.

This year’s team has too many redshirts and too many injuries to expect a serious run. But Goodale wants the National Duals to remain and grow, and next year’s lineup will be better suited to compete. Only it might not have another chance to host.

“This is exactly what this sport needs. It has to be something that happens every year,” Goodale said. “You’re going to see some good wrestling.”

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