Ranked RU wrestler faces former school
Mario Mason could have his pick of three top-10 showdowns this weekend at the National Duals regional tournament, but Minnesota is the team he really wants.
The junior 149-pounder spent two seasons as a Golden Gopher — one as a redshirt and one in the lineup — before transferring to Rutgers.
He liked the matchup last season, and although it is not as favorable this year for a weaker Scarlet Knights lineup, Mason still wants a shot against his former team.
“There’s no match in particular I really want,” said Mason, the eighth-ranked 149-pounder in the nation. “I’d just like to wrestle against Minnesota.”
It will take a first-round upset in the dual-meet tournament at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Saturday, so Mason may not get his wish.
But the National Duals will test him regardless, and that is what he needs most at this point.
Mason missed six bouts with a shoulder sprain before returning last weekend against Virginia, where he dropped a 5-3 decision to Gus Sako.
“We probably shouldn’t have wrestled him,” said head coach Scott Goodale, “but it’s time to get on the horse and get going.”
Mason would have wrestled those six matches despite injury if it were last season, when Goodale emphasized dual-meet success as much as the postseason. But then Mason was one of three Rutgers wrestlers favored to claim a spot on the podium with All-American honors at the NCAA Championships to fall short.
Now, the focus is solely on March.
“You have to focus on yourself, especially when it comes down to EIWAs and Nationals,” Mason said. “If you take care of yourself, you take care of your team. If you win the tournament, that’s as much as you can do for the team. Individuals, that’s what it comes down to. We can’t have 10 guys with no All-Americans this year. That’s worthless to what we’re trying to do as a program.”
It leaves Rutgers as the fifth seed this weekend and Minnesota — the No. 4 team in the nation — as the bracket’s top team.
Rutgers opens against fourth-seed Kent State, giving Mason a matchup with No. 9 Ian Miller. The winner faces Minnesota and 10th-ranked Ryan Ness at 149 pounds.
It does not matter to Mason, who transferred to Rutgers to be closer to his home and find a wrestling style that suits him better than Minnesota and the Big Ten.
“They have more of a straight, grinding, hard-nosed [style] — it’s what you need to be as a wrestler, but I think it lacks some of the technique and finesse,” Mason said. “It’s a little harder to transition from the way I normally wrestle to beat-your-head-in, fist-fighting, brawling style. It wasn’t something I personally feel I’d excel with.”
So Mason decided to return to New Jersey.
Rutgers is closer to his Moorestown, N.J., home than Blair Academy, where he won three state titles in high school.
But when he arrived in Minnesota, it was not the program he committed to. Marty Morgan, who trained Brock Lesnar and coached at Minnesota, left when Mason was a freshman. National Champion at 149 pounds Dustin Schlatter missed a season to compete for the United States. And Mason’s training partner battled concussions.
Now Mason wrestles with the same teammates he spent most of his childhood with. He has the same trainer, Jon Johnson, who he worked out with at home. And his strength trainer, Zach Even-Esh, is nearby.
He still wants a chance to wrestle Minnesota, even though Ness is a freshman, but he has the taste of two losses in his past four matches to get out his mouth and a pair of postseason tournaments to peak for.
“I just want to get healthy,” Mason said. “I’m really getting back to it and training hard, trying to get back to the way we were wrestling at the beginning of the season, coming out with some fire.”