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Seniors stand out to kick off season

<p>Senior 157-pounder Scott Winston was one of three veterans to win his weight class last weekend at the Hokie Open, the sight of the Knights’ season opener. Winston wrestled in 2011 at 165 pounds.</p>

Senior 157-pounder Scott Winston was one of three veterans to win his weight class last weekend at the Hokie Open, the sight of the Knights’ season opener. Winston wrestled in 2011 at 165 pounds.

Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale said the strength of this season’s Scarlet Knights would lie in the form of six redshirt seniors on the roster.

That prediction began to come to fruition Sunday, when the Knights showcased three first-place winners — all in their final seasons — at the Hokie Open in Blacksburg, Va.

The three individual titles were the most at the tournament, an accomplishment Goodale sees no problem with.

“I thought we had some really, really good stuff,” Goodale said. “Obviously our seniors wrestled really well. Overall it was a good effort and exactly what we needed as we wrestled a lot of matches, so I think we are in a good spot.”

Senior 157-pounder Scott Winston took first in his weight class after coming back against Indiana’s Taylor Walsh for a 6-5 decision in the championship-crowning match.

Winston, who moved down a weight class this season from 165 pounds, feels comfortable in his new class after training during the summer with new assistant coach Frank Molinaro.

And besides a shoulder injury that has plagued him all year — an injury he said is not a problem with a brace on — Winston was free of ailments that affected him in seasons past.

The injury-free offseason gave Winston the confidence to transition into the switch, he said.

“I thought I performed pretty well and was happy with a bunch of things, but I can also improve on a bunch of things, which is always good,” Winston said. “I just feel like a completely different wrestler this year on the mat. I feel confident and feel like I can bang with the best of them and beat the best of them.”

Goodale also saw no signs that it was Winston’s first time competing in the 157-pound weight class since his freshman year.

“He had to be focused all summer long,” Goodale said. “It was good and he was in real control in all of his matches and did some really good things and found a way to win in the finals.”

Senior 184-pounder Dan Rinaldi won his bracket, beginning with a pin against King College’s Brandon Tressler in 2:49.

He defeated two more opponents before a 3-2 win against Duke’s Diego Bencomo concluded an impressive start for the Lodi, N.J., native.

Senior 174-pounder Greg Zannetti also went undefeated in his bracket, with a 4-2 win against Virginia Tech’s Austin Gabel clinching him the top prize.

Senior 149-pounder Mario Mason placed fourth in his bracket after struggling to score points against opponents. The senior recorded a 5-2 mark in the tournament, but Goodale saw room for improvement from one of his leading returners.

“Mario is struggling to score points right now, and maybe that’s because it’s early,” Goodale said. “He has been around long enough where he knows he needs to score to win. He is probably one of the most gifted wrestlers in our wrestling room if not the country, so he just has to understand, open it up, and the more he wrestles, better things are going to happen.”

Redshirt freshman heavyweight Billy Smith, who competed in his first colligate matches Sunday, placed fifth in his bracket, compiling a 4-2 record.

His victories included two pins, both in the earlier rounds, as Smith controlled Alabama Wrestling Club’s Andy Whaley and Justin Kozera in the second and third rounds, respectively.

“He was really impressive for his first tournament out,” Goodale said. “He is definitely the future of that weight class. He’s very talented and beat some very good kids. Billy wrestles so hard for an upper weight class, he is going to have a big year and this tournament was a really good indicator.”

The focus now shifts to Sunday’s first dual match of the season as the Knights host Clarion.

“We just need to keep getting better,” Goodale said. “For our young guys, they need to understand wrestling on the mat is really important because of riding time, and for our older guys, they have been around long enough that they know they need not sit on any lead. You need to continue to build your lead and good things will happen.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, following Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.

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