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Turnaround rests on RU Grapplers

(02/11/10 5:00am)

Before Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale arrived on the Banks, in-state high school wrestling talents were siphoned off throughout the country to other powerhouse programs. The State University of New Jersey could not reel in the top grapplers in the Garden State and watched them defect to schools such as Penn State, Virginia and even rival Rider. But with Goodale came change. The Scarlet Knights' recruiting class ranked third in the nation and comprised of solely New Jersey high school wrestlers. "When we first heard that we were getting the third best recruiting class in the country, we knew that this was a huge step in the right direction," said senior Lamar Brown. "We went from being a Grade C program to a Grade A, and a lot of that is because of coach Goodale and his staff. These kids came in and we knew that they could make a difference in the program. These kids are the real deal." Second overall recruit in the nation, Scott Winston, highlighted the class that also boasted state champions Trevor Melde, Joe Langel and Jesse Boyden. The class accounts for half of the RU starting lineup, even with Winston redshirting. "The main reason we came in and recruited these guys was because we felt that they could come in and win at a national level right away," Goodale said. "These are kids that came with great credentials so it's no surprise they are doing this well." Langel flourished in his starting role in the 125-pound weight class. He is on a team-high 14 match unbeaten streak and the Howell native lists Goodale — a former Jackson Memorial head coach — as the main reason why he came to RU. "My town and his were rivals during high school so I found out how good of a coach he is just from wrestling against him," Langel said. "I knew I could be a part of a big program that has already made it. But it's even better to come to a program that is coming from nowhere and is just at the beginning of something big." The third-year coach even took a shot on a wrestler who did not have great credentials, and that risk has paid dividends. Overshadowed by all of these highly sought-after wrestlers was little-known Greg Zannetti from Edison. No other college wrestling program contacted Zannetti, but now in his sophomore season the J.P. Stevens product finds himself in the starting lineup and holds victories over opponents from No. 1 Iowa and then-No. 24 Pittsburgh. "Rutgers was always one of my top choices, and since they were the only school that approached me, I knew I would come here," he said. Zannetti is 13-5 this season in dual matches while in the starting lineup at 165-pounds and is 3-1 against conference opponents. His early success on the mat comes as a surprise to Goodale, who may have found a diamond-in-the-rough just 10 minutes north on Route 27. "He is a kid that wasn't the most highly recruited, but he comes in with a tremendous upside," Goodale said. "We knew that he would be able to win, we just thought it would take him a little bit longer. He handles pressure, and you can't teach that." This year, the Knights got the best of both worlds. The program reached out and nabbed recruits from as far as Georgia-state champion Sam Kuntz. At the same time, the Knights also brought in the best of New Jersey in two-time state champion, Vincent Dellefave. Goodale emphasizes that in-state wrestlers are still the main focus of recruitment, but they now have the ability to branch out and lure in athletes from nearby states. "Right now we are at the point where we are trying to get the best kids in the country, not just in New Jersey," Goodale said. "We feel we have landed the best kids in this state the past three years. "Surrounding New Jersey will always be our focal point, but we are always going to go for the number one guys in the country. The bar can't be set any higher than it is right now." Goodale and the No. 23 Knights head to Washington D.C. for a weekend of back-to-back tilts against Liberty and American. "Liberty has some hard-nosed guys, and it is going to be a challenge," he said. "American doesn't have the balance we do, but they have four heavy hitters. They have the chance to have four All-Americans. So, it will be our balanced lineup against their four horses."