To say redshirt freshman Phil Bakuckas (Hammonton, N.J.) has been counting the days until wrestle-offs would be an understatement.
The 174-pounder spent his first season “On the Banks” redshirting behind longtime RU great and NCAA qualifier, Greg Zannetti. His work continued at season’s end, as Bakuckas competed with his teammates through summer camp and into the squad’s first official practice on Oct. 10.
For Bakuckas, the wait finally ends on the mats of the College Ave. Gym on Saturday, on Oct. 26.
“I’m just ready to get after it, I’m hungry,” Bakuckas said. “I’ve been counting down the weeks for this. Last month I was like ‘I can’t wait for wrestle-offs.” I feel like when I go out there I want to prove to everybody that I’m the starter this year and I’m going to get things done.”
If last season is any indication, Bakuckas is ready to carry the torch left behind at 174 pounds. The Hammonton, N.J., native went 22-11 wrestling unattached last season, taking third at the 2013 National Collegiate Open.
Bakuckas was no stranger to success, recording a 41-1 record as the N.J. State runner-up at 160 pounds in his senior season at Hammonton HS. But there is no question Bakuckas benefited from learning from an experienced grappler like Zannetti. He is the first to admit it.
“I trained last year as hard as I could,” Bakuckas said. “I knew it was Greg Zannetti’s last year so I tried to go against him as much as possible because he was among the best in the nation all year. I figured if I wrestle one of the best kids in the nation all year I’m going to get pretty tough and hopefully fill his shoes. I tried to bang heads with him and wrestle every practice as hard as I could.”
According to Bakuckas, that approach benefited him significantly. His feet and hand fighting are vastly improved, he said, while his physicality is at a different level than it was during his redshirt year.
“I’m turning kids – I was never really able to do that last year,” Bakuckas said. “I definitely improved a lot in top and bottom.”
It has been over a year since Bakuckas first joined head coach Scott Goodale and the Scarlet Knights program. A year later he helps make up one of the youngest rosters in the nation, as 23 of the RU’s 26 wrestlers are either freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores or redshirt sophomores.
The squad embraces the challenges that await in the 2013-14 season. Those challenges begin three days from now, when the wait is finally over.
“I think we’re going to be pretty tough,” Bakuckas said. “Yea, we’re a young team, but I think this team has a lot of fire in its belly. I feel like everyone wants to do well. I go in there I see everybody and everyone working hard. I think this group has a lot of fire and wants to get after it.”