With 23 of its 26 roster spots occupied by underclassmen, the Rutgers wrestling team enters the 2013-14 season much younger than it has been in recent memory. Gone are four NCAA qualifiers and five starters, leaving behind a squad hungry to prove its worth on the national stage.
“We’re very, very young – that’s the reality,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “We’re going to wrestle some really young kids and probably start the year with four freshmen, three sophomores a junior and a couple seniors. It’s a young group, but it’s a group that’s hungry and excited to compete. That being said, everybody is excited to compete in the summer time and the fall and the preseason, but it’s how you handle the adversity through the course of the season that really dictates where their youth is at.
“Sometimes you just get guys that don’t know any better and want to get their hand raised and that’s what we’re hoping for. Then, you get some young guys that hit a wall and start thinking too much and start questioning their confidence. We hope to have the front part of that, guys that are just young, don’t know any better and just want to wrestle hard.”
Returning to lead the Scarlet Knights this season are four key grapplers, including two seniors and three NCAA qualifiers. Redshirt senior 133-pounder Vinnie Dellefave (Toms River, N.J.), redshirt junior 165-pounder Nick Visicaro (Long Branch, N.J.) and redshirt sophomore heavyweight Billy Smith (Wantage, N.J.) represent RU’s three returning NCAA qualifiers. Redshirt senior 184-pounder Dan Seidenberg (Red Bank, N.J.) is one of two senior leaders on the squad and returns after wrestling up at 197 pounds last season.
That leadership has proven invaluable to the Scarlet Knights’ 11 incoming freshmen, many of whom will see their first collegiate action this season.
“The leadership has been very important,” Goodale said. “Just showing them the right way, showing them how to handle the academics at Rutgers, how to handle the social life at Rutgers and how to handle the constant training.
“I don’t think they’re ra-ra guys. Billy Smith’s not a ra-ra guy, Vinne Dellefave’s not a ra-ra guy and of course neither is Seidenberg. But they do it by example and they’ve been a great example.”
RU gets its season going on Sunday, Nov. 3 against EIWA foe Hofstra. From there, the Scarlet Knights will compete in a pair of duals, including their home-opener against Boston University on Sunday, Nov. 17.
Afterwards, the squad will wrestle four duals in a two-day span at the Journeymen/ ASICS Northeast Collegiate Duals on Nov. 30 and the second annual “Grapple at the Garden” on Dec. 1.
Goodale will lead his team against Virginia and future Big Ten opponent Michigan State at the Northeast Duals in Albany, N.Y., and take on George Mason and another future Big Ten rival Maryland at the “Grapple.”
“It is a good schedule. Nothing is really going to jump out at you, but it’s good for our program right now,” Goodale said. “There are some highs in it – I think the Las Vegas Invitational is great national-caliber type tournament, ‘Grapple and the Garden’ and the Northeast/ Journeyman Duals as well.”
Last season, the Scarlet Knights fell, 22-10, to Nebraska and topped Tennessee-Chattanooga, 28-12, at the inaugural “Grapple at the Garden.”
“The ‘Grapple at the Garden’ is a special thing,” Goodale said. “It’s not ideal for us to wrestle two matches the day before and then come down but you can’t say no to wrestling at Madison Square Garden.
After the squad wraps up the Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 6-7, it will enter the heart of its dual schedule. Highlighting the Scarlet Knights’ slate are home matches against Columbia and Harvard on Jan. 3 and Jan. 5, respectively, followed by consecutive trips to Iowa State (Jan. 17), Cornell (Jan. 26) and Lehigh (Feb. 8) in a pivotal road stretch.
The Scarlet Knights wrap up their season on Friday, Feb. 21 at the RAC, where they will take the mat against Drexel.
Despite a number of tests on the Scarlet Knights’ 2013-14 slate, Goodale is confident his squad is up for the challenge if only for one reason – a renewed desire to reach the podium.
“The attitude has changed probably because we’ve gotten so young,” Goodale said. “These guys don’t question anything we do, whether it’s running stadiums, whether it’s running hills, whether it’s swimming and then wrestling. They don’t question, they just do and that makes it easy to do.”
RU enters the season under the radar after graduating many wrestlers who were the heart of the program for so long. Now, a new era has launched in Goodale’s tenure. Despite the team’s youth, he expects nothing less than for his guys to reach the podium.
“I see it in the future, but I’m a very impatient guy and it’s got to happen now,” Goodale said. “This sport is unlike any other sport where freshmen can make immediate impacts. If you’re a great freshman and your expectations are high, you should be placing at the national tournament.
“That is just the way this sport is. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything down the line, but if you’re in our lineup, your goal should be to make noise at the National Tournament and get on that podium.”