Bald Eagles hope beating Scarlet Knights adds extra spark to their program
By MITCH RUPERT
LOCK HAVEN — The sound of the whistle shrieking had already been drowned out by the riotous crowd which filled Thomas Fieldhouse to capacity.
Thomas Haines heard it, though. That, and the sound of the official slapping the mat, were crystal clear to Lock Haven’s 285-pounder. He rose to his feet as his opponent lay flat on his back, extended his arms to the side and asked for a deafening roar from a standing-room only crowd of 2,357.
His fall in the final bout Friday night secured the Bald Eagles’ win over 12th-ranked Rutgers, 22-16. But last night was about more than one win. It was about returning a once-dormant program to national prominence. A team filled with potential realized a large chunk of it in its first win over a Big Ten team in nearly two years.
Lock Haven and Rutgers split the 10 bouts last night, but four of the Bald Eagles’ wins earned bonus points, including Haines’ fall in a tied match to close out the home opener. For a moment Friday night, in the aftermath of the program’s first win over a nationally-ranked team since 2005, this felt like days of yore in Lock Haven where the Bald Eagles produced All-Americans like Hershey’s produces chocolate bars.
“I want it to be like this every time,” Haines said. “This is amazing.”
“It was a good time,” Lock Haven head coach Scott Moore said with a smile. “Decent ending.”
I’ll take ‘Understatements of the year’ for $500, Alex.
Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale remembers nights like Friday’s in the sleepy little seat of Clinton County. As a Bald Eagles wrestler who accumulated 99 wins and three NCAA tournament berths in the mid-90s, he’s heard the roars of a rabid fan base engulf Thomas Fieldhouse before. He’s just never heard them from the opponent’s bench.
There he sat, though, in the white padded folding chairs watching Lock Haven erase an early 7-0 deficit with four consecutive wins through the middleweights. First it was Kyle Shoop posting a 13-0 major decision at 141 pounds. Then it was 15th-ranked Ronnie Perry knocking off 13th-ranked Eleazar DeLuca in a dominant 5-1 win. When Alex Klucker posted his 10th win of the season with a technical fall at 157 and Chance Marsteller made his Thomas Fieldhouse debut with a major decision over national qualifier John Van Brill, Goodale knew the Scarlet Knights were in trouble.
Rutgers didn’t record a single takedown in either of those four bouts. And with every points scored by Lock Haven, the belief the Bald Eagles could win the dual built in the crowd like a shaken soda bottle, just waiting for that moment when it could explode.
“It wasn’t great to see this place all fired up, but that’s the way it used to be when I was here,” Goodale said. “I knew it would be loud and I knew it would be hostile. But good for Scott. He’s got it back where it needs to be.
“Honestly, we got our butt kicked.”
Goodale was able to delay the inevitable, juggling his lineup toward the top of the lineup, looking for opportunities for redshirt junior Jordan Pagano and redshirt senior Nick Gravina to try and pick up some bonus points. Lock Haven just never gave them the opportunity. From 174 to 197 pounds, when Lock Haven had the option at the start of a period, they chose neutral, forcing Rutgers to get takedowns if they were going to work on top.
The Scarlet Knights got just one takedown in each of those three bouts, and Jared Siegrist, Corey Hazel and Tristan Sponseller kept their opponents from getting turns for back points. Rutgers won all three matches, but by a combined five points. It was enough to tied the match score at 16-16, but Haines was facing a wrestler he had pinned in less than 90 seconds earlier this season.
Last night, Haines needed even less time. His cement job of Razohnn Gross on the edge of the mat gave the crowd the spark it was looking for, erupting in an ear-splitting roar as the fall was called. Haines let out an animalistic roar as he strode to the center of the mat, soaking in as much of the atmosphere as he could.
Lock Haven will probably appear in the national rankings for the first time since being ranked 24th on Nov. 26, 2002 with last night’s win. It was as much of a ‘Hello, world’ moment as it was a dual-meet win.
“This atmosphere was so incredible. I was just so hyped up. I had to let it out somehow,” Haines said. “I think sometimes you say a lot of things, but it’s hard to really believe it in your core. Now we’re finally seeing it for real and we’re not just saying it. We’re showing it and that’s huge.”
“Last year when I was with the team before everything happened, you knew it was in there for them,” said Marsteller, who improved to 12-0 with his win. “I think everybody’s levels are starting to rise in the room. We’re starting to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we have before.”
For Moore, last night’s win was just the next step in the march of returning a once-proud program to national prominence. No longer is it just a program with a history. It’s now a program with a future. And as it showed last night, the present isn’t too bad either.
“It took a lot of people putting in a lot of time to build up this environment. Hopefully people are going to see the effort and they’re going to come back and support us,” Moore said. “If you get a monumental win like (Friday night), it gets people talking and now they want to be part of it.”
125: No. 2 Nick Suriano, R, maj. dec. Josiah Kline, 19-5. 133: No. 10 Scott DelVecchio, R, dec. D.J. Fehlman, 11-5. 141: Kyle Shoop, LH, maj. dec. Michael Van Brill, 13-0. 149: No. 15 Ronnie Perry, LH, dec. No. 13 Eleazar DeLuca, 5-1. 157: Alex Klucker, LH, tech. fall Nick Santos, 16-1, 7:00. 165: Chance Marsteller, LH, maj. dec. John Van Brill, 11-3. 174: Joe Grello, R, dec. Jared Siegrist, 3-2. 184: Jordan Pagano, R, dec. Corey Hazel, 4-2, sv. 197: No. 9 Nick Gravina, R, dec. Tristan Sponseller, 6-4. 285: No. 15 Thomas Haines, LH, pinned Razohnn Gross, :43.
Takedowns: Rutgers 14, Lock Haven 12.
Records: Lock Haven (1-0, 0-0 EWL); Rutgers (3-1, 1-0 Big 10).