NEW YORK – Steven Rodrigues rarely shows any emotion when he’s wrestling. It’s just not his style. But following his 4-2 decision over Purdue’s Chad Welch on Friday, which guaranteed that the Illinois senior would finish his career as an All-American, the kid from Fox Lane couldn’t help it.
Rodrigues flexed and pointed to his family in the stands at Madison Square Garden, finally taking a minute to soak it in.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever really reacted after a match in my wrestling career,” Rodrigues said. “I’ve never had any moment in my career where I’ve been able to celebrate, so I’m just trying to enjoy it at this point.”
Rodrigues’ stated goal entering his final collegiate tournament was to make All-American. He’s clinched a spot on the podium at 165 pounds, but where he’ll place is yet to be determined. Rodrigues followed his win over Welch with a 3-1 decision in overtime against Nebraska’s Austin Wilson, ensuring that he’ll finish no worse than sixth place. It was his fourth win over Wilson this season.
“I’ve always prided myself in being able to build and get stronger as the match goes on,” Rodrigues said after taking down Wilson in overtime for the win. “As a Division I athlete, I would say I’m not the most athletic or explosive. I’m not going to be flashy, but you’ve got to find a way to win.”
Earlier on Friday, Rodrigues lost a 10-2 major decision in the quarterfinals to third-seeded Bo Jordan of Ohio State. It was the third time this season that Rodrigues was defeated by Jordan.
Prior to the bout, Rodrigues said he had “to be more methodical” and “wrestle at my pace,” and his strategy was effective for the first two periods. He trailed Jordan just 2-1 heading into the third period, but the No. 3 seed pulled away. A takedown and back points extended Jordan’s lead and put the match out of reach for Rodrigues.
The consolation semifinals begin on Saturday at 11 a.m., with Rodrigues, the No. 6 seed, set to wrestle fourth-seeded Daniel Lewis of Missouri with a trip to the third-place match on the line.
“I’m just going to enjoy the moment,” he said. “The monkey is off my back. I’m an All-American, and I would like another shot at Bo Jordan. I’d like to finish my career with a win.”
The other local NCAA qualifier, Cornell junior and Somers grad Brian Realbuto, did not compete on Friday after suffering what is believed to be a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee during his first-round match on Thursday.
“It’s terrible luck, but even before that happened, my first match — I just wasn’t wrestling well,” said Realbuto, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed at 174 pounds. “I think it was a little bit of nerves, a little bit of anxiety — the pressure to perform. I have high expectations for myself, and it kind of built up. When I was out there, I kind of lost it a little bit, and it caused me to get super, super tired. I was hanging on by a thread.”
Realbuto was trailing Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon, 7-4, when he tried a desperation move with 10 seconds left and went down screaming in pain. Doctors told him that they suspected he had torn the ACL and MCL in his left knee — two years after suffering the same injury in his right knee during the NCAA semifinals — but in a remarkable display of courage, Realbuto elected to wrestle his next match in the consolation round.
“I wanted to score some points for my team, so I went out there,” he said. “Going into the match, I thought I was either going to rip out my knee in the first 10 seconds and be done, or I was hoping I could keep it close.”
The two-time All-American was clearly favoring his left leg, but still managed to battle through the full match. He was initially ruled the winner after a takedown at the buzzer, but the call was reversed and Chattanooga’s Sean Mappes was awarded a one-point victory.
For complete results from the NCAA wrestling championships, visit http://on.ncaa.com/W2016D1.