There are a lot of early season wrestling tournaments. But few carry the history and prestige of The Midlands. With the 54th edition ready to gear up on Thursday and Friday, the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships will see the Scarlet Knights appearing for the second consecutive year. In 2015, Rutgers saw eight competitors place in a tournament won by Iowa.
Big Ten teams competing at the Midlands include host Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Currently ranked squads include Arizona State, NC State, Oklahoma, South Dakota State, Pitt, and Central Michigan. Discounting recent scratches and lineup changes, the Midlands was anticipating as many as 71 ranked wrestlers, including over 30 in the top ten. Prestigious and loaded.
The Knights have never had a champion at the Midlands. The closest was in 2011 when Mario Mason (149) took second.
This will be a challenging event for the Knights. Of the place winners from 2015, Hrymack and Smith have graduated, and Richie Lewis is taking a medical redshirt. Despite being the No. 11 team in the country, RU has struggled of late, losing to Cornell at the Grapple at the Garden and having some of its better competitors not wrestling as well as was expected. This is the last prep for the Knights before the Big Ten part of the season gets underway in earnest with a home match against No. 12 Illinois on January 6.
With the Christmas holiday, there was no new ranking this week. The most recent national rankings, from December 20, still have nine conference teams in the top 25, including three of the top four.