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RU Wrestling: Old foe, new challenge

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It's the NWCA National Duals, a wrestling headline grabber. Rutgers is hosting for the first time. And the opponent is an old nemesis.

Roy DeBoer - used with permission

It's not a Big Ten match.  Yet it is being looked at as perhaps the biggest dual meet of the year.

It is against a former conference foe, a team that for years was the gold standard in eastern wrestling.

It is Lehigh.  A team that hold a 42-2 win-loss count against Rutgers.

It is the NWCA National Duals.  It is big.

Saturday night at the RAC, Lehigh comes to town for a dual match for the first time since 2013.  On that occasion, the Knights made what then was a major statement in topping the Mountain Hawks, 17-16.

"It's a great opportunity," said head coach Scott Goodale.  "[They're] traditionally one of the best programs in the country.  We have a ton of respect for those guys, they do it right."

Lehigh currently sits in the No. 7 spot in the national rankings (USA Today/NWCA Poll) with a 13-2 record.  And they went 7-0 in conference (EIWA).  At home against Penn State on February 12, the Lions won, 28-9 before a full house in Bethlehem.

Rutgers, at No. 13, is coming off a two-victory Big Ten weekend in which they beat Indiana, 30-9 and then-No. 23 Purdue, 24-15.  Goodale said, "We had a good weekend.  Good to bounce back.....We wrestled well in a lot of spots.  Some guys took some steps back, but it's the Big Ten."

The matchups

There are four projected ranked matchups set for Saturday night, two with RU at a significantly higher rank, one with Lehigh higher. And a pairing of No. 13 vs No. 14. Yikes!.

No. 5 Anthony Ashnault rematches with No. 17 Randy Cruz (141 pounds), No. 7 Anthony Perrotti takes on No. 16 Ryan Preisch (165 pounds), No. 20 Nicholas Gravina attempts to tackle No. 3 Nathanial Brown (184 pounds) and No. 13 Billy Smith squares off with No. 14 Max Wessell (Heavyweight).

Overall, Lehigh has seven ranked wrestlers.  Along with those above, the Mountain Hawks show No. 13 125-pounder Darian Cruz, No. 9 157-pounder Mitch Minotti, No. 3 184-pounder Nathanial Brown, and No. 17 197-pounder John Bolich in the rankings.

'This is a big match for us," commented Goodale.  "It's Lehigh.  Across the border, recruiting.  Everything's involved. It'll keep us sharp, and we need to be sharp to beat them."

Common opponents

In the Grapple in the Garden back in December, Rutgers topped Cornell, 21-13.  Lehigh did the same in late January, stopping the Big Red, 25-13.  The two squads also faced Nebraska, with Lehigh losing, 24-6 (Northeast Duals) and the Knights winning a thrilling match by criteria, 17-16.  Both teams also topped Princeton, Lehigh 34-3 and Rutgers 28-6.

But Scott Goodale knows that prior scores are nice to discuss, but the proof is on the mat.  "There's a sense of urgency right now.  There are a lot of implications from an individual standpoint and team standpoint.  Who knows, if things go our way, we become a top ten team again.  That's our goal."

Prediction

Tough wrestlers win close bouts. Tough wrestlers live by the credo, win big and lose small. That will decide this match.

Lehigh is a very good team.  They have a lot of history on their side, not only as an eastern and national power, but over Rutgers.  But this isn't your father's Rutgers squad.  Maybe...just maybe....I'm sticking my neck out, and I'm calling for a Rutgers win.  Rutgers wins six bouts, including two by bonus points.  The losses are small, and the Knights win 22-13.

Ticket Information

Tickets to the match are now available for purchase through the Rutgers Ticket Office. The cost of admission follows the same pricing scale as RAC matches during the 2015-16 season. However, since the match is an NWCA event, student tickets are $1 each. To purchase tickets, fans can call 1-866-445-GORU or go online here.