The off season thrust Rutgers Wrestling into the national discussion as Nick Suriano, the highly touted 125 pound freshman, decided to transfer out of Penn State. And his ultimate clearing by the Big Ten for immediate eligibility at Rutgers continued the conversation with RU and Suriano at the top of everyone’s list of hot topics.
“It’s been a very busy off season,” offered head coach Scott Goodale at Media Day. “The acquisition of Nick Suriano has been really, really important to this program. A big story line not only here at Rutgers but throughout the country. And we’re excited that that’s over and done with. And Nick’s back to doing what he loves to do, training to prepare himself to win a national tournament.”
But while the “new guy” made headlines on his way in, it is a Scarlet veteran who is also making headlines, this time for not wrestling. Anthony Ashnault (27-3 in ‘16-’17), Rutgers’ three time All American, will be sidelined at the start of the season due to off season surgery. The timeline for his return is still open. Said Goodale, “He’s getting better. Still out at this time, looking forward to having him back. When that’ll happen we don’t know. We’ll let Anthony determine that. He’s done enough here, he deserves that. He’ll tell us when he’s ready to go and we’ll take it from there.”
That, of course, leaves a hole in the lineup at 141 pounds where redshirt freshman Mike Van Brill (18-5), brother of John (23-11), won his wrestle off against Peter Lipari this past weekend and will likely open the season against Maryland on Saturday.
The Knights’ roster features eight wrestlers with NCAA Championships experience, including six who competed at the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis (Scott DelVecchio (20-13), Ashnault, John Van Brill, Jordan Pagano (26-10), Nicholas Gravina (20-9) and Matt Correnti(16-13)). The team also returns 2016 NCAA qualifier, fifth-year senior 157-pounder Richie Lewis, and Suriano, a 2017 NCAA Championships qualifier, will make his RU debut.
There are fairly high expectations for Rutgers this season. Goodale acknowledges that. "There's a lot of expectations, from our fans, from wrestling people and from our team, which is a good thing. I don't know why you would ever want to be involved with this if there's not expectations placed on you and your program."
The squad is talented, although not deep by Goodale’s own estimation. "From our top-tier guys, we think we can wrestle with anyone in the country. But we all know it's a long season that spans four or five months, so we need to get our guys prepared and healthy."
Not staying healthy is the reason last year’s starter at 197, freshman Matt Correnti, will redshirt. He “nicked his knee” but the plan is to have him wrestle heavyweight, but as a redshirt. “He got bigger, he put on some good weight during the off season.” Senior Razohnn Gross (14-12) will be at heavyweight again, having topped Ralph Normandia in the wrestleoffs.
Correnti taking a redshirt opens 197 for redshirt freshman Kevin Mulligan. Goodale feels that Mulligan had a good redshirt year (28-8 unattached) but that he needs to be tested. “It’s gonna take wrestling matches for me to tell you where he’s at. A redshirt year is totally different from being in that starting lineup. For this team and this program to be good we need to be good at 197.”
In terms of the talent, Richie Lewis - who missed most of 2016-17 with an injury - returns. Although coming back a bit late. Lewis will be competing at the World U23 Championships in Poland over Thanksgiving, something Goodale is excited for Lewis. “It kind of makes his season a little bit different. He’ll be with us, really won’t miss much and shouldn’t miss much. He will go to Poland and try to win a world title.”
As for expectations, the sky is the limit. But don’t talk about that out loud with coach. “[Our goals are] in house. There’s a lot of expectations....from our team, and that’s a good thing. I feel that outside noise. I worry about that a little bit, too. People telling you how good you are and you forget what it takes to really be good. I don’t think that’s happened yet. But you’ll talk to some of our guys and they’re going to be excited about this team. They’re going to be excited about Suriano, they’re going to be excited about Richie (Lewis), about this lineup, about the ability of the lineup that we could put out. But a lot of things have to happen for us to achieve what we want to achieve. But I’m sure the expectations are multiple All Americans, a national champ or two. And our guys believe in that. But that’s something we try to keep in house as much as possible. I am gonna say we’re gonna be in the thick of it. We’re gonna wrestle our tails off, do things right along the way, and hopefully at the end of the year - the last three days in March - the Block R is being represented on Saturday (championship round). That’s the goal for all the guys sitting here and I know those are the expectations of our fans.”
It starts this Saturday at Noon at High Point Solutions Stadium when the Knights host Maryland. And what about that move from Yankee Stadium? Coach is a sports fan and coaching in Yankee Stadium would have been pretty cool. He said his grandfather would tell him that he was the only athlete/coach to play in Yankee Stadium, Ebbetts Field and the Polo Grounds. “It’s kind of mixed emotions about it. I wanted to tell my grandkids that I coached at Yankee Stadium, that’d be pretty cool. But that’s me being selfish. That’s something I wanted to do and I know we have some guys on our team wanted to do. At the end of the day, it’s wrestling; I don’t care where we wrestle. Let’s wrestle.”
And if you’re a football fan, this adds to your day. “We do want the football fan involved in our wrestling program, to come out and watch a match,” said Goodale. “At the end of the day, put a mat down, let’s find a spot, and let’s wrestle.”
Wrestling on the Radio
That’s tonight - Nov. 1
Rutgers Probable Lineup
125: Nick Suriano
133: Scott DelVecchio
141: Michael Van Brill
149: Eleazar DeLuca
157: Richie Lewis
165: John Van Brill
174: Jordan Pagano
184: Nick Gravina
197: Kevin Mulligan
Hwt: Razohnn Gross
The first National Wrestling Coaches Association poll of the season was released on Tuesday and it saw the Knights at No. 12, the same spot they finished in for 2016-17. It also saw nine 2017-18 opponents in the poll, including No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State. Both visit the RAC in January.