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A Way-Too-Early Look at Rutgers Wrestling’s 2018-19 lineup

Do you miss wrestling already? Don’t worry, we’re here to ease your pain.

Roy DeBoer with permission /

The wrestling season may be over but it doesn’t mean we have to stop thinking about wrestling. You should never stop thinking about wrestling!

Consider that since the start of the NCAA Championships on March 15, On the Banks has published ten posts on wrestling. And this is our third this week!

A few days ago, Scott Goodale tweeted about one of his incoming freshman, and the kid looks like a real good one.

And then FloWrestling comes out with its “Way-Too-Early Lineup Look: Penn State” which, in truth, is way too early to look at. I mean, we did look and then we sighed, rolled our eyes, and thought, “We can do that, too!”

So, here it is. The On the Banks way-too-early lineup look for Rutgers wrestling 2018-19.

The Departed

Rutgers is losing five seniors from this year’s team. Team....not lineup. Scott DelVecchio (133), Eleazar DeLuca (149), Richie Lewis (165), and Razohnn Gross (Hwt) were the regulars from the lineup who are graduating. Anthony Messner filled in at 197 once Kevin Mulligan vanished late in the season. There was no explanation other than Mulligan was “not with us”.

So, there’s a need to replace two very strong wrestlers in DelVecchio and Lewis along with several very competent, though not consistent or dominating, others.

Returning Strength

What the Knights bring back ain’t too shabby. Start with an All American in Nick Suriano (125). After medically forfeiting at the Big Ten Championships, Suriano literally breezed through the first four rounds of the NCAAs, losing in the finals to Iowa’s Spencer Lee. The first Rutgers wrestlers to advance that far, Suriano will be a solid leadoff to the RU lineup, assuming he stays at 125 and doesn’t move up a weight to 133 to replace DelVecchio.

At 141, the hope/belief is that Anthony Ashnault will be back. The three-time All-American (2017, 2016, 2015) and two-time national semifinalist is anticipated to be granted an additional year of competition by the NCAA. If that’s the case - and boy are we hoping - there will be two returning All Americans among the first three wrestlers on the mat. Or first four if - and just speculating here - Ashnault were to move up to 149 in place of the departing DeLuca.

John Van Brill had a phenomenal - and somewhat unanticipated - run in the NCAAs. He was one win from being RU’s third AA. The experience gained in Cleveland should mean good things at 157 or 165.

At 184, Nick Gravina came up short at the national tournament, but was a solid, gutsy, and successful wrestler. That despite having a banged up shoulder throughout the season. He was already granted a sixth year by the NCAA and that settles four weights that could be as good as RU has had.

You also have two current redshirt freshman in Michael Van Brill (141) and Joe Grello (174), both of whom got considerable time in the lineup, returning. It’s also expected that Matt Correnti, who spent this year redshirting will be back as a heavyweight in the fall.

The New Guys

In the most recent Scarlet Knight Wrestling Club newsletter, Associate Head Coach Donny Pritzlaff said, “As we continue to train this spring and into the summer we will develop preliminary plans for what the lineup could look like next year. Expect many young stars to go right away but also some veterans to be back representing Rutgers.”

Young stars, indeed.

Scott Goodale is bringing in a very strong freshman class. Only five in number, they are an impressive group.

Nicolas Aguilar, as Goodale noted above, is a California and national prep champ. At the time of his signing, he was ranked No. 9 at 120 pounds. Jake Benner won a NJSIAA title in 2017 (2nd at 138 in 2018), and Billy Janzer was the 2017 and 2018 state titlist at 182 and the No. 5 182-pounder nationally. Kyle Lightner won the New Jersey title at 197 but was forced to sit out this season out after suffering an offseason knee injury. Malcolm Robinson (No. 7 at 149) is out of perennial prep powerhouse Blair Academy; he took second in the National Prep Championships in February on a 2-1 decision.

The Way-Too-Early Lineup

We’re spit-balling here. We have no more insight than anyone else....well, except for the coaching staff. So here’s a few guesses....along with some pretty sure-fire predictions.

125: Well, of course it’s Nick Suriano. Unless he bumps up to 133. And if he does, there’s true freshman Shane Metzler who filled in very nicely while Suriano was out late in the season. Metzler pinned at Wisconsin and won by decision at Princeton. Luke Ecklof is also a freshman. Or maybe it’s the new guy, Aguilar.

133: With DelVecchio graduating, there is an opening. Does Suriano move up? Or do you fill in with Metzler? Or several other younger wrestlers such as freshmen Nick Denora, Kyle DiNapoli, Luke Ecklof or sophomores Zach Firestone or Peter Lipari? And just for fun, throw in the wild card: the possible transfer in of Austin DeSanto, an NCAA qualifier this year as a frosh at Drexel.

141: While Michael Van Brill filled this spot in 2017-18, does it go to Anthony Ashnault if he gets his sixth year of eligibility? Does he get competition from incoming freshman and two-time state finalist Jake Benner? Or does Van Brill hold serve with AA jumping to.....

149: DeLuca is gone, opening the door for a lot of options. Incoming Malcolm Robinson has wrestled on the national stage. But there are two current freshmen in Robert Cleary and Nick Santos who already have time in a college room. Or maybe MVB moves up.

157: If he maintains his weight, there is no reason why John Van Brill wouldn’t be the logical starter here; he earned it with a solid showing at the NCAAs. To be honest, the room currently appears thin at this weight. Nick Santos could move up to 157 should Van Brill bump up to 165.

165: Richie Lewis was a solid competitor here. His departure means Brett Donner could get his chance to break into the lineup. And, again, it’s possible John Van Brill could move up.

174: Joe Grello (14-8) grew into the position this season. Jordan Pagano (R-JR) and Willie Scott (R-SO) should provide competition and depth.

184: Nick Gravina. That’s all I’m gonna say. Wait, I’ll say it again: Nick......Grave-e-e-e-ena. However, incoming freshman Billy Janzer, a two-time New Jersey state champion, will be on his heels and could even provide some depth and opportunity to rest Gravina.

197: Quality upper weights are tough to find. Anthony Messner is graduating and the word is Kevin Mulligan may not be back. Could incoming freshman Kyle Lightner be the starter next season after missing his senior year in high school?

HWT: Razhonn Gross was a great story. The likely successor is Matthew Correnti, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall. There are a few other big guys in the room: both Dylan D’Amore and Alex Esposito are currently freshmen.

Your lineup will center on Suriano, Ashnault, John Van Brill, and Gravina. I feel they’re pretty much locked in. There was a strong expectation from Goodale before the season that Matt Correnti would use this redshirt year to prep for being a heavyweight. So that’s now half your lineup.

If Grello continues to develop at 174 you have another spot filled. I’m thinking there’s a pretty good possibility that true freshmen could be in the lineup at 149 (Malcolm Robinson) and/or 197 (Kyle Lightner).

This discussion leaves 125/133 and 141/149 somewhat up in the air. But even with that, I’m liking how this lineup is developing.