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Rutgers Wrestling Ready to Embrace Youth Movement

Fresh faces, new places, same goals for Scarlet Knights in 2019-20

Nick Kosko

It was refreshing to see the Scarlet Knights back on the wrestling mats.

Now just two days away from the season opening quad meet at the RAC, Rutgers is ready to embrace its’ youth movement and prepare for a new era in Rutgers Wrestling in the Big Ten.

Rutgers will open the season on Saturday, November 2nd at 10 AM at the RAC vs. Long Island University, Pitt-Johnstown, and Centenary College. You can watch it live on BTN Plus. I’ll have the call with Lou Brogno.

Fresh off two national champions: Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano, Rutgers will be starting a few freshman, mixing in some veterans, but has the same goals in mind for 2019-20.

“It was a special year,” head coach Scott Goodale said. “Those guys were able to cap off an incredible March, but for this program right now, we have moved on and it’s going to be a who’s going to be next type of mentality.”

Who’s next is a big question for this program. The recruiting class of 2019 was ranked No. 4 in the country according to Flo Wrestling.

“You can expect a whole lot of youth,” Goodale said. “It’s a really neat situation. You’ll see five, six, seven freshman and redshirt freshman in the lineup. It’s a good mixture of youth and older guys for a great balance.”

JoJo Aragona and Sammy Alvarez, at 141 and 133 pounds respectively, will start this weekend in the season opening quad.

“Aragona is going to wrestle this week along with Sammy Alvarez,” Goodale said. “We’ll also probably have Jackson Turley ready. The RAC is an extremely fun place to wrestle. These kids don’t want to wait anymore. These guys want to go. It’s a short window. they’re healthy. When you’re healthy, you take that advantage.”

Aragona, in particular, was highlighted during the wrestle-off’s because it came down to him and 2019 NCAA qualifier Pete Lipari for the spot at 141.

“There’s two really good guys,” Goodale said. “The best programs, that’s what they have. This is college wrestling and he (Aragona) wants to go now. Pete will have an opportunity to wrestle.”

Lipari is currently in the final year of eligibility. While Aragona wrestling means he won’t be able to redshirt this season, except for medical reasons, Lipari will be wrestling in open tournaments and unattached to stay ready and in the event the staff makes a switch.

Pitt-Johnstown, one of the three opponents on Saturday, is currently ranked No. 1 in the country throughout NCAA Division II wrestling.

“We’ve used the last two months to get the rust off,” Goodale said. “We’re wrestling the No. 1 team in Division 2. They’re very very good. We need to be ready to wrestle.”

The Young Bucks

In addition to Aragona and Alvarez, other true and redshirt freshman could be seeing a lot of opportunities this season.

Redshirt freshman Nico Aguilar is the starter at 125 after taking a year to prepare for the varsity spotlight.

“I see a lot more focus,” “He’s done a good job training. He looks really good in the room right now. He’s motivated and into it. Sometimes that redshirt year you get lost. We get on the road and they’re not always with us. It’s hard and he got caught up in that. I think now that he’s gotta go, he’s into it and ready to go.”

Robert Kanniard, another true freshman, had an opportunity to win the spot at 157 outright, but fell to Mike Van Brill. However, he might still be in the mix down the line this season.

“We’ll keep him in redshirt for the week,” Goodale said. He’s another guy that wants to wrestle. Every situation is different and Robbie wants to wrestle. He’ll wrestle at Journeyman and actually the whole team will go unattached. He’ll be at the Princeton Open on Sunday. He might be a guy we bring out to California, maybe have him sit and get a feel for him. Then we could have a decision after the Navy Classic.”

Billy Janzer took a redshirt year in 2018-19. While 184 was shared between Willie Scott and a now graduated Nick Gravina, Janzer was seen as the future of the weight class. Now, it’s time.

“I’m anxious man,” Janzer said. “All last year, I thought about putting on the Rutgers singlet. It’s going to be fun to out there.”

Janzer said he’s prepared to have a big year and has taken advantage of wrestling the with NJRTC wrestlers, including Team USA member Pat Downey.

“It’s a big advantage for me,” Janzer said. “I have the best partners I’ve ever had in my life. These guys are pushing me to my limit. But I wrestle everyone. Suriano will grab me and get me to hand fight even.”

“We expect a lot,” Goodale said. “One of our best redshirt years. He’s a horse, he’s a big boy, and i was worried about 184 for while. He was around 210, but once we started training, he’s been really disciplined. He’s a powerful, powerful person. He’s very intense. We want to emulate that style: getting back to line and getting in your face.”

The Veterans

Mike Van Brill was struggling to make 141 pounds last season. It took a toll on his wrestling. But now, with a full offseason of preparation and weight gain, Van Brill is ready for a breakout season at 157.

“90% of this is mental,” Goodale said. “And you start battling the scale because you should do your weight cut outside of practice. It wears on you. For Mikey, it was a terrible experience. He was 170 right after the season, but now he is really, really strong. Our strength coach Mike DeMarco has done a great job. He’s certified at 149 but 157 will be his weight class and he’s even big for that so good for Mikey.”

The 197 spot belongs to...someone. Matt Correnti won the wrestle off, but sixth-year senior Jordan Pagano did not participate. He will be ready to go this weekend. Redshirt freshman Kyle Lightner is also going to be in the mix.

“We’ll go with Lightner and Pagano in the quad and send Correnti to Princeton,” “We’re going to mix and match our lineup to give us the best opportunity and go from there.”

Joe Grello went 2-2 at NCAA”s last season in his first attempt at a podium run. Now a redshirt junior, Grello has some expectations outside of the Rutgers Wrestling room. Grello was ranked No. 17 at 174 in Flo Wrestling’s preseason poll.

“I think he’s there, but he has to realize it in his mind,” Goodale said. “He’s one of the best guys in the country but he’s got to do it and believe. He’s made huge jumps. He has an opportunity to be on that podium come March.”

Christian Colucci enters his final year of eligibility and will start at heavyweight once again.

“It’s my last ride and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Colucci said. “I don’t really care about that stuff (rankings). I have what I’m worth in my head but it’s cool getting some recognition but it’s not the end all be all.”

He even got to travel to Italy for some summer training. Colucci has been able to see a lot of different types of wrestling from summer training, to the guys in the room who are teammates, plus the NJRTC roster.

“I’ve been blessed with a great wrestling room at Lehigh and here but now we have this,” Colucci said. “I don’t have to constantly feed myself. I have a lot of the NJRTC guys and our past NCAA qualifiers. The room and the people in the room are giving me a lot. (NJRTC head coach) Reece Humphrey just brings a steady stream of guys to get good training.”

As for the buzz on campus, Colucci can’t get enough.

“It’s always a great feeling when a professor asks for season tickets,” Colucci said with a laugh. “Everyone knows you’re a wrestler. Suriano and Ashnault built this and it’s great to be a part of it.”

One last message from Colucci to the fans:

“The cowbell is coming back.”

Injuries

Some of the short term injuries were revealed to be: Luke Eckloff, Willie Scott and Cody Harrison. Goodale said these are to not be long term.

What will be worth monitoring is the status of true freshman Ryan Vulakh. Goodale said he is dealing with a lower back injury that has been a bit of a nagging issue since finishing up his senior season of high school. Goodale and the staff believe he is really special and will be a big part of the team moving forward. They’re not going to push him to be ready to go this year so a redshirt is most likely for 2019-20. Vulakh was slated to be apart of wrestle-off’s at 149, but did not participate.

Nick Suriano Update

Nick Suriano announced in September that he would be taking an Olympic redshirt and will not wrestle this season. While it has not been ruled out that he could come back for the Spring semester and finish his college career, the focus is squarely on the Olympics at this time. He is currently not enrolled at Rutgers but is training with the NJRTC, in the Rutgers wrestling room, and around the country.

“Nick’s been in and out, but he’s on an Olympic redshirt,” Goodale said. He’s using this time to travel to Tennessee-Chattanooga, Oklahoma, in addition to being here and the NJRTC. That’s our plan.”

2020 Big Ten Championships

Rutgers will host a conference tournament for the first time since 2013 when they hosted the EIWA Championships. The most grueling tournament is coming to the RAC in March and Goodale had an interesting take on the subject.

“It’s cool,” Goodale said. “We don’t have to travel but it’s just another tournament. I know the NJ fanbase is going to be great and we get to show off the facility. But, it’s the same four mats. I consider this the toughest tournament in the world, at least one of them.”