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Rutgers Wrestling 2019 NCAA Tournament Preview

Six Scarlet Knights will battle for the podium in Pittsburgh

Rutgers Wrestling

It’s finally that week.


It’s NCAA week and Rutgers is headed out to Pittsburgh, bringing along Nick Suriano, Anthony Ashnault, Pete Lipari, John Van Brill, Joe Grello, and Nick Gravina for an attempt at the best tournament finish in program history. Rutgers brought six wrestlers to Cleveland last season and finished 11th as a team.

The Tournament gets underway in Pittsburgh on Thursday and continues through Saturday night. Here’s your watch guide:

Session I (Thursday): 12 noon ET - ESPN U and Watch ESPN

Session II (Thursday): 7 pm ET - ESPN and Watch ESPN

Session III (Friday): 11 am ET - ESPN U and Watch ESPN

Session IV (Friday): 8 pm ET - ESPN and Watch ESPN

Session V (Saturday): 11 am ET - ESPN U and Watch ESPN

Session VI (Saturday): 7 pm ET - ESPN and Watch ESPN


We’ll give you a breakdown of each wrestler and their bracket, plus a predicted finish for each, and also finals predictions for the entire tournament.

No. 3 Nick Suriano (24-3) - 133 lbs.

Suriano finally captured a Big Ten title while in Minnesota as he took out Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher. He avenged his loss to Iowa’s Austin DeSanto along the way but did not wrestle Michigan’s Stevan Micic. Micic, despite medically forfeiting and finishing sixth, is seeded No. 2 at 133 pounds.

Notable wrestlers on Suriano’s side of the bracket include Micic (2), DeSanto (7), Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak (6), Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young (10), and North Carolina State’s Tariq Wilson (11). It’s safe to say this weight class is DEEP. Suriano would likely have to go through Lizak and Micic in the quarter and semi-finals respectively before reaching the big stage for the second straight season. He nearly pinned Lizak and Micic may not be 100%. The first time they wrestled, Suriano was far more aggressive, but fell 3-2. I think it’d be different the second time around.

Who would Suriano get in the finals? Well, how about Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix? Can the revenge tour continue? No doubt. No. 1 vs. No. 3 for the title. It’s payback time.

No. 33 Pete Lipari (12-12) - 141 lbs.

Lipari was seeded last in this bracket, so he’ll have to wrestle in a pigtail match to get into the first round. He’ll take on Christopher Sandoval of Northern Colorado for the right to take on No. 1 and defending champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell.

Lipari earned an automatic bid with a 9th place finish at the Big Ten Tournament and will get his first action at NCAA’s. It’s a steep hill to climb, but Lipari showed he can be clutch in tournament time. While he has a good shot to win his first match, Diakomihalis is a different animal. He would have some work to do in the wrestle backs.

No. 1 Anthony Ashnault (27-0) - 149 lbs.

The big kahuna. Ashnault has knocked off all challengers and is the clear number one in this weight class. Will it be a cakewalk? Absolutely not. But Ashnault erased any uncertainty with a great Big Ten tournament and another victory over No. 2 Micah Jordan of Ohio State. The 3x All-American and Big Ten Champion has one goal remaining: the first National Title in Rutgers history.

Notable wrestlers on Ashnault’s side of the bracket include Brock Mauller of Missouri (4), Matt Kolodzik of Princeton (5), Justin Oliver of North Carolina State (9), and Brady Berge of Penn State (12). The way I’ve mapped it out, we could see Ashnault-Kolodzik Part VI in the semi finals. Ashnault has been to that round twice and I am thinking the third time could be the charm, where a third date with Jordan looms.

No. 16 John Van Brill (19-14) - 157 lbs.

Is there a better way to describe Van Brill?

After losing in the blood round last season, Van Brill will have one more shot at the podium. He’ll have a tough but definitely winnable first round bout with Virginia Tech’s BC LaPrade. The winner will get champion Jason Nolf of Penn State. Yes, spoiler, Nolf is pretty much a shoe in to win this weight.

Van Brill technically has a win over Nolf, an injury default at the RAC last season, but to Johnny Dangerous’ credit, he was within one point of Nolf in that match and was winning a scramble before the injury occurred.

Based on the bracket, Van Brill will need three straight wins in the wrestle back rounds to reach the podium. That is certainly doable.

No. 29 Joe Grello (16-9) - 174 lbs.

Grello will make his first trip to NCAA’s after earning an at-large berth after finishing 9th at the Big Ten Tournament. Grello is notably up and down when he wrestles, but put together a nice finish two weeks ago. It’ll have to carry over big time this week as he takes on No. 4 Myles Amine of Michigan in the first round. Grello generally wrestles the big names tough, but an upset would be monumental here.

He’ll likely have plenty of work to do in the wrestle backs to advance to Friday and beyond.

No. 21 Nick Gravina (6-3) - 184 lbs.

The lack of mat time this season didn’t hamper Gravina in the Big Ten Tournament as he finished sixth, earning an automatic bid. He is a 4x NCAA qualifier and has reached the blood round (2017) before. Can he get to the podium? Well, he has an interested path. It won’t be easy in the first round as he’ll have Iowa’s Cash Wilcke who is seeded 12th.

Should he drop the first match, he should have some winnable matches before taking on (based on predictions) Cameron Caffey of Michigan State (19) in third round of wrestle backs. From there, it’s a likely date with Nebraska’s Taylor Venz, whom Gravina beat last season but hasn’t wrestled in 2018-19. This is a fascinating blood round match up and Gravina will need to put together everything from his time in Piscataway to get over the hump and finish top eight.

Rutgers Predictions:

133 - Nick Suriano (See finals picks below)

141 - Pete Lipari

-I have Lipari winning his first, while dropping his second match to Diakomihalis. In the wrestle backs, Lipari beats Ian Parker of Iowa State, while dropping his next match to Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock.

Finish: (2-2), DNP

149 - Anthony Ashnault (See finals picks below)

157 - John Van Brill

-I give Van Brill the nod in his first match before falling to Nolf in the second round. In the wrestle backs, I have two straight wins on Friday morning and then he will take on Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin in the blood round. This is where the season ended last year for Van Brill and it’s where I think it ends again. He lost to Deakin at the Big Ten Tournament 8-2 just two weeks ago and with All-American status on the line, this will certainly be closer and could very well go the right way for Rutgers, but it will be a challenge.

Finish: (3-2), Blood Round

174 - Joe Grello

-Grello will be up against it again Amine in the first round, but should have a winnable match against Navy’s Spencer Carey in the first round of wrestle backs. I’ll give Grello a W before falling to Ethan Smith of Ohio State in the next round.

Finish: (1-2), DNP

184 - Nick Gravina

-I mentioned above there was a path for Gravina to get to the podium but he will need his best wrestling to get there.

He’ll drop his first to Wilcke before making up ground with three straight wins to get a matchup with Venz in the blood round. There was something telling about Gravina’s Big Ten Tournament that gives me the feeling he’ll finally get it done. One more win before falling to Illinois’ Emery Parker in the next round of consolations. Gravina will drop to the 7th place match for a match up with Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch.

Finish: (4-3), 8th Place All-American

NCAA Finals Predictions:

125 - No. 1 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) vs. No. 3 Spencer Lee (Iowa)

Winner: Spencer Lee

133 - No. 1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers)

-A rematch the entire wrestling community wants. They’ve wrestled the two longest matches I’ve ever seen (one in HS, one in college). Their meeting at the RAC in January was marred by controversy and long reviews. This time, it’s just them in front of 20,000 people and national audience. The revenge tour continues for Suriano.

Winner: Nick Suriano

141 - No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) vs. No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State)

Winner: Joey McKenna

149 - No. 1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) vs. No. 2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State)

-Part III of an intense rivalry in 2018-19. Ashnault won the first two 14-10 and 8-6 at the Cliff Keen Finals and the Big Ten Finals, respectively. He’ll be the favorite to do so again, but if there’s anyone who match Ashnault move for move, it’s Jordan. However, it’s finally time for “Shnaulty,” who will cap off arguably the greatest career in Rutgers Athletics history. The only question that remains: does he wrestle before Suriano to become the first champion in program history?

Winner: Anthony Ashnault

157 - No. 1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) vs. No. 2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska)

Winner: Jason Nolf

165 - No. 1 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)

Winner: Vincenzo Joseph

174 - No. 1 Mark Hall (Penn State) vs. No. 3 Zahid Valenica (Arizona State)

Winner: Mark Hall

184 - No. 1 Myles Martin (Ohio State) vs. No. 3 Zach Zavatsky (Virginia Tech)

Winner: Myles Martin

197 - No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. No. 2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State)

Winner: Bo Nickal

HWT - No. 1 Derek White (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 3 Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

Winner: Gable Steveson

**Quick Note**

There are upsets every year. I was trying to find a bracket where I could peg a seed lower than No. 3 to get to the finals this season, but I could not find one. It is bound to happen and madness will surely go on to determine the 3rd through 8th place winners, but this feels like more of a chalk year for the finals. However, it will still provide compelling match ups. Also, No. 1 seeds fall every season before the finals. But who? I can’t pick one in 2019!

Rutgers Team Finish

8th place, highest in team history

Two National Champions (Ashnault and Suriano)

Three All-Americans (Ashnault, Suriano, and Gravina)