It was a tale of two halves on Saturday afternoon in Madison Square Garden where the No. 23 Rutgers wrestling team (8-5, 3-4) lost 21-16 to No. 25 Michigan (6-3, 5-1). The Scarlet Knights and Michigan each won five bouts, but it was the Wolverines who secured more bonus points to win the dual.
The match started at 125 pounds, which ended up being the key swing match that Michigan needed to win the meet. No. 16 Nicolas Aguilar dropped a 2-1 decision to unranked Jack Medley which put Michigan on the board first. Aguilar is in a bit of a funk as of late, losing three matches in a row including two to unranked opponents. He was also majored by No. 6 Devin Schroder of Purdue in that span. He is having trouble scoring points, having only scored four combined points over his last three matches.
After the match, head coach Scott Goodale talked about Aguilar’s recent struggles. “These freshmen, Billy (Janzer) included, I know they had a redshirt year, but until you go through it, it’s a gauntlet,” Goodale told ScarletKnights.com. “Everyone talks about the Big Ten and how tough it is; that’s true. That guy over there might not be nationally ranked, he might be .500 in the Big Ten season, but he’s really good. He’s really good, and that’s the whole conference. Every single week you have to bring it, and these young guys are kind of hitting a little of a wall.”
Goodale went on to say how they will remain with Aguilar because of their lack of depth at the 125 pound weight. He also said how maybe more rest throughout the week is needed for some of the guys who are unable to sit out a match because they are the team’s only option, such as Aguilar.
At 133, No. 10 Sammy Alvarez took care of business, but did so in a close match defeating Austin Assad 4-3. This would be the only match that the Scarlet Knights would win before the intermission.
Redshirt junior Zach Firestone got the start at 141 pounds in place of a sick JoJo Aragona, and lost a 11-3 major decision to Cole Mattin. Next at 149, Michigan got some big bonus points when No. 11 Kanen Storr won via tech fall over Gerard Angelo, good for five team points.
In the final match before intermission, Mike Van Brill wrestled fantastically against No. 8 Will Lewan, but dropped a 5-3 heartbreaker at the buzzer. After the first five matches, Michigan held a 4-1 match advantage that was good for a 15-3 lead.
The second half of the match is where the tide started to turn for the Scarlet Knights. With three toss-up matches right out of the gate from intermission at 165, 174 and 184, Rutgers needed to win all three to stay in the match, and that’s exactly what happened.
Starting at 165, Goodale opted for redshirt junior Brett Donner, who earned a 7-3 win over Tyler Messinger. Next up at 174, Willie Scott wrestled in place of the injured Joe Grello and picked up the first bonus points of the match for Rutgers with a 13-2 major decision over Max Maylor.
Heading into 184 pounds, Michigan saw a 15-3 lead quickly slip away to a 15-10 score. The 184 pound match now became the most important in the dual if Rutgers wanted any chance at winning the meet. It was also the only ranked match of the day, showcasing No. 23 Billy Janzer vs. No. 15 Jelani Embree.
With the match tied up at 1-1 after regulation, Janzer scored a reversal in the first tiebreaker overtime period to win 3-1. Janzer has now picked off No. 14 as well as No. 15 in the 184 FloWrestling rankings with wins over No. 14 Cameron Caffey of Michigan State and No. 15 Embree on Saturday.
After his match, Janzer told ScarletKnights.com; “I just train so hard every day, every day in the room we’re wrestling. I’m not prepared to wrestle seven minutes; I’m prepared to wrestle 30 minutes if I have to. Every day, we preach that no matter what happens, just put your foot back on the line. All the time we talk about looking the way you want to perform. If I’m sitting there hanging my head and looking like I’m tired, I’m not going to wrestle my best, but if I put my foot on the line and look that guy in the eye, he knows that I’m ready to go. Everyone on the staff just preaches put your foot on the line and get back in there.”
The final two bouts of the afternoon came at 197 and heavyweight. At 197, No. 19 Jordan Pagano gave Rutgers their first lead of the day with a 6-5 decision over Jackson Striggow. This made the team score 16-15 in favor of Rutgers, having won four matches in a row to start the second half of the match.
In the final match of the night, with the meet on the line, Michigan had the luxury of sending out their best wrestler to the mat, No. 2 Mason Parris who is undefeated on the season. Parris proved why he hasn’t lost yet, pinning Alex Esposito in just one minute and sixteen seconds. The pin made the final score Michigan 21, Rutgers 16.
”I do this quite a bit, I look at it quite a bit (on paper). Of course, you have to wrestle the match, it’s not done on paper, but I knew once we were done at 125, we were going to need an upset at 141, 149, or 157 with (Mason) Parris looming at the end,” Goodale said to ScarletKnights.com. “Once we didn’t get one of those, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle, now you’re looking for a fall from guys who are up against some really good guys. You can’t give bonus (points) in this conference, in these dual meets; once you do, you’re behind a little bit. It was a swing match at 125 and we just have to get back on track, we weren’t able to capitalize and win that match, so that’s where we’re at.”
The Scarlet Knights are back in action this weekend with a pair of duals, first at home on Friday night against Illinois (7-3, 4-2) and then on Sunday night in Lawrenceville against in-state rival Rider (9-2).
Illinois has been great in the Big Ten, with wins over Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State and Indiana. Their losses are to Penn State and Ohio State. Rider will also be a tough match, as they feature four ranked wrestlers in their lineup. Both matches are set for a 7 p.m. start time.
No. 25 Michigan (6-3, 5-1) 21, No. 23 Rutgers (8-5, 3-4) 16
125:Jack Medley (UM) over #16 Nicolas Aguilar (RU) by decision, 2-1; UM leads 3-0
133: #10 Sammy Alvarez (RU) over Austin Assad (UM) by decision, 4-3; Score is tied 3-3
141: Cole Mattin (UM) over Zach Firestone (RU) by major decision, 11-3; UM leads 7-3
149: #11 Kanen Storr (UM) over Gerard Angelo (RU) by tech. fall, 17-1 (5:34); UM leads 12-3
157: #8 Will Lewan (UM) over Michael VanBrill (RU) by decision, 5-3; UM leads 15-3
165: Brett Donner (RU) over Tyler Meisinger (UM) by decision, 7-3; UM leads 15-6
174: Willie Scott (RU) over Max Maylor (UM) by major decision, 13-2; UM leads 15-10
184: #23 Billy Janzer (RU) over #15 Jelani Embree (UM) by decision, 3-1 (TB2); UM leads 15-13
197: #19 Jordan Pagano (RU) over Jackson Striggow by decision, 6-5; RU leads 16-15
285: #2 Mason Parris (UM) over Alex Esposito (RU) by fall, 1:16; UM wins 21-16