It was a great weekend at The RAC, as wrestling fans from all over the country packed in to watch some of the best wrestling the sport has to offer. Rutgers fans were loud all tournament long, even though the Scarlet Knights gave them little to cheer for.
After the tournament was all said and done, Rutgers managed to snag two automatic qualifying bids. The first from 133 pounder Sammy Alvarez who took sixth in the loaded weight and one from Billy Janzer at 184 pounds, who took tenth despite a disappointing finish considering he was the 5th overall seed.
Rutgers only other place winner was Mike VanBrill at 149, who finished seventh. Unfortunately for Mike, the NCAA allotted six automatic qualifying spots at 149 for the Big Ten, so his status in the NCAA Tournament in two weeks will be in the hands of a selection committee for an at-large bid.
197-pounder Jordan Pagano withdrew from the tournament with a hand injury. Pagano certainly has enough criteria for an at-large bid for NCAA’s, but there is uncertainty surrounding whether or not he will be healthy enough to wrestle come tournament time.
Nic Aguilar came one match shy of placing top-8 at 125 pounds, losing to Indiana’s Liam Cronin by a score of 13-7 in the “blood round” of wrestle-backs. Aguilar finished 10th after his second win over Wisconsin’s Eric Barnett in the tournament.
Rutgers fans did have one big thing to cheer for in the finals, embracing New Jersey’s Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern as one of their own. Rivera had a home mat advantage as the Rutgers faithful rooted him on in his final against Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young. Rivera won the match 7-2 for his second straight Big Ten Championship.
The most impressive wrestler of the tournament for Rutgers had to have been Sammy Alvarez. The true freshman is proving with every match he wrestles that he has the ability to hang with the best 133-pounders in the country.
In Alvarez’s quarterfinals match, he had a rematch with Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young. In a match filled with crazy scrambling, Bravo-Young came out on top 5-2, but Alvarez was in it the whole time.
After the loss to Bravo-Young, Alvarez won two consecutive matches in wrestle backs to make it to the consolation semifinals and a shot to wrestle for third. In that match he had the tough task of Seth Gross from Wisconsin, who he wrestled great but dropped a wild 9-6 decision.
The loss meant Alvarez would wrestle Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski for fifth place. Piotrowski pinned Alvarez earlier in the season. In this match, Alvarez was close again, but dropped a 5-3 decision to ultimately place sixth.
Although Alvarez lost three tight matches in the tournament on his way to a sixth place finish, I really do believe he is peaking at the right time and will be able to knock off one of these higher ranked guys come NCAA Tournament time. All it will take is for Alvarez to make it to the quarterfinals and knock off one of these guys who he has proven he can wrestle with in order to guarantee a spot in the semifinals and a top six finish. Not bad for a true freshman in the toughest weight class in the country.
Rutgers will have to wait and see how many at-large bids they will receive for the upcoming NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis. I expect at least three more bids awarded, most likely to Nic Aguilar, Mike VanBrill and Jordan Pagano.
You can check out the full brackets and place winners from the tournament here.