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Rutgers Wrestling 2021 Season Preview

The nationally ranked Scarlet Knights open against Michigan on Friday night.

Rutgers Athletics

No. 15 Rutgers wrestling begins a conference only schedule that includes nine Big Ten opponents spread over six dates this Friday at the RAC against no. 3 Michigan. Scott Goodale is in his 14th year as head coach and has arguably the deepest roster of his tenure at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are ranked no. 15 in the NWCA Coaches Poll, as well as no. 10 by FloWrestling and TrackWrestling, no. 11 by The Open Mat, and no. 17 by Intermat.

The Big Ten remains the premier conference in the sport with four teams ranked in the top 5 nationally and 10 teams ranked in the top 25 of the current NWCA Coaches Poll. Rutgers opens the 2021 season facing three programs currently ranked in the top 7 of the Coaches Poll. Here is the complete regular season schedule for no. 15 Rutgers:

  • January 8 vs. no. 3 Michigan
  • January 16 vs. no. 2 Penn State
  • January 24 at no. 7 Ohio State
  • January 31 vs. no. 12 Minnesota & no. 16 Purdue (tri meet)
  • Febuary 6 at Indiana, vs. Michigan State, no. 5 Nebraska (quad meet)
  • February 19 at Maryland

The conference championships are scheduled to take place on March 6-7 at Penn State with the NCAA Championships scheduled to take place on March 18-20 in St. Louis. Due to COVID-19, the number of national qualifiers is expected to be reduced compared to previous seasons.

Goodale said during a conference call earlier this week that “We’re in a good spot, I feel. The toughest part was not having a schedule, not knowing who to prepare for. I don’t know if I would have drew it up Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State. But here’s the reality, I am just super, super grateful we’re wrestling and we’re competing.”

Due to a conference only schedule. the Big Ten has decided to hold additional matches during competitions that will not be counted in the meet scoring. However, they will count for each individual wrestler’s record and will be used for seeding purposes for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

“Each dual meet may have exhibition matches, or challenge matches, whatever you want to call them,” said Goodale. “So, we will be dressing twenty guys each match, two at a weight”.

Goodale also clarified that a minimum of four bouts is required to qualify for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. RPI and winning percentage will not be part of the selection criteria.

The NCAA issued a waiver for all winter athletes this season due to the global pandemic, so every wrestler is eligible to compete this season without losing the ability to redshirt.

The question of whether 2019 national champion Nick Suriano will wrestle this season remains open, as he is scheduled to compete for Team USA in Nice, France on January 15-17. Goodale addressed the situation, stating “Obviously, Nick is enrolled. He is chasing his Olympic dream. He was training with us through the middle of October. Then he went out to Arizona to find different training partners for his freestyle advantage. He’s found it very comfortable out there. He’s got some great partners out there, they have brought some people in there. So he is solely freestyle out there.”

As for whether Goodale expects Suriano to return this season, he said “Right now, it is about 50/50 and there has been good dialogue with the family. We are just going to wait and see. There is a plan in place. Now, the plan has to not only satisfy Nick, because we fully support his Olympic dream, but we also have to solidify our program and be fair to our program where he is back training with us and competing with us.”

Despite the uncertainty, Suriano is currently ranked no. 1 at 133 pounds by FloWrestling and TrackWrestling. It is possible that if Suriano did return he could wrestle at 125 pounds, as he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials at 57 kg, which is the same weight class. The Olympic Trials take place on April 4, just a couple of weeks after the NCAA Championships. In order to qualify for the NCAA Championships, Suriano would need to compete for Rutgers at the Big Ten Tournament. Of course, the hope would be that he returns sooner.

“It probably won’t be a whole season, but it’s got to be pretty quickly here,” Goodale said. “Is there a timetable set in stone tight now? No. But there are some things that need to be done from a compliance standpoint because he did take that Olympic redshirt. So as long as we get that stuff satisfied and he gets certified in a weight class he can wrestle, there is a couple things he has to do.”

Goodale added, “If he decides to return to collegiate wrestling this season, we look forward to watching him excel in a Rutgers’ singlet. I will say this, we fully support Nick Suriano.”

As for who Rutgers plans to send to the mat to start the 2021 season, here is the projected lineup:

125: 20/19/15 Nicolas Aguilar OR Dylan Shawver

133: 6/NR/6 Sammy Alvarez OR Devon Britton

141: 4/1/3 Sebastian Rivera

149: Gerard Angelo OR Michael VanBrill

157: NR/NR/24 Robert Kanniard OR Cody Harrison

165: Brett Donner OR Connor O’Neill

174: 19/22/13 Joseph Grello OR Jackson Turley

184: John Poznanski

197: NR/14/20 Billy Janzer OR Kyle Epperly

HWT: Christian Colucci OR Alex Esposito

The lineup features Aguilar and Alvarez at the top, both of whom were NCAA qualifiers last season. Two-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion Sebastian Rivera, who transferred from Northwestern, gives Rutgers a legitimate national title contender and is currently ranked no. 1 by FloWrestling at 141 after moving up a weight class from last season. Michael VanBrill was an NCAA qualifier last season at 157, but is set to compete at 149 pounds for this season. 2019 NCAA qualifier Joe Grello, who was one victory short of earning All-America status that season, returns from injury at 174 pounds. Heralded freshman John Poznanski has a chance to make a big impact this season at 184 pounds. Billy Janzer has moved up a weight class to 197 and will look to build off his debut season in which he went 21-10 and was an NCAA qualifier. Christian Colucci began last season with a 9-2 record before suffering a season ending injury, but is back healthy to start this season.

In regard to the depth and development of the roster, Goodale said “It’s been good. We always coach everybody, that’s never really been a problem in our program. The fact that everybody is wrestling, you really have to pay attention to all 32 guys. There’s been a lot of work.”

With two matches at each weight class expected in every meet this season, Goodale explained the difference in preparation. He stated, “There have been a lot of one on one’s for development purposes. This comes on you pretty quick and maybe some of those freshmen aren’t ready right away. Because there is no redshirt year and no open tournaments, you have to get them ready for these competitions. The development has been good I think. We are certainly going to find out with the schedule. We’ve paid a lot of attention to every kid in the program.”

Despite the Big Ten schedule only having been released last week, it didn’t catch Goodale by surprise. He was confident that everyone is ready by saying “We knew we were going to wrestle this weekend, it’s been out there for a couple months. We were prepared for this and that meant every single guy on the roster. That’s how we went about it.”

The season opening dual meet between no. 15 Rutgers and no. 3 Michigan will air live on BTN at 7 p.m. ET this Friday, January 8. WRSU (88.7 FM) will be on the call as well. There are no fans permitted this season due to state of New Jersey’s current restrictions on indoor gatherings during the global pandemic.

“It is, what it is. We go, we deal with it, we move on,’’ Goodale said. “This is a hard year for these guys that love to perform in front of fans, but you can’t use that as an excuse if we’re not performing. We’re going to put our foot on the line. There’s going to be seven minutes on the clock and you try to get your hand raised. That’s the way we’re going about it. But, sure we’d love to have fans.”

The Wolverines feature eight wrestlers who are nationally ranked, including three who are consensus top 5 by every major outlet, including Stevan Micic (133), Logan Massa (174) and Mason Parris (heavyweight). Last season at Madison Square Garden, Michigan topped Rutgers 21-16. It’s not clear whether Micic will compete Friday and if he doesn’t, he would likely be replaced by one of two freshmen, Chris Kim or Dylan Ragusin.

In regard to Friday’s meet, Goodale said “We’re excited about the challenge. There are some great, great opportunities for us to really get some young guys right into the mix and right into a national ranking quick by having a great outing on Friday night.’’

You can watch the entire press conference with Goodale from earlier this week here: