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Rutgers Wrestling Lineup Preview - The Middleweights

Senior Mike VanBrill and company are in a great position to turn some heads this year.

Michigan v Rutgers
Mike VanBrill
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Our preview of what the Rutgers lineup might look like continues this week with the middleweights (149-165lbs). As a reminder, these are projections as none of the weights are confirmed as of yet and we’ll hopefully get a much clearer picture of what the final lineup will look like come media day (10/28).

I should also note that in my preview of the lightweights, I projected that Sammy Alvarez and Sebastian Rivera were flipping spots this season, but there is a possibility that they stay at their respective weight classes from last year. The middleweights for Rutgers this year feature a solid mix of veteran leadership, tons of potential, but still a few question marks. Here are projections for those weight classes.

149lbs: Likely Starter – #27 Mike VanBrill (Redshirt Senior)

Mike VanBrill made his varsity debut back in 2018 against Maryland in an outdoor match on the football field at Rutgers’ SHI Stadium. It was an awesome atmosphere for this back-and-forth contest against a ranked Ryan Diehl of Maryland. VanBrill lost that match 10-9, but it was awesome to see a mostly unheralded freshman compete right away in the Big Ten.

Fast forward to last season and VanBrill showed flashes of absolute brilliance against some of the best in the country, but still was falling short in the final scores. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, VanBrill had a 1-3 record and then lost his opening round match to Peyton Omania of Michigan State. That upset loss to Omania lit a fire in VanBrill though, as he proceeded to blast through the 2nd, 3rd 5th, and 6th seeds in thrilling fashion earn a 3rd place finish.

That run, unfortunately, couldn’t be repeated at nationals a few weeks later as he bowed early going 0-2. Despite that, VanBrill has all the pieces to make some noise at the NCAA tournament. He is a student of the game and the kind of explosive wrestler that is a nightmare matchup for anyone at his weight. He also got some training in with NJ legend and recently crowned five-time World Champion Jordan Burroughs during the offseason.

We can’t rule out the possibility that VanBrill goes 157lbs, as he did in 2019, but he’s looked his best at 149lbs. According to wrestlestat, the Scarlet Knights have a whopping six wrestlers competing at this weight, including former #1 overall recruit at 138lbs out of high school Jojo Aragona and 2019 varsity starter Gerard Angelo. Depth should not be an issue for the Scarlet Knights at 149lbs this season.

157lbs: Likely Starter – #33 Robert Kanniard (Redshirt Freshman)

Rob Kanniard enters his third year on the banks looking to make a splash after an injury/illness forced him to miss the Big Ten tournament last season. When he didn’t receive an “at-large” bid to nationals, his first season was over.

Another highly ranked recruit for Coach Goodale, Kanniard hung tough despite a brutal schedule last year that saw him wrestle three top 12 guys out of his four matches. Entering his first full season as the starter, I expect big growth out of Kanniard this year.

If the weights pan out as listed now, Kanniard’s first ranked opponent will be #24 Holden Heller of Hofstra at the “Garden State Grapple” at the Prudential Center on 11/27. And with only two ranked opponents (as it stands now) on the Big Ten portion of the schedule, Kanniard should have a solid record heading into the postseason.

Kanniard is my dark horse pick this year to significantly improve on his preseason rank and I see him finishing top 16 at NCAAs. He is very sound technically and adapts well to his opponents mid-match. For depth, Rutgers will look to redshirt sophomore Jake Benner who wrestled just one match last year and incoming freshman Dylan Weaver, though the latter may take a redshirt.

165lbs: Likely Starter – Andrew Clark/Connor O’Neill (Both True Freshman)

Although there are no wrestlers currently listed on the official roster at 165lbs, the Scarlet Knights do return two wrestlers that saw action at the weight last season.

Departing the banks after a solid career is Brett Donner, who was the full-time starter the past two seasons, going 18-17 in the 2019-2020 campaign.

The new candidates for the starting role at 165lbs are freshman Andrew Clark and Connor O’Neill. Clark, who was a 2020 state champion at 145lbs while attending Collingswood High School, only wrestled in one match last year, losing to #12 Gerrit Nijenhuis of Purdue. O’Neill was a highly recruited 2020 state champion (170lbs) and two-time finalist while competing at DePaul Catholic. He wrestled in four “extra” matches that took place after the official dual meets and finished 0-4.

These results shouldn’t discourage fans though, as both faced only Big Ten competition which is a true baptism by fire. I’m hoping for fun wrestle-offs between Clark and O’Neill as they continue to make each other better during their careers on the banks. We shouldn’t rule out any wrestlers at 149/157lbs bumping up here as well, as it may be the most likely way into the lineup.

On paper, none of the RU middleweights should score meaningful points at nationals, but that’s why they wrestle the matches! Both VanBrill and Kanniard have potential to surprise a lot of people this year and I think they will. Getting 5-10 points at nationals from either could prove monumental in securing a top 10 finish for the team.

The weight class information in this article was gathered from the official roster and wrestlestat, while rankings came from Intermat. All of the weights referenced are my projections as nothing has been confirmed. Next week, the final preview will go up as we will take a look at the Rutgers’ upperweights, which now may be the strongest part of the roster.