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Rutgers’ Wrestling Set to Compete in the Garden State Grapple this Saturday

The team will head to the Prudential Center in Newark for a pair of matches against Hofstra and #18 North Carolina.

NCAA Wrestling: NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

#12 Rutgers Wrestling hopes to keep it’s undefeated season going as they head to the Prudential Center in Newark for a pair of matches this Saturday. Rutgers, who’s lineup still features eight ranked wrestlers this week according to Intermat, is slated to take on Hofstra at 5:30, followed by #18 North Carolina (UNC) at 7:30.

The matchup with UNC should be full of fireworks, as the Tar Heels will bring seven of their own ranked wrestlers to Newark in hopes of pulling off the upset.

Of note, it appears Rutgers’ former number one recruit out of high school at 138lbs, Jojo Aragona, could make his season debut as he’s listed at 149lbs with #25 Mike VanBrill.

To start the evening, Rutgers will take on the Pride of Hofstra, who’s lineup features three ranked wrestlers. With that said, Rutgers should have a big advantage at the majority of weights here, save for a feature match-up at 285lbs that could feature Hofstra’s #20 Zack Knighton-Ward taking on Rutgers’ #23 Boone McDermott.

McDermott has looked fantastic in his four bouts this season, but this will be his biggest test to date. Knighton-Ward, a redshirt senior, has started the season 5-1 with his loss coming to current high schooler Nick Feldman at the Clarion Open, who will be terrorizing the Big Ten at Ohio State in a few years.

The other potential ranked match-ups would see Hofstra’s #30 Charles Small against Rutgers’ #5 John Poznanski and the Pride’s #29 Trey Rogers vs the Scarlet Knights’ #14 Greg Bulsak. Hofstra is dealing with some injuries and I expect Rutgers to take at least 7-8 matches here, with lots of bonus points to pad the final score.

The second and final dual on Saturday will be #12 Rutgers taking on #18 UNC. This match could see as many as six ranked contests and each outcome will be vital in securing the team victory for either squad.

The first ranked match-up should be a doozy, as UNC’s #10 Jamie Hernandez will take on #12 Sammy Alvarez at 133lbs. Hernandez carries a 4-0 record coming into the dual while Alvarez took an upset loss in the opening weekend, but has been unblemished since. I’m glad this match takes place in the second dual so both wrestlers have ample time to eat, hydrate, and get their mind’s right for this hugely important bout.

At 141lbs, another ranked match-up is on the table as #10 from UNC, Kizhan Clarke will bring his 5-0 record to Newark in the hopes of besting #4 Sebastian Rivera. Clarke already has a big win on the year as he took out then #5 Chad Red of Nebraska at a dual meet a few weeks ago.

Rivera has been a bonus point monster for Rutgers out of the gate, winning his three contested matches by major decision or technical fall, while collecting a forfeit victory as well. This match could come down to top vs bottom wrestling, and I love how Rivera has looked with his mat wrestling so far this year.

Two seasoned wrestlers could meet at 149lbs as UNC’s #16 Zach Sherman steps up against #25 Mike VanBrill of Rutgers. Sherman has had a really tough schedule to start the year and has gone 0-3 against ranked competition thus far. VanBrill is 1-0 in his only ranked match-up on the year and this will be his biggest test to date, as a victory over Sherman probably moves VanBrill into the top 20 nationally.

At 157lbs, UNC brings their defending national champion (149lbs) in #7 Austin O’Connor. O’Connor suffered an upset loss during the UNC-Nebraska dual against now #5 Peyton Robb, but he is still one of the premier wrestlers at this weight nationally. Rutgers’ Rob Kanniard fell out of the rankings last week, but has a tremendous opportunity here to turn some heads.

Another match between closely ranked opponents could occur at 174lbs between UNC’s #15 Clay Lautt and #13 Jackson Turley of Rutgers. Lautt is 2-2 on the year with close losses against two ranked opponents and is coming off a win over #18 Austin Murphy of Campbell. Rutgers’ fans are eager to see how the two week layover between competition suited Turley, as he suffered an upset loss in his only action this year. If Turley isn’t close to 100%, don’t be surprised if Coach Goodale holds him out here.

Rutgers’ #5 John Poznanski could see yet another ranked opponent if UNC sends out #23 Gavin Kane, who is 5-2 so far this year. Poz is seemingly never out of position during a match and grinds out wins because of it and I think we can expect the same here.

At 197lbs, Rutgers’ #14 Greg Bulsak will look to continue his early season dominance as he will take on #26 Max Shaw of UNC. Bulsak has manhandled opponents during his 4-0 start and Shaw should be the latest victim of that. Shaw is no pushover though, as he qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, going 2-2 before bowing out, but Bulsak appears to be on another level at the moment.

When the dust settles, I expect Rutgers to win six of ten matches here and pull out a close team victory. If VanBrill and Turley can take out their opponents, this could end up being another early season dominant performance for the Rutgers Wrestling squad.

The matches will be broadcast via BTN Plus ($$) and can be heard on the radio via WRSU 88.7FM.

On last note, I have to shout out true freshman Tony White for claiming the 149lbs crown wrestling unattached at the Shorty Hitchcock Memorial Tournament last weekend. While we should’ve seen this coming since he’s from South Plainfield, it’s been an awesome surprise to see his early success here on the banks.