Rutgers Wrestling held their annual media day last week at the APC in Piscataway and I broke down Coach Goodale’s press conference at that time. The media on hand was also able to interview select wrestlers which was a great chance to get individual perspectives on the upcoming season, the shortened and Covid impacted past two seasons, and their expectations heading forward.
I was able to briefly talk with Rob Kanniard, Sebastian Rivera, Mike VanBrill, and John Poznanski, all of whom were incredibly forthcoming and answered my (sometimes confusing) questions fully and honestly.
I first sat down with redshirt freshman Rob Kanniard, the anticipated 157lbs starter whose season was cut short last year after he couldn’t compete at the Big Ten Tournament. Kanniard is my dark horse pick to surprise people this year and after hearing Coach Anthony Ashnault speak so highly of him during an interview a few weeks back, I asked Kanniard about that praise: “It’s great Ashnault is mentioning me because I’m working really hard in the room and that hard work is paying off and we’re starting to see a lot of good results.”
He also talked about how missing both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament was disappointing, but he’s using it as fuel to drive him this season: “I want it even more now, I barely got a taste of it last year only having four matches and it’s pushing me to be better everyday and really improve and work on everything I need to work on to get where I want to be,” said Kanniard.
I asked him how he felt about being able to compete in front of a big crowd at home this season and he couldn’t be more excited. “That’s a huge motivation for me, I can’t wait,” he said. “I go to bed thinking about it, I dream about it-as I drive up to practice, I’m playing my walk-out song and it’s giving me goosebumps thinking about it.” I won’t spoil Kanniard’s walk-out song, but I will say he’s ready to rock this season.
Next up was Sebastian Rivera, a senior fresh off his 8th place finish at the 2021 World Championships. I first asked him about that experience and whether he prefers folkstyle (collegiate) wrestling or freestyle (Olympic) wrestling at this point in his career. Rivera said, “I think freestyle is a little better, although I’m honestly falling in love with folkstyle again, being on top and being able to ride people and break them that way, but freestyle is just a lot better overall.”
We also spoke on the competition at 141lbs in the Big Ten and beyond, and what he needs to do to improve on his fourth place finish last year at nationals. “I think this year my lungs are under me a little bit better,” explained Rivera. “Last year, I would say Covid had an effect on my lungs. In those Nick Lee (Penn State’s returning 141lbs National Champion) matches, I would get so tired and this year I haven’t felt that once. I feel like I can wrestle hard for seven minutes and push the pace and I think that’s going to make a big difference in those matches.”
5th year senior Mike VanBrill spoke about his upcoming final season and what he needs to do to build upon his 3rd place finish at last year’s Big Ten Tournament and how he can replicate those results at the national tournament. “I think the most important thing is just being myself,” he said. “I know at this point in my life that I’m good enough, I’m well trained, I’m well experienced. I just need to stay the course and be more consistent this year and even bigger things are going to happen.”
I then asked him about how he utilizes moves that you don’t see very often and how it tends to catch his opponents off guard: “Ever since I was little it’s been about finding those big moves that have consistently worked for me, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” VanBrill also mentioned that while he has tons of moves he likes to utilize, he tends to just take what’s in front of him.
Lastly, I spoke to John Poznanski, a returning freshman All-American who took many by surprise last season during his run to a 4th place finish at nationals. I asked Poz about his popularity and how he has become a household name among NJ wrestling fans: “I think it’s awesome. I love the attention; I love all the people saying my name… the fans just bring more energy for me to feed off.”
Coach Ashnault mentioned that Poz is a natural leader who doesn’t bring a loud presence to the room but rather leads by example. In asking him about that, Poz said “In high school I was the same way too, I was never a pump the crowd up guy, nor am I very vocal in the room- it’s like Coach said, I just like to lead by example. I guess the ways I do things are different than some people and I hope that’s a good thing.”
Finally, I asked him about the competition he’ll face this year in the Big Ten and across the national landscape and what he needs to do to improve on his finish from last year. “I think I have to be smarter, and better at my technique which I’ve been working on all summer,” said Poznanski. “Staying centered on top, riding on top is another element I have to do better at, but just wrestling smarter and picking my times is the most important thing.”
Each wrestler I talked to seemed incredibly dialed in for the upcoming season and who could blame them? The combination of the last two shortened seasons along with the anticipation of wrestling in front of a large home crowd at the newly named Jersey Mike’s Arena (formerly the RAC) has everyone around the program eager to get the season started.
I want to thank the wrestlers for the opportunity to ask them a few questions as they all gave great responses. The season starts this Sunday at 10:00AM with a quad meet at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway.