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No. 15 Illinois at No. 17 Rutgers Wrestling Preview

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The Scarlet Knights will look to rebound from their first loss on the season as they take on the Fighting Illini.

Rutgers Athletic Communications/Kostas Lymperopoulos

No. 17 Rutgers Wrestling will look to get back to their winning ways Friday night when they host No. 15 Illinois at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway.

The Scarlet Knights (11-1, 1-1) suffered their first loss of the season Sunday when they fell 19-14 to then No. 16 Wisconsin.

Both the Fighting Illini (2-0, 0-0) and Rutgers feature seven ranked wrestlers on their rosters according to the latest offering from Intermat which means we could have some exciting matchups Friday night.

The ranks with regards to Rutgers stayed fairly level this week: at 125lbs, Dylan Shawver dropped one spot to No. 31 while Sebastian Rivera and Mike VanBrill each moved up one spot at 141lbs and 149lbs, to No. 3 and No. 18 respectively.

Holding firm were Jackson Turley at 174lbs (No. 26), John Poznanski at 184lbs (No. 5) and Greg Bulsak at 197lbs (No. 7).

At 133lbs, Sammy Alvarez fell out of the rankings and NJ.com’s James Kratch reported today that he would no longer be competing at 133lbs due to weight issues. Alvarez will now serve as the backup to Sebastian Rivera and Mike VanBrill for the remainder of the season with eyes on the starting 141lbs spot next year when Rivera’s eligibility runs out.

Stepping in at 133lbs for the rest of year will be newly ranked No. 20 and true freshman Joey Olivieri. Olivieri was a three-time NJ State Champion and looked the part on Sunday when he took out then No. 25 Kyle Burwick of Wisconsin in his varsity debut.

The young Olivieri will face a tough test Friday night where he could see returning All-American and No. 6 ranked nationally Lucas Byrd of the Illini. Byrd recently took the title at the MatMen Open (where Olivieri also competed, finishing in 5th place, but the two didn’t meet in the bracket) and finished 5th at last season’s national tournament.

Before they square off, No. 31 Dylan Shawver will likely see No. 26 Justin Cardani, also a MatMen Open champion. Shawver was 1-1 this past weekend where he majored then No. 25 Jacob Moran of Indiana but fell to then No. 4 Eric Barnett of Wisconsin.

At 141lbs, No. 3 Sebastian Rivera could see No. 5 Dylan Duncan, but the Illini wrestler has yet to compete this season and I would be surprised if he makes his debut against the devastating Rivera who is 14-0 on the season with a 100% bonus point rate.

A similar situation can be found at 149lbs as the Illini have two-time national qualifier Mikey Carr on the roster, but he also hasn’t competed this season. I like VanBrill here regardless of who the Illini send out, as he looks to rebound from his first loss of the season against Wisconsin’s No. 10 Austin Gomez.

Up at 184lbs, No. 5 John Poznanski looks to keep his stellar season going as he’ll have No. 19 Zac Braunagel. Braunagel is a two-time national qualifier at 184lbs, but I expect Poznanski to handle his business here as he always does.

The last potential ranked matchup of the dual will be at 197lbs as Rutgers’ No. 7 Greg Bulsak will square off against No. 29 Matt Wroblewski. Bulsak has been an absolute hammer this season and there should be no difference Friday as the Illini wrestler Wroblewski has not competed since November 6th and could show some rust on the mat.

Illinois lineup also features ranked wrestlers at 165lbs in No. 27 Danny Braunagel, who beat his anticipated Rutgers opponent Andrew Clark 13-0 when the two met at the MatMen Open and No. 17 Luke Luffman at heavyweight, who placed 3rd at the MatMen Open.

As I stated earlier, I don’t think Dylan Duncan makes his debut Friday, so based on that, I have Rutgers taking six of ten matches here to win by a score of 21-14. The Scarlet Knights need a strong showing as No. 1 Penn State looms on the horizon as Rutgers will head to University Park, PA to challenge the Nittany Lions (and their seven! top-ten ranked wrestlers) on Sunday.

The action will begin Friday night at 7:00PM and will be streamed on BTN Plus ($$). The Jersey Mike’s Arena COVID-19 entrance procedures can be found here.