No. 18 Rutgers Wrestling finally makes their return to the long-running Ken Kraft Midlands Championships that will have its 58th incarnation take place over December 29th and 30th in Hoffman Estates, IL.
The Scarlet Knights haven’t competed at the Midlands Championships since the 2017-18 season when they were led to a second place finish behind a gold medal run from Nick Suriano.
Originally slated to make their return to the annual tournament last year, Rutgers had to change plans last minute after the tournament directors cancelled the Midlands Championships for public safety reasons stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
I personally love the Midlands Championships. They represent the true start of the season in my opinion for the teams that didn’t enter the Las Vegas based Cliff Keen Invitational that took place earlier this December and first opportunity to see how your team/individuals stack up against some of the best Division 1 wrestling has to offer.
A notable team that won’t be sending a full lineup to the Midlands this year are the No. 2 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes who have won the tournament 29 times overall, including the last seven.
Conversely, we can expect full lineups from five teams, including No. 18 Rutgers, currently ranked by the NWCA Coaches poll: No. 3 Arizona State, No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 15 Northwestern, and No. 21 Pittsburgh.
In addition to Iowa, partial roster entries are expected from: No. 4 Iowa State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 14 Northern Iowa, No. 17 Nebraska, and No. 19 Lehigh // South Dakota State (tied in rankings).
Even with Iowa mostly sitting this one out, the field remains strong and should be a tough test for the Scarlet Knights.
At 125lbs, Rutgers is entering both No. 18 Dean Peterson and Dylan Shawver, as expected, and we’ll see if these two will finally meet in a tournament after avoiding each other twice already this season.
If the two should square off, will the winner be named the official starter at 125lbs with the Big Ten portion of the schedule coming up? We’ll have to wait and see as the two will have to navigate a loaded field at 125 that could see as many as ten ranked wrestlers, including No. 2 Patrick Glory of Princeton.
At 133lbs, the Scarlet Knights will enter both No. 9 Joe Heilmann and Devon Britton and the two will also see their fair share of ranked wrestlers as eight are expected to enter the fray in this spot.
Heilmann has a shot at a top three finish in my mind for sure, but he’ll need to pull off an upset or two on his way there as three other top ten wrestlers will join him at 133 over the course of the two day tournament.
Things get interesting at 141lbs as Rutgers is obviously entering No. 14 Sammy Alvarez in a field that includes No. 1 ranked Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh, but we’ll also see Joe Olivieri going here as well.
Olivieri is the lone wrestler that will be competing unattached for Rutgers at the Midlands Championships and I expect a strong performance out of him this week.
Alvarez is coming off an upset loss to Princeton’s Danny Coles and will look to rebound here with a run to the finals looking like a strong possibility if things shake out properly for the Scarlet Knight.
At 149lbs, Rutgers No. 28 Tony White has a steep climb ahead of him as four of the top ten ranked wrestlers at 149lbs are expected to compete this year.
White caught a lot of Scarlet Knight fans by surprise at this time at this time last year at the MatMen Open (the tournament that replaced the then cancelled Midlands Championships) as he made a deep run as a mostly unheralded true freshman and will look to duplicate that performance at this week’s tournament.
Rutgers will enter a trio of wrestlers at 157lbs as Andrew Clark, Al Desantis, and Dylan Weaver will attempt to navigate a field that includes No. 1 ranked Quincy Monday of Princeton who earned a major decision over Clark just a few weeks ago.
Besides Monday, however, the other seven ranked wrestlers expected to enter at 157 all come in at No. 14 or lower, so the main race will likely be for 2nd and 3rd place.
At 165lbs, starter Connor O’Neill gets the nod along with true freshman Luke Gayer at another weight that features four top-ten ranked wrestlers.
Throughout his career O’Neill has shown that he has a flair for the dramatic, so a wild run from him to a top-eight finish wouldn’t be the most surprising thing I’ve seen in wrestling, but he’ll have a tough road to get there.
No. 31 Jackson Turley will be the sole entry at 174lbs for Rutgers and I think this is a spot where he can thrive. The Virginia native has a lone appearance at last season’s MatMen Open (where he was injured) as the only tournament he’s competed in since his run to an All-American finish at the 2021 NCAA Championships.
Turley seems like a wrestler built for tournaments and big upsets, and I like him a ton at this event where he’ll be at one of the weaker weights (rankings wise) overall.
At 184lbs, true freshman and No. 12 ranked Brian Soldano actually enters the tournament as the top-seeded wrestler and will look to become Rutgers second ever Midlands champion (that is, if one of his lower-weighted teammates don’t accomplish the feat before him).
The next highest ranked wrestler expected to enter here is No. 17 Anthony Montalvo, who Soldano dispatched via an 18-3 technical fall earlier this season.
Missing from action is former All-American John Poznanski who will be taking a redshirt year this season. I expected to see him competing here unattached, but maybe we’ll see him enter a different open tournament (perhaps the Southern Scuffle?) during this break from the dual meet schedule.
The Scarlet Knights won’t be entering a wrestler at 197lbs as Billy Janzer is likely still recovering from an early season knee injury that has slowed him down to start off the year.
The weight I’m probably the most excited about though as a Rutgers fan features the big boys at heavyweight and how No. 23 Boone McDermott will fair against some really strong competition.
Eleven (!) ranked wrestlers are expected to enter at heavyweight, including last year’s national runner-up in Cohlton Schultz, so this will be a fun weight class to watch regardless. John O’ Donnell, who’s coming off a second place finish at last Thursday’s Wilkes Open, will also be in the mix at heavyweight for Rutgers here.
When the dust settles, I expect a top-five finish for the Scarlet Knights in the team race with a ceiling of a top-three finish if they can pull off some upsets, so cozy up with some hot chocolate, find a comfy chair, and enjoy two days of some elite college wrestling action.
Wrestling begins Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET, with quarterfinals set for 8 p.m. Friday’s semifinals begin at noon, followed by the finals at 7:05 p.m. All sessions will stream on Big Ten Plus, with live stats provided by TrackWrestling.