After donning a Scarlet Knight singlet for over 100 career matches, veteran leader Mike VanBrill has only two tournaments left in his collegiate career. VanBrill is a two-time national qualifier and appears to be hitting his peak at the perfect time, as he looks to close out his time on the banks with an All-American finish.
But first, he’ll look to make a splash at the Big Ten Conference Tournament this Saturday and Sunday as he guides his compatriots in the middleweight group, Rob Kanniard (157lbs) and Andrew Clark (165lbs).
Only VanBrill earned a seed that puts him in the auto-qualification window, so the path to nationals will need to feature some upsets for Kanniard and Clark.
You can read more about the auto-qualification process here.
If you missed the Lightweight group preview, you can find it here.
149lbs: Rutgers Entry – No. 15 Mike VanBrill
Overall Record: 17-2
Big Ten Record: 6-2
No. 17 Beau Bartlett (Penn State) 4-3 TB2
No. 27 Brent Moore (Clarion) 6-1 dec.
No. 29 Christian Kanzler (Illinois) 3-2 dec.
No. 32 Marcus Robinson (Cleveland St) 5-2 dec.
No. 5 Austin Gomez (Wisconsin) 11-1 major dec.
No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) 6-3 dec.
No. of Pre-Allocations: 7
Prediction: Returning national runner-up and No. 2 overall Sammy Sasso of Ohio State is the favorite here to repeat as Big Ten Champion as he comes into the tournament undefeated in conference action this season.
Second seeded Austin Gomez of Wisconsin is in line for comeback wrestler of the year as he also comes into the tournament undefeated in the Big Ten, after sitting out the past two seasons due to concussion concerns.
Rutgers’ No. 15 Mike VanBrill has developed into a terrific all-around wrestler for the Scarlet Knights with his only two losses on the season coming from Sasso and Gomez. His first-round matchup will be against Kanen Storr of Michigan with whom he split matches with last season.
VanBrill generally keeps his matches close and we’ll see if he can repeat his stellar tournament performance from last season that saw him storm his way to a 3rd place finish. I like VanBrill to finish top-7 at worst here, which would guarantee him a spot at nationals, but with how well he’s been wrestling lately, another deep run can’t be ruled out.
157lbs: Rutgers Entry – Rob Kanniard
Overall Record: 11-7
Big Ten Record: 5-1
Tony Negron (Penn State) 6-4 SV1
No. 4 Austin O’Connor (UNC) 12-6 dec.
No. 31 Garrett Model (Wisconsin) 13-8 dec.
No. of Pre-Allocations: 7
Prediction: This weight should be a battle for 2nd place as two-time All-American from Northwestern Ryan Deakin decided to come back to school for one last shot at a national title. He comes into the tournament undefeated (10-0) and is ranked 2nd nationally.
After Deakin, the Big Ten features six wrestlers ranked 9th-16th according to Intermat, so it should be a tightly contested bracket.
Of note, two-time national qualifier Brady Berge of Penn State received the 13th seed due to the fact he spent most of the season wrestling at 165lbs, but he would likely be a top six seed here as he’s ranked 13th in the country.
Rutgers’ entry, Rob Kanniard, will be sporting a protective facemask after breaking his nose against Princeton a few weeks back.
Kanniard has had an up and down season, but he is 5-1 in Big Ten competition heading into the tournament, but a couple of those wins were against backups that won’t be entered this weekend.
He’ll need to outperform his seed (8th) to guarantee himself a spot at nationals, but it will be tough. Kanniard will open his tournament against Bryce Hepner, a wrestler who originally committed to the Rutgers’ program, before flipping to Ohio State.
I like Kanniard to be in the 7th place match on Sunday, where a win would guarantee his spot at nationals.
165lbs: Rutgers Entry – Andrew Clark
Overall Record: 13-17
Big Ten Record: 3-5
Gaven Bell (Maryland) 16-0 tech. fall
No. 6 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) 10-4 dec.
No. 9 Cam Amine (Michigan) 3-1 dec.
No. of Pre-Allocations: 7
Prediction: No. 1 seed Carson Kharchla of Ohio State leads the fray here after going undefeated in Big Ten competition this season, including a win over No. 5 and second seeded Alex Marinelli of Iowa, a two-time All-American.
Wisconsin’s fireball freshman Dean Hamiti comes in as the three seed, with his only loss on the season coming against Marinelli.
Rutgers’ Andrew Clark will have his work cut out for him here, but he tends to keep his matches close, which could put him in line for an upset or two late in his bouts. The Scarlet Knight will open his tournament against Caleb Fish of Michigan State, whom he fell to by a 4-0 decision earlier in the season.
I like Clark to grab a win in the consolation bracket, but with only seven pre-allocations available at 165lbs, punching his ticket to nationals will be a daunting task.
Part three of our preview series will be out before the competition kicks off this Saturday from Lincoln, Nebraska. If you missed the Lightweight group preview, you can find it here.
Information on viewing the Big Ten Tournament this weekend can be found below:
From 11 a.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 5, BTN will once again carry the opening session on television with whip-around coverage and quad box views highlighting the most compelling matchups. On B1G+, individual mat cameras, as well as the quad box, will also be available to provide a comprehensive look at session one. For session two on Saturday night, coverage of the wrestleback matches begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and will be streamed exclusively on B1G+. Television coverage resumes for Saturday night’s semifinals from 8:30 p.m. ET through 10:30 p.m. ET, while B1G+ will continue with individual mat coverage for the semifinals and wrestleback matches.
On Sunday, March 6, competition begins at noon ET on B1G+ with individual mat cameras for the consolation semifinals. At 4:30 p.m. ET, television coverage resumes as Big Ten champions are crowned while streaming coverage of the third and fifth-place bouts will be available on B1G+.