The Upperweight group for Rutgers Wrestling started the season as not just most talented ever assembled by Coach Scott Goodale, but also the most important, slamming the door shut on several early season duals.
The group would lose a key cog mid-season though, as returning All-American Jackson Turley’s campaign ended early with a shoulder injury.
Then, in the heart of the Big Ten schedule, regular hammers John Poznanski, also a returning AA, and Greg Bulsak found themselves in a slump where they were losing matchups in which they were generally favored.
Heavyweight Boone McDermott, who was ranked as high as No. 30 this season, also struggled in Big Ten competition.
But there are signs that the group is rebounding just in time for a strong postseason run as Poznanski, Bulsak, and McDermott combined to win their last eight matches to close out the regular season.
Freshman Connor O’Neill, who has been the 174lbs starter since Turley went down with his injury, now has experienced the rigor of a Big Ten schedule, which will serve him well in the future.
Poznanski and Bulsak find themselves seeded within the pre-allocation window at their respective weights, while McDermott and O’Neill will need to have upsets on their minds to earn the chance to dance at nationals.
174lbs: Rutgers Entry – Connor O’Neill
Overall Record: 11-14
Big Ten Record: 1-5
Nate Dugan (Princeton) 3-2 dec.
Joshua Kim (Harvard) 4-3 dec.
Nate Jimenez (Michigan State) 3-1 dec.
No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) 19-2 tech. fall.
No. 2 Logan Massa (Michigan) by FALL
No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) 19-8 major dec.
No. of Pre-Allocations: 8
Prediction: The Big Ten features the top four ranked wrestlers nationwide at 174lbs, with each earning the seed respective to their rank at this year’s conference tournament.
Carter Starocci, Penn State’s returning Nation Champion, cemented his No. 1 seed with dual meet wins over No. 2 ranked Logan Massa (Michigan) and No. 4 Michael Kemerer of Iowa earlier this season.
Mikey Labriola, the third seeded wrestler representing the Cornhuskers of Nebraska, owns a win over Kemerer but took a loss to Massa, which led to one of the easier seeding meetings in Big Ten history.
Rutgers’ Connor O’Neill has dealt with the Big Ten baptism by fire since taking over for injured All-American Jackson Turley back in January and will get no respite here. The freshman has a ton to build on and has gained tremendous experience that will only make him better in years to come, but I don’t think he places here.
His opening round match will be against the returning national runner-up in Kemerer of Iowa, who has been sporting a shoulder brace throughout his final run for the Hawkeyes.
184lbs: Rutgers Entry – No. 9 John Poznanski
Overall Record: 16-4
Big Ten Record: 3-4
No. 16 Donnell Washington (Indiana) 4-2 dec.
No. 17 Zac Braunagel (Illinois) 5-2 dec.
No. 27 Chris Weiler (Wisconsin) 12-5 dec.
No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) 10-2 major dec.
No. 8 Kyle Cochran (Maryland) 9-4 dec.
No. 23 Layne Malczewski (Michigan State) by FALL
No. of Pre-Allocations: 12
Prediction: The returning National Champion, Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, is undefeated on the season, including a 3-1 win over 2020 Olympic Bronze Medalist, 4x All-American, and No. 2 ranked Myles Amine of Michigan.
The two wrestlers seem bound to square off in the finals here and at the national championships in two weeks, but they’ll be competing in arguably the deepest weight in the country as 12 out of 14 wrestlers at 184lbs in the Big Ten will automatically qualify for nationals.
John Poznanski, Rutgers’ returning All-American, should be in the mix here for a top-5 placing here as he faces off with Minnesota’s No. 22 Isaiah Salazar in the first round, before a potential matchup with Amine in Rd. 2.
A single win at any point this weekend should lock up Poznanski’s ticket to nationals, but I expect the young Scarlet Knight to grab a 5th place finish.
The grind of the Big Ten schedule caught up with Poznanski during the regular season, but Coach Goodale indicated that the returning All-American is 100% healthy as can be for this time of the year and ready to show out this Saturday and Sunday.
197lbs: Rutgers Entry – No. 12 Greg Bulsak
Overall Record: 19-4
Big Ten Record: 4-4
No. 9 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) 3-2 dec.
No. 19 Luke Stout (Princeton) 9-3 dec.
No. 20 Braxton Amos (Wisconsin) 8-7 dec.
No. 1 Max Dean (Penn State) 9-6 dec.
No. 5 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State) 12-4 major dec.
No. 11 Patrick Brucki (Michigan) 4-2 SV1
No. of Pre-Allocations: 11
Prediction: Another weight with an absurd amount of pre-allocation spots, almost every match up at 197lbs at the Big Ten Tournament should be a barn-burner. Four of the top five wrestlers ranked nationally will be in the bracket, with No. 3 Eric Schultz of Nebraska picking up the first seed over Penn State’s No. 1 ranked Max Dean.
The two were due to meet back on February 6th during the Nebraska/Penn State dual, but the Nittany Lions didn’t send out Dean, and with the two having very similar resumes, I figure that put Schultz into the one seed in this spot.
The third seed, Cam Caffey of Michigan State, took some early season losses, but the always dangerous Spartan finished his regular season reeling off nine straight dual meet wins, including a 3-2 triumph over Max Dean.
Iowa’s Jacob Warner, a two-time All-American, picks up the fourth seed here, as his best Big Ten win this season came against the sixth seeded Thomas Penola of Purdue.
For Rutgers, No. 12 Greg Bulsak will look to do some damage from the seventh seed and like teammate John Poznanski, should only need a single win to lock up his trip to the national tournament.
Bulsak’s opening round matchup should be against No. 28 Andrew Davison of Northwestern with a rematch against the second seed Max Dean on the horizon if he can pick up his first-round win.
When the dust settles, I like Bulsak to sneak into a top-4 finish this weekend, significantly out-performing his seed.
285lbs: Rutgers Entry – Boone McDermott
Overall Record: 14-9
Big Ten Record: 2-5
Zach Schrader (Maryland) 3-1 dec.
David Szuba (Rider) by FALL
Brad Wilton (Michigan State) 3-1 SV1
No. 3 Mason Parris (Michigan) by FALL
No. 12 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) 6-3 dec.
No. 13 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State) 6-1 dec.
No. of Pre-Allocations: 9
Prediction: The Gable Steveson farewell tour continues this weekend at the Big Ten Championships as the defending 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist closes out his collegiate career.
The Minnesota star hasn’t lost in three years and has scored bonus points in all ten of his victories this season, including a 18-8 drumming of No. 3/4th seeded Mason Parris (Michigan) and a 17-7 thrashing of No. 4/2nd seeded Tony Cassioppi (Iowa).
Penn State’s No. 5 ranked Greg Kerkvliet picks up the 3rd seed in this bracket, owning a win over Mason Parris, but a loss to Cassioppi.
The 10th through 14th nationally ranked heavyweights also call the Big Ten home, so there should be a tight battle for a top-8 finish this weekend.
Rutgers’ Boone McDermott, the 12th seed, will need to grab a few upset wins to auto-qualify, but could go a long way in making his case for an at-large bid with a win or two here. To get started, McDermott will square off with Lucas Davison of Northwestern, the 5th seed, and Boone will need to get after him early and often to make the upset a reality.
If McDermott falls to Davison, he’ll likely have Brad Wilton of Michigan State in his first consolation bracket match, a wrestler he bested in sudden victory earlier this season.
I think Boone will out-wrestle his seed, but still fall short of that automatic-qualifier window and will look to pick up an at-large bid next week.
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+.