Welcome back to another Rutgers Wrestling offseason notebook. In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been doing a “way too early” lineup preview for next season, where we started with the lightweights and middleweights, respectively.
Today, we’ll tackle the big boys and try to make sense of the suddenly crowded upperweight (174lbs-HWT) group, which is full of talented, young wrestlers (much like the rest of the team).
Let’s get right into it, but first two reminders: this is just my prediction of how things will shake out come next season and when you see a number like this (3) next to wrestler’s name, it denotes how many remaining years of eligibility they have.
Last season’s starter: Connor O’Neill (3)
2022-23 possible starters: Jackson Turley (3), Connor O’Neill
Thoughts: Jackson Turley, coming off an unexpected run to an 8th place All-American finish during the 2020-21 season, was the presumptive starter heading into last year’s campaign, but only wrestled in a few matches before having season ending surgery in January.
In his absence, freshman Connor O’Neill got the nod and despite struggling at times throughout the arduous Big Ten schedule, the young Scarlet Knight qualified for the NCAA tournament where he picked up a pin in his first round match, scoring three team points for Rutgers in the process.
Assuming he’s 100% recovered, this spot should be Turley’s when the new season rolls around next year and he’ll still have three years of eligibility on the banks after receiving a medical redshirt for this past season.
Last season’s starter: John Poznanski (3)
2022-23 possible starters: John Poznanski, Billy Janzer (2), Brian Soldano (4)
Thoughts: Another wrestler who had an All-American finish in the 2020-21 campaign, John Poznanski came into last year ranked as high as No. 4 nationally and looked the part throughout the first half of the season.
Poznanski had an up and down Big Ten portion of his schedule though, which left fans scrambling to understand what was going on with the returning All-American. Personally, I chalk it up to the grind of a full-season schedule where he was the only active wrestler at 184lbs on the roster and the fact that the Big Ten is full of stud wrestlers where no win is guaranteed.
Poznanski looked strong at nationals, where he finished in the round of 16, two wins shy of another AA performance and hopefully gained back a measure of confidence in the process.
Billy Janzer, who started at 184lbs before Poznanski arrived on the banks, moved up to 197lbs for the 2020-21 season where he was a national qualifier, but Coach Goodale indicated during October’s preseason media day that he would be moving back down to 184lbs where he was more comfortable.
We never got the chance to see him there, though, as he didn’t participate in any matches throughout the season due to injury. Will he stay at 184lbs for next season or does he bump back up to 197lbs?
True freshman Brian Soldano, a three-time NJ State Champion who competed last season at 190lbs could feasibly make the cut to 184lbs, but he may slot in better up a weight.
Last season’s starter: Greg Bulsak (0)
2022-23 possible starters: Billy Janzer, Brian Soldano, PJ Casale (4), Kyle Epperly (3)
Thoughts: By far the most open weight in the lineup, the 197lbs class has been vacated by Greg Bulsak who closed out his short, but stellar career on the banks with an All-American finish last season.
Who steps in for the Scarlet Knights at this spot will be one of the more intriguing storylines heading into next season. As stated earlier, Billy Janzer competed at this weight two years ago, but was heading back down to 184lbs at the start of last season.
Two highly recruited freshmen are due to arrive in Piscataway this fall with the aforementioned three-time state champ Brian Soldano and 2022 runner-up at 215lbs PJ Casale both figuring to be in the mix at 197lbs.
Casale would have to make a significant cut to get to 197lbs, but it may be his best move as he currently finds himself in no-man’s-land, where he would be one of the smallest heavyweights in the country without some major bulking up.
Sophomore Kyle Epperly saw some action at 197lbs last season, filling in for Bulsak on a few occasions, so he’ll be a factor here as well.
Last season’s starter: Boone McDermott (2)
2022-23 possible starters: Boone McDermott, Kyonte Hamilton (3), PJ Casale
Thoughts: The owner of some of the more exciting moments at Jersey Mike’s Arena last season, Boone McDermott looks to be the likely starter again once the calendar hits November this year.
McDermott struggled at times as the heavyweight class in the Big Ten is daunting and full of All-Americans, but also looked quick and strong when he would get to his offense against some of the best.
Prized recruit Kyonte Hamilton, who is making a name for himself on the football field, joined the team at the conclusion of the pigskin season, but only saw action in a single open tournament, much to the chagrin of the Rutgers faithful.
It’s a difficult situation for Coach Goodale and staff, as McDermott is no pushover who can just be dismissed when Hamilton is ready to go in January but does the Maryland prep sensation give them a better chance to compete in the Big Ten?
Hamilton outweighs McDermott by ~40lbs and would have a size advantage over the majority of heavyweights nationwide, but it’s still to be seen where he would stack up against the best of the Big Ten and beyond.
Incoming freshman PJ Casale could decide to bulk up from the 215lbs weight class he competed in during his senior year at Passiac Valley high school, but I would guess he takes a redshirt in this spot to do so.
That does it for our “way too early” lineup preview for next season. It’s only April, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, transfers to come in, and freestyle action to be had. Stay tuned throughout this offseason as I’ll continue to cover things around the team as they happen and thanks for reading, I had a ton of fun writing these previews.