Welcome back to the Rutgers Wrestling offseason notebook. Last week, we took a stab at predicting next year’s starting lineup, beginning with the lightweights. This week, we’ll do the same with the middleweights (149-165lbs), along with some news regarding Assistant Coach Anthony Ashnault and final recruit rankings, which will follow after.
So let’s get right into it and as a reminder, these are just my predictions and aren’t based on any insider information, especially this early in the offseason.
Also, as in my first lineup preview, (2) after a wrestler’s name refers to their remaining collegiate eligibility.
Last season’s starter: Mike VanBrill (0)
2022-23 possible starters: Anthony White (4), Sammy Alvarez (2)
Thoughts: Departing the banks after a solid career in which he donned a scarlet singlet for over a half decade is Mike VanBrill, a wrestler who ends his career having had a ton of exciting performances throughout his time at Rutgers.
For his replacement, all signs are pointing to redshirt freshman Anthony White who wrestled to a stellar 21-4 record last season while competing unattached. A state champion his senior year at powerhouse South Plainfield high school, White gained the attention of the RU faithful early, taking out incumbent starter VanBrill in their preseason wrestle-off.
Coach Goodale and staff chose to redshirt White despite the result, a decision that should hopefully bear fruit when November rolls around as the freshman was able to get tons of mat time to help prepare him for the grind of a full collegiate season.
A wildcard in this spot could be Sammy Alvarez who’s large frame could be filled out to compete at 149lbs now that he won’t be trying to cut to 133lbs anymore.
Last season’s starter: Rob Kanniard (3)
2022-23 possible starter: Rob Kanniard, Al Desantis (3), Dylan Weaver (4)
Thoughts: In his first season as a full-time starter, Rob Kanniard had an up and down campaign where, at times, he looked like he could compete with anyone in the country but also was prone to costly mistakes that would leave you scratching your head.
Without a doubt, Kanniard possesses the raw talent to make a ton of noise in the Big Ten and will look to become a more well-rounded wrestler during the offseason.
He looked strong as the regular season came to a close, but unfortunately broke his nose during the second to last dual meet, resulting in him having to wear an obtrusive, Hannibal-esque mask to protect himself for the Big Ten tournament.
Al Desantis, who filled in for Kanniard a few times throughout the year figures to be the main competition at 157lbs along with freshman Dylan Weaver who redshirted last season.
Incoming freshman Luke Gayer competed at 160lbs last season for Calvary Chapel high school (CA) and could also be in the mix here, though my initial instinct is that he’ll take a redshirt or bump to 165lbs.
Last season’s starter: Andrew Clark (3)
2022-23 possible starter: Andrew Clark, Luke Gayer (4), Eric Freeman (4)
Thoughts: Another young wrestler with a ton of upside, Andrew Clark felt the grind of a collegiate season last year as he competed in 33 matches for the Scarlet Knights. That experience is invaluable and will help Clark grow into a stronger wrestler as his career continues.
A sophomore for 2022-23, Clark kept his matches against some of the best in the country close last year, displaying stingy defense and now needs to develop some offensive attacks that he’s confident in.
165lbs will likely be Clark’s spot again come November as the only depth currently at the weight will be incoming freshman Luke Gayer and Eric Freeman, unless Al Desantis jumps up a weight to try and earn the starting spot here.
That does it for the middleweight group, which much like the lowerweights will be young with tons of eligibility left on the banks.
Next week, we’ll tackle the upperweights, but first let’s take a look at actual news around the team.
Assistant Coach Anthony Ashnault competed at the 2022 Bill Farrell Memorial International Open in Cedar Falls, Iowa this past weekend, where he looked to qualify for the World Team Trials later this year.
The former Rutgers’ National Champion rolled to the finals where he met Tyler Berger, a Nebraska alum who built a 6-2 lead over Ashnault with 30 seconds remaining in their championship bout.
The Scarlet Knight coach went to work late, earning a takedown to cut the lead to 6-4 before a controversial ending where it looked like Ashnault earned a second takedown on the edge of the mat but the official stopped the action early, rewarding Ashnault with a single step-out point rather than the two that would come with a takedown.
Now trailing 6-5 with under five seconds left in the match, Ashnault rushed at Berger looking to gain the match clinching takedown, but the former Cornhusker ran for his life and ended up out of bounds, giving Ashnault a point to tie the match at six.
In freestyle wrestling, however, there is no overtime, and Berger was awarded the win via criteria, having three takedowns to Ashnault’s two.
Berger came into the open having already qualified for the World Team Trials though, and with the second place finish, Ashnault secured his spot in the trials where he’ll look to earn a spot on the world team later this year.
In recruiting news, MatScouts put out their final national high school rankings for the 2021-22 season and future Scarlet Knights where well represented:
No. 13 Joe Fongaro (138lbs)
No. 8 Luke Gayer (160lbs)
No. 1 Brian Soldano (182lbs)
No. 4 PJ Casale (220lbs)
Another neat statistic I noticed earlier in the week was that when the incoming freshman arrive on the banks, Rutgers will have half (7/14) of the 2020 NJ State Champions on their roster to begin the season.
For a team that used to lose out on the state champions to other schools throughout the country, keeping half of them home to represent the Scarlet Knights is another feather in the cap for Coach Scott Goodale.
Be sure to come back next week where we’ll see how the suddenly crowded upperweight group may shake out lineup-wise for next season. If you missed any of my offseason notebooks, they can be found here.