No. 18 Rutgers Wrestling competed at the 58th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships last week in Hoffman Estates, Illinois and came home with six individual placewinners and a seventh place finish as a team.
Sammy Alvarez (141lbs) led the way with a third place finish, while Dean Peterson (125lbs) and Brian Soldano (184lbs) both finished fourth. Overall, this was a disappointing outcome for Rutgers when so many factors looked to be in the Scarlet Knight’s favor coming in.
Perennial Midlands gold medalists Iowa were a no-show, while Rutgers would be entering their entire starting lineup (less 197lbs) with multiple backups at several weights that had their own good shot of placing last week.
The highest ranked team sending the majority of their lineup, No. 3 Arizona State, was still missing several key contributors and on top of that, multiple high ranked wrestlers were scratched the morning of competition.
This is all to say that the table was set for Rutgers to make a big run at a top three finish, but instead they were victims to several upsets while seemingly falling short in the vast majority of close matches.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Scarlet Knights as there were several positives to takeaway from the annual tournament (strong wrestleback performances overall for one) so let’s see what we can takeaway from last week’s performance.
Has Dean Peterson pulled away from Dylan Shawver for the Starting Job at 125lbs?
Both wrestlers looked strong last week, but it was Peterson who came away with the fourth place finish (he medically forfeited out of the third place match).
Coach Goodale remains non-committal about who will ultimately get the nod, but he indicated that Peterson would get both starts this weekend, so maybe actions are speaking louder than words here.
Sammy Alvarez Bounces Back for a Third Place Finish:
Rutgers’ Alvarez started his Midlands Championships slow, eeking out decision wins in his first two matchups before a major decision and pinfall followed in his subsequent bouts.
Alvarez then fell in the semifinals by a tight 3-2 decision, before bouncing back in the consolation bracket with two decision wins to capture the bronze medal. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to see Alvarez in the finals against No. 1 Cole Matthews of Pitt, but I was incredibly happy to see him collect himself following the upset loss in the semis to make the run to third.
The Question Marks Continue for the Middleweights:
The middleweights have in recent years been an area of concern for the Scarlet Knights and that continued last week.
The lone bright spot was Andrew Clark at 157lbs who made a run to the semifinals seemingly out of nowhere, but fell in sudden victory to top seed Anthony Artalona of Penn in a heartbreaking match where a penalty point cost Clark the victory.
Tony White (149lbs) and Connor O’Neill (165lb) both went 0-2 while Jackson Turley’s struggles continued at 174lbs where he went 1-2. The bottom line here is this group needs to be better, and I strongly believe they have the ability to do so.
Unfortunately, the path ahead doesn’t get any easier as the Big Ten schedule looms on the horizon, but iron sharpens iron and I know Coach Goodale will have these guys ready to roll.
The Wild Brian Soldano Rollercoaster Ride:
True freshman Brian Soldano was the talk of the tournament at the end of day one when he pulled out a win via pinfall in his quarterfinal match against Evan Bates of Northwestern after trailing 14-6.
Soldano constantly lets guys in on his legs because he has so much confidence in his ability to turn the situation into his own points, but we may have seen the limit of that at the Midlands Championships.
He was pinned in his semifinal match while trailing pretty heavily (should be noted that his opponent was a DIII National Champion) but bounced back in the consolation to earn a spot in the third place match. But it was there again where the limits of his ju-jitsu style defense were exposed as he fell 12-6.
Former Penn State National Champion Mark Hall was quoted once where he said that his coaches pulled him aside and told him that not every shot attempt against him needs to be a scramble. That is, sometimes it’s best to just sprawl, feed hips, and get back to your feet.
Soldano is one of the most exciting prospects in the country, and my money is on a big bounce back this weekend.
Big Boone McDermott looked solid in his 7th place finish which included a strong showing against the returning national runner up from Arizona State Colhton Schultz who edged out McDermott 5-3 in the consolation bracket.
Injury and depth concerns loom at 197lbs as Rutgers didn’t enter a competitor at the weight with Billy Janzer still dealing with a knee injury. A healthy Janzer will be vital to the team’s success during the second semester, so here’s hoping the extended rest allowed him time to recover.
The squad is back in action this weekend against Bloomsburg and Rider, with the latter matchup being dubbed the “BIG-MAC Rivalry,” so that should be fun. Look for previews of those matches coming out later in the week.