The time has finally come for all the hard work put in throughout the summer and season to pay off. Hours upon hours scrapping in the wrestling room while piling on injuries and fatigue, this is what it’s all for.
Forgive me the minor hyperbole, but it doesn’t get better than the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament in my opinion. The best wrestlers from the best conference in the country duel it out to see who can earn a spot in history, or more importantly for the time being, a spot at the national tournament in two weeks.
For the No. 22 ranked Scarlet Knights, this is the culmination of an up and down regular season that brought significant highs, like Coach Scott Goodale picking up his 200th win as the leader of the Rutgers Wrestling team, but also some lows like the highly ranked Sammy Alvarez leaving the team after apparent “multiple” infractions involving weight discipline.
It’s all thrown out the window now, though, as what you do in March tends to be what people remember, so let’s get right into it as the 2023 Big Ten Conference Wrestling Tournament will kick off from Ann Arbor, Michigan this Saturday, 3/4.
125: Dean Peterson - 9th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Dean Peterson getting the ninth seed while being ranked 16th in the country according to Intermat should tell you all you need to know about the depth of this conference.
Peterson was 5-3 in Big Ten action this year and will likely bump up to the 8th seed with the unfortunate season (and career) ending injury to Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman, who was the 7th seed.
If that’s the case, Peterson could see Iowa’s No. 1 ranked and 3x National Champion Spencer Lee early, which would be a daunting task to say the least, so he’ll likely need a big run on the backside of the bracket to earn an automatic qualifier spot to nationals.
A rematch with Braxton Brown of Maryland, who handled Peterson via major decision earlier this season, could also loom large this weekend as the Scarlet Knight will look for a measure of revenge.
My prediction: Top 6.
133: Joe Heilmann - 7th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Heilmann grabbed the 7th seed this weekend in a weight class that also has nine auto-qualifier spots, which means earning a spot to nationals should be in the cards for the Scarlet Knight.
Although Heilmann wrestled a full Big Ten schedule this season, he ended up facing several backups who won’t be entered in the field this Saturday and Sunday.
He kept it close with 2nd seeded Jesse Mendez of Ohio State, 5-1, while picking up a tight win over former All-American Rayvon Foley of Michigan State, 4-3.
My prediction: Top 5.
141: Joe Olivieri - 7th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Much like last season but up at a new weight, Joe Olivieri entered the starting lineup in the middle of the year after incumbent Sammy Alvarez left the team.
And much like last season, he hit the ground running, going 5-2 in Big Ten action and earning the 7th seed this weekend.
Olivieri is an aggressive wrestler that loves to utilize re-attacks a la former RU All-American Scott DelVecchio and he’ll need to be on his A-game to out wrestle his seed this weekend.
If he can pick up a win in his opening round bout, he’ll likely see 2nd seeded Beau Bartlett of Penn State, who picked up a major decision win over Olivieri a few weeks ago.
My prediction: Top 7
149: Tony White - 10th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Redshirt freshman Tony White epitomized the up and down nature of the Scarlet Knight season in his first year in the starting lineup, going 12-10 overall and 2-6 in conference duals.
He did end the dual season on a high note, however, picking up a win over Nebraska’s 11th seeded Dayne Morton.
White will need to out wrestle his seed this weekend to earn a spot at nationals as his resume probably wouldn’t get him in with an at-large bid.
My prediction: Non-Qualifier
157: Andrew Clark - 13th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 10
This is a bizarrely deep weight, probably the deepest in the country, with the No. 33 ranked Clark of Rutgers getting the 13th seed here. For more perspective, Brayton Lee of Minnesota, a former All-American, is the 11th seed.
Clark, who had a rough Big Ten schedule this season, went 1-9 against the prospective field this weekend so his seed is justified, but he may have done enough throughout the season to boost his resume to an at-large bid, should he not finish in the top-10 when Sunday’s medal matches roll in.
Still, I like Clark to out-wrestle his seed and earn an auto-qualifier spot here, rendering his need for an at-large bid moot.
My prediction: Top 10
165: Rob Kanniard - 12th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 8
Rob Kanniard didn’t make his dual meet debut at 165lbs until early January against Bloomsburg and with that, only appeared in seven official matches this season, going 4-3.
I was happy to see him back in the lineup, though, as I feel he represents the Scarlet Knight’s best offering at 165lbs this season. Unfortunately for Kanniard, the limited action has caused him to earn a 12th seed this weekend, and with an at-large bid unlikely, he’ll have some work to do to get a ticket to nationals.
If this weight had one additional auto-qualifier spot, I’d predict Kanniard in that ninth place match with a spot at nationals on the line, but with only eight auto-invitations at 165lbs, I don’t see a path for Kanniard.
My prediction: Non-Qualifier
174: Jackson Turley - 10th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 7
Former All-American Jackson Turley earned the 10th seed this weekend after a 8-10 regular season (2-5 in conference) and much like Kanniard, will have a tough hill to climb to earn a spot at nationals.
174lbs in the Big Ten has the fewest number of auto-qualifier spots at seven and Turley will have to pull off multiple upsets to get himself in the mix for nationals.
And although the field features returning NCAA Champion from Penn State Carter Starocci who took out Turley via major decision, the Scarlet Knight looked exceptionally strong against second seeded Mikey Labriola of Nebraska when the two met to close out the dual meet season.
With that said, if anyone can turn it on and make a run, I believe it’s Turley, so we’ll see what he has in the tank this weekend.
My prediction: Non-Qualifier
184: Brian Soldano - 8th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
After a huge splash onto the collegiate scene to start the season, Rutgers’ true freshman Brian Soldano went through the ringer that is the Big Ten schedule, losing three in a row at one point to wrestlers he could possibly see this weekend.
Penn State’s two-time NCAA Champion Aaron Brooks, who dispatched Soldano via second period technical fall earlier this season, leads the field here and is the prohibitive favorite to take home his second Big Ten title.
Soldano’s resume is likely strong enough to earn him a spot at nationals regardless of this weekend’s outcome, but RU fans would love to see the talented freshman make another splash in a big spot on Saturday and Sunday.
If Soldano can out-wrestle his seed here, it could be a huge momentum boost heading into the national tournament.
My prediction: Top 8
197: Billy Janzer - 11th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Before I get into the preview at this weight, I want to qualify that Janzer is probably my favorite wrestler on this squad right now and if this is his last hurrah in an RU singlet, he’s been an absolute grinder throughout his time on the banks.
Janzer grabbed the 11th seed here after an early season injury slowed his return from another injury that sidelined him for all of last year.
Penn State’s returning NCAA Champion Max Dean and Nebraska’s Silas Allred lead the fray here at 197lbs and are ironically the last two wrestlers Janzer faced in dual action this season.
It’s going to be hard, but I think Janzer has another run in him and will find himself in the 9th place match on Sunday looking to cement his spot at nationals.
My prediction: Top 9
HWT: Boone McDermott - 6th Seed - Automatic Qualifier Spots - 9
Big Boone McDermott finds himself with the 6th seed in a bracket where seeds 1-4 all hold the same rank nationwide (No. 1 Mason Parris (Michigan), No. 2 Greg Kerkvilet (PSU), No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa), and No. 4 Lucas Davison (Northwestern).
McDermott missed the majority of the conference dual schedule due to a knee injury, but looked to be back in form against Nebraska’s Cale Davidson during their season ending dual meet a few weeks ago where he knee-picked his way to a major decision win.
With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boone is on a “pitch count” this weekend and regardless of the outcome, you may only see him for two matches to preserve his knee.
My prediction: Top 8
Picking up seven automatic qualifiers to nationals in my opinion would be a great outcome when the dust settles on Sunday afternoon. As stated all season, this is a young team that will only get better with time. If I had to predict a wrestler to significant out-wrestle their seed this weekend, it would be Peterson as he’s looked the most consistent all season.
2023 B1G SCHEDULE (SATURDAY, MARCH 4)
10 a.m. Session I BTN/B1G+
5:30 p.m. Session II (Wrestlebacks) B1G+
7:30 p.m. Session II (Semifinals) BTN
2023 B1G SCHEDULE (SUNDAY, MARCH 5)
1 p.m. Session III (Conso Semis) B1G+
4:30 p.m. Session IV (Championships) BTN
4:30 p.m. Session IV (Placement Matches) B1G+