Iowa offers first Big Ten opponent, challenge for Rutgers
It’s the first time that the Rutgers wrestling team takes the mat in 2015. It’s also the first time this season that the Scarlet Knights will have their best lineup ready to go in dual competition.
But most importantly, Friday marks the first time that No. 23 Rutgers will take the mat and compete against a Big Ten opponent as a member of its new conference.
That opponent is No. 1 Iowa, and its style of wrestling and impressive pedigree marks one of the first challenges for the Knights as they keep climbing and building for March.
The chance to open up 2015 leaves the whole Rutgers Wrestling Room feeling elated, but it leaves head coach Scott Goodale feeling something unique he hasn’t felt this season.
“I’m excited. It’s a good opportunity for us and we are fired up,” Goodale said. “We are going to wrestle our tail off – that’s really all we can do. It’s our first Big Ten match, so I’m sure there will be some nerves. It’s the best team in the country, so we have to show up ready to fight, and fight hard. If we do that, then we will be fine.”
While the Hawkeyes pose one of the biggest challenges of the dual-meet season, Rutgers feels well equipped to take on the task of a team that has won 23 team National Championships while also fielding 52 individuals who have stood atop the podium.
Deep in the recesses of the College Ave. Gym, junior 197-pounder Andrew Campollatano sat in the wrestling room post-practice on the first day of 2015 – long after all of his teammates had already left to go shower.
He sat with all of the Knights coaches, perhaps thinking about how long the road was to get to his first mat action since 2012 at the NCAAs. But either way, his first match in a singlet with the Block ‘R’ comes Friday night at the RAC.
“It definitely has that sense of excitement for sure. It’s all finally coming together. My weight is coming off, everything is good and I’m really excited,” Campollatano said. “I’m ready for it and I have no doubts. I just have to go out and work my hardest – that’s all I can really do – work my butt off.”
Part of the reason the Bound Brook (New Jersey) High School product came to Rutgers was the sense of being at home in the New Jersey program. Now, Campollatano joins the Knights' lineup when it will be its strongest.
Junior heavyweight Billy Smith missed nearly two months with a leg injury this season but returned to competition last month at The Grapple at the Garden. Redshirt freshman 165-pounder Nick Gravina, who also missed an extended period of time after a shoulder injury, joined him.
Coupled with a strong lineup that has already gone 9-0 in dual-competition, Smith, Gravina and Campollatano all add an elite edge to a Rutgers team full of podium aspirations.
“This is our best lineup,” Goodale said. “We are going to give our best lineup and put it up against the No. 1 team in the country. We’ll give them our best effort, and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we can pick off some of those guys.”
Iowa marks the first of a stretch of Big Ten competition for the Knights as they enter their conference matches.
While the Hawkeyes may be one of the toughest challenges this season, Goodale is optimistic for any Big Ten dual.
“I think this is a chance to make a statement in the Big Ten. You don’t want to be the bottom of a conference – and we don’t think we are near the bottom at all,” Goodale said. “I don’t want to hear, ‘Welcome to the Big Ten’ after it’s all said and done. I want them to say, ‘Wow, this is going to be a good program. This is a good addition to the Big Ten Conference.’ That’s the way we are looking at it. These kids want respect and they are excited.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.