Rutgers preps for Wisconsin, No. 8 Michigan
The No. 12 Rutgers wrestling team had much more down time in the month of January than they would have preferred.
Through the first 28 days of the new year, the Scarlet Knights (13-3, 3-2) had competed in just two dual meets with nine and 12-day breaks sandwiched in-between.
Itching to hit the mat against an opponent following a 12-day break, the Knights entered the final weekend of the month with matches against Maryland and Princeton over the span of three days.
Head coach Scott Goodale was unsure how his team would preform after so much time off, but with their performance Rutgers showed that their inactivity was more of a positive than anything.
"It’s hard to stay concentrated, especially someone like me who came off a big win. I wanna keep it rolling. I don’t want to wait a week to wrestle,” said senior heavyweight Billy Smith after Rutgers’ win over Maryland Jan. 29. “But I think it’s been a blessing … You get thrown into the grind and grinded down before Big Tens and that’s never good. So I think the schedule, although we had a lot of time off, I think it’s benefitting us a lot.”
The grind that Smith referred to is what the Knights are now in the midst of, a stretch of six dual meets spanning over 17 days.
This weekend, they will go toe-to-toe with the middle — and toughest — portion of that stretch, in the form of two Big Ten conference foes coming to town.
Rutgers will square off against Wisconsin (1-5, 0-3) in a 7 p.m. dual Friday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center. Then, following a one-day turnaround, the Knights will welcome No. 8 Michigan (10-2, 5-1) to Piscataway in a Sunday matinee.
“Definitely. It’s our biggest matchup (of the season),” said senior 197-pounder Hayden Hrymack. “We want the fans to be here. We want everyone to come out and support ... If we train the way we do and come in for these two matches, I think we should do very, very well and get our victories.”
Rutgers was originally scheduled to do battle with the Badgers back on Jan. 22, but the match was postponed due to Winter Storm Jonas. With a couple of grapplers in the lineup banged up at the time, the Knights felt fortunate that the match was pushed back.
Now at full strength, Rutgers is looking forward to get revenge on a conference opponent.
When the two programs met in Madison last year, the Knights led 18-7 through seven individual bouts. But the then-No. 18 Badgers reeled off a technical fall and two decision wins in the final three matches to even the score up at 18.
With the winner of the dual to be decided by criteria, Wisconsin was awarded the tie-breaking point for holding the advantage in criterion 3.15.3, outscoring Rutgers 64-52 in the individual matches that didn’t end in pin falls.
Although Wisconsin enters this year’s dual with a record that isn’t exactly astounding, the Knights aren’t taking them lightly. As seen with most teams in the Big Ten, the Badgers have a couple of grapplers in their lineup that are capable of doing some damage.
Ryan Taylor is coming off an All-American season at 133 pounds and is currently ranked No. 7 among his class. Rutgers will send out redshirt freshman No. 18 Anthony Giraldo to face Taylor.
On paper, the individual match of the night will come at 165-pounds, where No. 3 Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin will put his undefeated record on the line against No. 8 Anthony Perrotti. It won't be the first time these two have met as Jordan defeated Perrotti in the seventh place match at the 2014 NCAA Championships.
The Knights’ senior has compiled a 4-1 record against ranked grapplers in dual meets this season.
Wisconsin will give Rutgers everything it can handle and, regardless of the outcome, the Knights will have to quickly shift their focus to the heavyweight showdown that awaits them less than 48 hours later.
The No. 8 Wolverines come to town with seven ranked wrestlers in their lineup and five wins against ranked opponents this season, accolades Rutgers has on its resume as well.
There are scheduled to be four individual matches feature ranked grapplers pitted against one another, meaning that each side will have three bouts with a ranked grappler up against an unranked one. With four toss-up matches on the slate, an upset win from either side could prove be to be the deciding factor in an evenly-matched dual.
It will not be an easy task, but this weekend, the Knights have the chance to further add to what’s already been a monumental season with two more conference wins in front of their home crowd.
“We’re always so excited for the home matches because we get so many great fans and all the students get into it and the other athletes around us. Everyone’s really supporting wrestling right now,” said sophomore 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault. “I mean, I was walking around campus and I had like five people just today (Tuesday) be like ‘Friday, Sunday, I’ll be there, I can't wait to watch you guys.’ That’s just awesome to hear.”