Rutgers looks to sweep another double dual meet weekend in Great Lake State
For head coach Scott Goodale, the premise is simple enough: Wrestle the best guys.
This pertains to Oregon State, Purdue and all of the teams with no business wrestling a team of Rutgers’ caliber. At No. 11, the Scarlet Knights have plenty to work with, but that doesn’t make Goodale’s job any easier.
For much of the season, Goodale has touted his team as one with more depth than it knows what to do with, and in a sport like wrestling, spots are limited.
Going into arguably the most challenging weekend till date, the Scarlet Knights (9-2, 3-1) face their most daunting task in lineups and rotations as they hop from Ann Arbor to East Lansing in the span of two days. Rutgers will battle with No. 15 Michigan (5-4, 2-4) and Michigan State (4-7, 1-4).
Though Michigan State will likely follow the trail Purdue left in its path last Sunday, as evidenced by its slow start and losses to unranked Drexel and Northwestern, the Spartans have the opportunity to steal a few matches given some lackluster pairings on the part of the visiting Knights.
This comes to light especially considering Rutgers will be coming off of a dual meet at Michigan, and depending on how the matchups go in that battle, some spots may flip in one direction or another as they have recently.
One weight class that has been in contention is the 165-pound class. Occupying the slot right after intermission, the 165-pound weight class serves as a major source of momentum. And this past weekend, the Knights employed two wrestlers in the spot with only one walking away with a victory.
And coming up against a side like Michigan, who boasts No. 2 Logan Massa at that division, the in-program fight for the spot holds a greater deal of significance.
That stands as such because most matchups can go either way on Friday, which begs next-to-perfect efforts from all of the wrestlers stepping out onto the mat.
As Goodale has said before, it all starts with 125 — and he has seen tremendous output out of freshman Brandon Paetzell as of late. But Paetzell faces his toughest bout of the season so far in No. 10 Conor Youtsey.
Youtsey is the first All-American that Paetzell will have faced in his young collegiate career, but his increasing confidence after two weekend wins is settling his nerves.
“Every time I step onto the mat, I feel more confident,” Paetzell said. “It’s a process, it’s not gonna happen overnight. The more you wrestle better guys, the more you prove to yourself that you’re able to compete with those guys and score on those guys.”
The same goes for junior Scott DelVecchio, who burst onto the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) coaches’ panel rankings over the weekend with a No. 22 showing. After losing a controversial battle last Sunday against Purdue in sudden victory, the 133-pounder will take No. 7 Stevan Micic to the mat in Ann Arbor.
For both, question marks surround their ability to break the national rankings after asserting themselves over ranked teammates in the starting lineup. And as the season creeps closer and closer to postseason play, wins against stalwarts like Youtsey and Micic will call into question those very doubts.
Sophomore 157-pounder John Van Brill is another wrestler who has broken down barriers in his first campaign of prolonged mat time. At No. 17, Van Brill has knocked off four ranked wrestlers, including a fall over then-No. 4 Max Rohskopf.
The 17-7 sophomore meets another potential Big Ten Championships matchup in No. 12 Brian Murphy this weekend, a match that could very well serve as a microcosm of the entire event. Whoever pulls away with this one could likely win the entire dual meet, as it is the closest match to call among others less so.
One-hundred-seventy-four-pounder Myles Amine rounds out the ranked wrestlers in Michigan’s squad at No. 9 nationally, which holds that those without a ranked matchup on Friday will have to put in extra work to ensure a team victory.
Those like No. 6 Anthony Ashnault, No. 14 Ken Theobold and No. 13 Nicholas Gravina, who are heavily favored in their bouts Friday, will look for extra-point wins to bring the score further into the hands of the visiting Rutgers side.
“You never cannot give the kid respect, you gotta respect your opponent,” Ashnault said.
Ashnault’s slated opponent is redshirt freshman Sal Profaci, who he has a bit of history with.
“Going into it, I give my kid respect, especially because he’s from New Jersey, he’s from the same county as me. We’ve always grown up wrestling. He’s from Monroe Township, I’m from South Plainfield, so I’ve seen him before and I’ve got respect for him,” he said.
Though the Knights flaunt a national ranking four slots higher than the Wolverines, many of the matchups are favored one way or the other barring any monumental upsets, which puts the spotlight on closer matches.
Like a few weeks ago versus No. 12 Illinois, someone like Razohnn Gross may prove the hero. As Ashnault contends, there’s a certain mindset that goes into those prolific performances, like that of Gross.
“You have to treat every match like it’s the national finals, the Big Ten finals, and that’s when really good things happen,” Ashnault said.