Rutgers opens season with battle vs. Maryland at High Point Solutions Stadium
The Rutgers wrestling team will kick off its 2017 campaign this Saturday afternoon, the first matchup of a doubleheader with the football team.
The No. 12 Scarlet Knights will host Maryland in the season opener at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday at noon. Originally, both the wrestling match and football game were going to be played at Yankee Stadium, a heavily anticipated event that was moved back to New Jersey because of the Yankees' deep run in the 2017 Major League Baseball postseason.
Now being held in Piscataway, Rutgers will wrestle in front of its home crowd outdoors, a familiar sight to fans after last year's "Battle at the Birthplace."
The Knights are coming off of a strong season that ended with a 12-5 record and a No. 12 ranking in the country. The team feels that even though it did not crack the top 10, which it thinks it deserves to be in, it will prove to the scouts that it is a top team in the country.
Rutgers finished off strong last March, with then-junior 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault and senior 149-pounder Ken Theobold representing the Knights at the NCAA Championships and giving the program two All-American wrestlers in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, Ashnault will miss some time to start off the year after having offseason surgery. Redshirt freshman Michael Van Brill is expected to fill Ashnault’s absence in the 141-pound weight class.
Head coach Scott Goodale is entering his 11th year at the helm of the wrestling team, which has produced six All-Americans over the past four seasons and finished in the top-10 rankings twice since 2009.
“We’ve had a pretty big offseason,” Goodale said. “After wrestle-offs, we start our week preparation as we lead into the Maryland match on Nov. 4. Anthony Ashnault is still out at this time, but we are looking forward to having him back when he decides it is best for him to return.”
The biggest story from the offseason was without a doubt the transfer acquisition of sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano from Penn State. The Paramus, New Jersey native returns to his home state, where he saw extremely positive results in his four years of high school.
Suriano went 159-0 with four individual state championships combined with four team championships, becoming the first wrestler in the state to reach such a feat.
“It feels awesome,” Suriano said. “I want to thank my coaches for supporting this decision, my family for supporting this decision, the Big Ten for approving this."
Last season with the Nittany Lions was no different for Suriano, who finished 16-3 overall as a freshman, including 12-2 in dual action and 8-1 in Big Ten matches. Suriano was seeded at No. 3 in the 2017 NCAA Championships but was unable to compete due to injury.
Junior 165-pounder John Van Brill and junior 174-pounder Jordan Pagano, who both made their first appearances in the NCAA Championships last season, also return for this strong crop of competitors.
“Coming in, personally, I feel really good,” Pagano said. “Better than I felt coming in last year. Just mentally and physically feel a lot stronger than I did last year. I think as a team coming in, we look a lot better than we looked last year. I think we’ve got talent throughout the whole lineup and I think we’re going to do really well this year.”
This season will set the return of senior 157-pounder Richie Lewis, a standout for the Knights in the 2015-16 season, who did not compete all of last season due to injury. Lewis claimed the 70kg title at the U23 World Team Trials during the offseason and secured a spot on the U23 team.
Besides for this one match event at High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers will wrestle its home meets at the Rutgers Athletic Center. But for this week, an outdoor setting in the first meet centers attention around a team that has built excitement around the Rutgers community over the past few years. As the team continues to perform, that enthusiasm will grow more and more.
“Having over 2000 season tickets hold already is pretty exciting,” Goodale said. “It makes for an unbelievable wrestling atmosphere at the RAC. We look forward to bringing the best teams in the country into this arena.”
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