Knights head on road for duals over weekend
Coming off of a superb showing at High Point Solutions Stadium, the Rutgers wrestling team looks to continue its great start to the early season this weekend on the road.
The No. 12 Scarlet Knights (1-0, 1-0) will face off against two highly touted squads at the Journeymen Duals in Clifton Park, New York. First at 11:30 a.m., Rutgers will face No. 19 Oklahoma (0-0, 0-0) before facing Virginia (0-0, 0-0) at 1:30 p.m.
Although they aren’t currently ranked, the Cavaliers did receive four votes to be entered into the top-25 rankings.
The Knights are coming off of a strong opening week win over Maryland, an outdoor extravaganza where Rutgers manhandled the Terrapins to a 27-9 victory, which had more than enough shares of impressive wins.
“Great atmosphere, it was a really cool set-up being in that corner there, it was a lot better I thought than last year being too far away to really feel and hear the crowd so that was kind of neat,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “Obviously, I thought we wrestled really good in some spots and struggled in others, but it’s early. We’ll get there, we have some kids who made some mistakes but we’ll certainly get there.”
Between a backflip from junior 165-pounder John Van Brill after his 15-0 win, to a come-from-behind win from No. 10 fifth-year senior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina after dislocating his shoulder, last Saturday’s outdoor event was a show in the team's resiliency and strength.
No. 2 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano made his Knights debut in the first match of the day, easily paving the way to a 24-7 win. Suriano transferred from No. 1 Penn State this offseason to come back to his home state of New Jersey, where he went undefeated over four years of high school competition.
“That’s what I expect, to dominate,” Suriano said. “I train so hard, I train at a high level, high pace. I was just getting started in the third honestly, but the people here are what motivated me and I feel it out there.”
A dominating characteristic among this Rutgers squad is the camaraderie among the teammates, even with newcomers, like Suriano. With the Knights coming up against fairly even programs in Oklahoma and Virginia, that brotherhood can translate into much-needed energy come the weekend.
“We got Nick Suriano, the 'firestarter,'” said fifth-year senior 157-pounder Richie Lewis, who returned to action on Saturday after missing most of the 2016 season with an injury. “I grew up with him and getting energy from him is easy, the kid’s very intense. Then we got my roommate Scott Delvecchio, one of my best friends, easy energy off of him and then I try to focus myself before my match and not think about anything else and then walking off the mat, it’s easy to be excited when you’re around people who have great energy and do the right things.”
The Sooners are starting their new season trying to improve upon a solid 2016 season, where they went 11-5 in dual matches, 5-2 in the Big 12 conference and came in 32nd place in the 2017 NCAA Championships. Last weekend, Oklahoma had eight wrestlers earn top-five finishes at the Michigan State Open scrimmage.
Virginia returns to the mats and into the Journeymen Duals coming off of a 10-6-2 season, going 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and finishing in 15th place at last season’s NCAA Championships. The Cavaliers had two wrestlers come in first place last week at the Clarion Open scrimmage.
Rutgers and the Sooners have a history facing each other that dates back to 1959, when Oklahoma had an easy day, winning 29-6. The Sooners lead the Knights in the series overall 7-1, with their two most recent matches, since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, going down to the wire.
Back in the inaugural Big Ten season, the Knights defeated a then-No. 19 Sooners 20-18, after a strong performance from then-freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault, among others. A season later, then-No. 22 Oklahoma defeated Rutgers in a tight match that ended in a 19-18 result.
Virginia and the Knights have a history that dates back as well, with the first match in 1968 ending in a Rutgers 17-11 victory. The two teams haven’t faced off since 2013, when the Cavaliers handled the Knights and came out with a 21-9 win.
Neither opponent has seen Rutgers at such a high ranking and filled with such a talented roster, and that is something for the Knights to build off of as they prepare for the match on Saturday. They may not absolutely know how they will compete come the weekend, but the spirit and energy around the locker room could very well be enough to put them over the top.
“I just love our team this year man,” Lewis said.
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