No. 18 Rutgers sends off 5 graduating wrestlers
Lewis, DeLuca, DelVecchio, Gross, Messner leaving program
Last Friday night, the No. 18 Rutgers wrestling team kicked off what would be a bittersweet night, no matter the result of the match. Friday was Senior Night, marking the final time that five of the team's wrestlers would wrestle at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) in front of the home crowd.
The Scarlet Knights, now 6-7 on the year — the first time the team is under .500 since head coach Scott Goodale took the reigns of the team — and 2-6 in Big Ten play, were upset by No. 21 Minnesota, 20-12 in the final home match at the RAC this season.
Although Goodale spent the majority of his press conference after the match focused on what had just occurred, he stopped to take a moment to discuss his five departing wrestlers — fifth-year seniors Richie Lewis, Eleazar DeLuca, Scott DelVecchio and Anthony Messner, and senior Razohnn Gross.
“It’s a pretty special group. They’ve had some great moments out at the RAC, they’ve won some huge matches, they’ve really put this program on the map. There’s no question about it,” Goodale said.
Lewis, a 165-pounder for Rutgers, secured the biggest win of the night in a 3-1 upset win over No. 8 Nick Wanzek. Lewis was ranked at No. 11 in his weight class at the time but is now a surefire candidate to break into the top 10 for the first time this season.
No. 11 149-pounder DeLuca won the Knights their first points of a slow starting night, beating Miles Patton 6-4 to halt the Golden Gophers four-match win streak.
The remainder of the night for both Rutgers and its remaining three seniors was not as successful as they would have hoped, but over the past four to five years, they’ve all had their share of highlights.
DelVecchio — who was ranked No. 20 in the 133 weight class prior to the match with Minnesota but fell to an unranked opponent, likely knocking him out of the rankings — began wrestling for the Knights in 2013 after a 160-10 career high school record. During his first two years on the Banks, he compiled a 40-19 record before redshirting in his third season.
Since then, DelVecchio has picked up another 39 wins and has been ranked as high as No. 13 this season.
Messner, a 197-pounder from Somerset, New Jersey, has picked up the slack for Rutgers this season, after fellow weight classmate Kevin Mulligan has stepped away from the team.
He picked up the third dual victory of his career earlier this season, defeating Andre Lee from No. 14 Illinois. Overall, Messner has gone 24-34 during his five years with the Knights and still has two more opportunities at dual wins this month.
Rutgers’ heavyweight in Gross is another type of athlete entirely. After spending his first three years at Rutgers as a walk-on fullback, he switched his focus to wrestling after being dismissed from the football team in 2015 — although he did make a return to the gridiron during the wrestling offseason after he placed in sixth at the 2017 Big Ten Championships.
Purely as a wrestler the past two seasons — with experience back in high school where he won back-to-back 195-pound NJSIAA State titles during his time at Don Bosco Prep — Gross has been the starter at heavyweight and has gone 27-23 overall, including 9-17 in duals.
As for the two ranked wrestlers of the group in Lewis and DeLuca, they have each put together impressive careers for the Knights.
Lewis came to Rutgers as a junior in 2015 after spending his first two years at Iowa Central, a junior college. Once on the Banks, he tore apart his competition, going 27-7 overall and 16-1 in duals, before qualifying for the NCAA Championships and going 1-2 at the tournament.
After an injury early in his senior year sidelined him for the majority of the year, Lewis has come back extremely strong this season, moving up from 157-pounds to 165 and going 12-3 so far. Lewis is heavily expected to be in the top 10 at 165-pounds come Tuesday’s ranking announcements.
DeLuca also joined the Knights later in his career, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the best wrestlers on the roster over the past two seasons. After competing unattached as a redshirt last season, DeLuca’s lone season with official numbers for Rutgers came this year.
DeLuca followed up his 17-6 record as a junior at Northern Colorado by currently sitting just outside the top 10 at 149-pounds, and picking up a 9-8 record, highlighted by what is probably the biggest upset of the year for the entire Knights program.
Back in January during the home dual against No. 2 Ohio State, DeLuca upset then-No. 5 Ke-Shawn Hayes after trailing him 5-0 midway through the third period. DeLuca secured two consecutive 6-point throws to claim the biggest win of his career, 12-5.
The seniors and the rest of Rutgers have just two duals remaining before the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships come along in March.