Rutgers bumpy season ends as Big Ten Championships enter fold
The long three-and-a-half-month regular season of constant practice and duals is finally over for the Rutgers wrestling team, but now a taller task awaits.
This weekend in East Lansing, Michigan, the Scarlet Knights will take their No. 19 ranking and 8-7 record into the 2018 Big Ten Championships, hosted by Michigan State. As a team, Rutgers did not fare too well in conference play, going 3-6 on the season — but in a sense, this tournament is all about the individual.
Pre-seedings for the tournament were announced earlier this week, and the Knights are heavily represented across the board. Of the 10 wrestlers set to compete for Rutgers, six go in with seeds.
It took a lot of hard work and tough battles for these wrestlers to make it to the most important weekend in the conference. Five wrestlers ended the season within the top 20 rankings of their weight classes, according to Intermat Wrestling.
The Knights came out to a healthy start to kick things off back in November, making the most out of the season opener outside at High Point Solutions Stadium by defeating Maryland 27-9.
It was the Rutgers debut for Nick Suriano, who had transferred from Penn State after one season to come compete on the Banks. The sophomore 125-pounder entered the season ranked No. 2 in his weight class, and took the top spot midway through the season.
Suriano is 20-0 on the season and enters the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed at 125 pounds.
The Knights continued their good start with two more dual victories over then-No. 19 Oklahoma and Virginia by a combined score of 43-18, but that’s when things started to get a bit bumpy for Rutgers and head coach Scott Goodale.
The second month of competition started in a rough way for the Knights, when they lost to then-unranked Lock Haven on Dec. 1 for their first loss of the season. Then-No. 11 Rutgers was as close as one could get to entering the top 10 rankings, but the loss started a slide down the rankings that the team was never fully able to make up.
With winter break approaching and their first loss still seemingly fresh in their minds, the Knights fell to then-No. 7 Iowa in the first match of the season at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for their second straight loss. Things seemed to be spinning out of control for Goodale’s group.
Some success at the Midland Championships over break didn’t seem to shake things up for Rutgers either, as the team fell again to No. 2 Ohio State, 29-11 in front of its home crowd.
Then-No. 17 fifth-year senior 149-pounder Eleazar DeLuca did secure one of the biggest upsets of the season in that match against the Buckeyes, defeating then-No. 5 Ke-Shawn Hayes after collecting two consecutive 6-point throws to secure the come-from-behind win.
DeLuca’s upset seemed to wake up the team and get things rolling in the right direction again. The Knights won their next two duals over then-No. 24 North Carolina and Hofstra to go back above .500 at 5-3, but shortly returned back to the loss column two days after the match against the Pride on Jan. 19.
Then-No. 18 Nebraska hosted Rutgers after the team traveled west to Lincoln and were competing on short rest, and ultimately defeated the Knights 19-13 to send the team spinning again.
After the loss to the Cornhuskers, Rutgers proceeded to lose the next 3 of 4 matches — all to ranked Big Ten opponents. The Knights fell to No. 1 Penn State, then-No. 14 Illinois and then-No. 21 Minnesota in the span of just two weeks, while at least picking up one win over then-No. 17 Northwestern.
For the first time in the 10 seasons under Goodale, Rutgers was below .500 as a team and sat at 6-7 overall.
But the idea of ending at below .500 didn’t seem to sit well with the team, so instead, the Knights crushed their remaining competition by a combined score of 52-19.
Rutgers defeated then-No. 19 Wisconsin in the team's Big Ten finale, 24-12, and then came back from Madison to claim the in-state rivalry trophy over Princeton just two days later to end the long season on a high note.
Now the Knights can turn their focus purely on their individual matchups, one match at a time.
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