Since the inception of Big Ten play for Rutgers athletics a few years ago, the Rutgers wrestling team has served as a beacon of hope and light among an otherwise dim setting. The Scarlet Knights have constantly found themselves playing second, third and sometimes 14th fiddle to their conference rivals in other sports.
Rutgers may be a wrestling school, but Penn State can do them one better. Or twenty. The Rutgers wrestling team left State College, Pennsylvania winless in its 20th attempt against the No. 2 Nittany Lions (7-0, 3-0) Friday, as the Scarlet Knights (7-2, 2-1) dropped their first Big Ten dual meet, 37-6. Boasting four ranked wrestlers compared to Penn State’s nine, the Knights faced a tall task from the starting whistle, and the opening match did nothing to set head coach Scott Goodale at ease. Though freshman 125-pounder Brandon Paetzell enjoyed a last-second victory against fellow newcomer Travis Piotrowski of Illinois last weekend, he couldn’t find the same fortune Friday night, as he fell to No. 3 Nick Suriano to the tune of 16-2, sending the Lions out to a 4-0 lead. Junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio and George Carpenter took the mat next in what was one of the few unranked matches of the evening.
It was the home opener, Alumni Night and the Razohnn Gross show all in one night, as the No. 11 Rutgers wrestling team defeated No. 12 Illinois, 19-17, on the back of junior Razohnn Gross’ clinching decision at the final whistle. The entire night rode on the heavyweight bout, as Gross assumed the neutral versus Deuce Rachal of Illinois.
Wrestling is as much a team sport as any other. In no other sport does bearing the burden of one’s teammates’ mistakes become so pronounced or securing extra points so important so that those wrestling afterward don’t have to. Such was the case Sunday afternoon, when the Rutgers wrestling team bussed southward to College Park to defeat Maryland (2-5, 0-1), 21-13, in the first Big Ten bout of the season. Leading the charge for the Scarlet Knights (6-1, 1-1) was freshman 125-pounder Brandon Paetzell and junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, who scored identical major decisions to open the scoring and carry an 8-0 lead into the third match. Paetzell and DelVecchio, who have taken back seats to senior Sean McCabe and junior Tyson Dippery in dual meets so far this campaign, affirmed head coach Scott Goodale’s decision to start them Sunday, giving the Knights some early breathing room. No. 6 Anthony Ashnault strapped on his headgear for a bout with Billy Rappo, in what was a bounceback victory for Ashnault after a loss to No. 5 Kevin Jack of NC State at the Journeymen Tussle, for which they swapped spots afterward.
Due to injuries along with untimely and unsightly losses, competitors on the Rutgers wrestling team have fallen in national rankings and a few have even dropped off the list entirely. John Van Brill is not one of them. Fresh off of two ranked wins this past weekend, the sophomore from Mullica Hill, New Jersey, made his mark on the Intermat top-25 rankings, featuring at No. 20 in the 157-pound division, as well as coming in at No. 11 in The Open Mat's rankings. “(It is) cool to be recognized for some hard work, but (I) just want to keep climbing, that’s my whole goal,” Van Brill said. His teammate, senior Richie Lewis, started the season at No. 6 in the weight class, but his ranking soon dropped after missing matches due to injury. “I train with Van Brill a lot, and Van Brill is pretty much my main partner in the room during weight cuts, during those hard periods,” Lewis said.
The last time the Rutgers wrestling team prepared for a dual meet was three weeks ago when the Scarlet Knights geared up for a historic Battle at the Birthplace against Princeton three weeks ago. In their toughest affair up to that point, the Knights cleaned up with a 19-16 victory over their in-state rivals. But since then, Rutgers has found itself shrouded in tournaments and double-dual meets and it has been a while since the team has been able to do battle against another program, matching its best with the opponent’s best. “I don’t think it’ll be an issue, trying to switch over from tournament and double dual meet style to dual meet,” said sophomore 157-pounder John Van Brill, who recently crept into the national rankings at No. 20 this week.
On a day where head coach Scott Goodale was hoping to set his starting lineup into stone, the Rutgers wrestling team gave him plenty to work with. The Scarlet Knights left the 2016 Journeymen Tussle with 10 of its 14 competitors placing, with 165-pounder redshirt freshman Willie Scott finishing in first place in his division.
After a 28-10 loss to No. 8 Cornell at last weekend’s Grapple at the Garden at Madison Square Garden,the No. 12 Scarlet Knights (5-1) look to redeem themselves on Sunday at the 2016 Journeymen Tussle at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
Ken Theobold completed his junior season with a record of 24-9 and an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. His reward was taking a redshirt season the following year.