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Rutgers needs to stabilize its weight classes before next dual meets

After hopes of breaking its way into the top-10 rankings this season, the No. 16 Rutgers wrestling team now must fight to just stay ranked at this point in the season after two consecutive losses.

There certainly were high expectations for the Scarlet Knights (3-2, 1-1) coming into this season, with three top-10 ranked wrestlers on the squad, and seven ranked overall in at least one poll. Led by Penn State transfer Nick Suriano, a 125-pound sophomore who is ranked at No. 2 in his weight class, this team was supposed to be one of the best in Rutgers history.

After succumbing shockingly to Lock Haven two weekends ago, the Knights were placed in good position to prove any doubters wrong this past weekend, when No. 7 Iowa (7-0, 3-0) made its way into the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for the first time since the opening weekend of 2015.

Things started off completely in Rutgers’ favor, from the red lights, hype up tape on the video board and record RAC home crowd in attendance, to Suriano’s opening match tech fall. 

“Momentum is definitely important in a Big Ten schedule,” Suriano said. “Right off the bat, you’ve got to balance four points, that’s Big Ten wrestling. We had a home team advantage a little bit, but it doesn’t matter where I am, you’ve got to go out there and score points.”

The Knights eventually jumped out to a 12-0 lead, but they couldn’t hold on to that hot start, losing six of the final seven matches and falling to the Hawkeyes, 23-15. 

Rutgers entered the season ranked No. 12, and moved up a spot after the first few weeks of competition, but now after already falling to No. 16 after the loss to the Bald Eagles, who knows where the Knights will end up now that they’ve already picked up their second loss in just five duals.

There are many things that Rutgers needs to address and tune up if they hope to stop this fall and stay ranked and potentially make its way back up. 

Right off the bat, head coach Scott Goodale needs to figure out what to do with the 174-pound weight class. 

At the moment, it seems Goodale is stuck between redshirt freshman Joseph Grello and junior Jordan Pagano — who started the season ranked and the clear starter at the weight. But the season did not start off too well for Pagano, who holds a 5-4 overall record, only 0-3 in duals. 

This may be why Goodale decided to go with Grello against Iowa, because although Grello had not competed in a dual yet at that point in the season, he did defeat Pagano at the Black Knight Invitational in the 174-pound championship.

But Grello’s inexperience showed against the Hawkeyes, as he managed to get taken down in the last 30 seconds of the final period after putting up a very good fight through the first two.

“The bottom line is you can’t let someone in on your legs with 30 seconds, trying to close out the match,” Goodale said. “Reset the guy, keep him off your legs, use your face, put your face in there and don’t let him on your legs. It gives yourself an opportunity to win and maybe it’s (about being) a freshman and maybe it’s whatever it is, but it’s a mistake and we’ve got to learn from that mistake. And he will, he’s a good kid.”

Goodale also needs to figure out where he’s going to put fifth-year senior Richie Lewis, who is usually at 157 pounds and is No. 9 in the weight class, but was up at 165 pounds against the Hawkeyes, a spot usually filled by junior John Van Brill. 

Lewis was not able to overcome Iowa’s No. 13 Alex Marinelli at the higher weight class, while sophomore Brett Donner went down a weight class from 165 pounds to take Lewis’ place, but he too was unable to capture a victory, losing by tech fall.

“Going into it we thought we had to win six bouts,” Goodale said, explaining his decision to not have Lewis cut back to 157 pounds and just keep him at 165 pounds. “Who knows how it is if he goes down and wrestles 157 and it’s Marinelli-Van Brill, so this is something I decided to do on that. I thought it would work out and it didn’t.” 

It seems that Goodale’s mix and match experiment failed against the Hawkeyes and will need some heavy fine tuning if the Knights hope to climb their way back up to the top.

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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