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Knights look to bounce back against No. 7 Iowa

After a shocking defeat to unranked Lock Haven last weekend, the Rutgers wrestling team has fallen five spots in the NCAA Division I rankings.

After starting the season out at No. 12 and then moving up a spot over the first few weeks of competition, the Scarlet Knights (3-1, 1-0) now sit as the No. 16 team in the country. 

For a team that hoped to break into the top 10 during the preseason, this drop in the ranks puts significant pressure on this weekend’s conference bout.

Rutgers suffered its first loss of the season last weekend against the Bald Eagles after both sides entered the final match tied at 16 apiece. With No. 15 heavyweight Thomas Haines on its side, Lock Haven was able to capture the 22-16 victory after Haines pinned the Knights senior heavyweight Razohnn Gross within the opening period. 

After their win last weekend, the Eagles moved into the top-25 rankings for the first time this season, locked in at No. 24 and looking to continue their climb.

No. 7 Iowa (5-0, 1-0) will be the first team to face Rutgers inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) this season, after the lone home match this season was held at High Point Solutions Stadium. Friday night’s match will also be a return to Big Ten matchups for the Knights, who have only faced Maryland so far this season.

Rutgers enters Friday night's dual with seven student athletes ranked on at least one poll, including No. 2 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano and a trio of fifth-year seniors, No. 9 157-pounder Richie Lewis, No. 9 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina and No. 13 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio. This ranked group goes into the bout against the Hawkeyes with a combined record of 17-0 (13-0 in duals).

Iowa comes into the RAC riding a five-match winning streak out of the gates, outscoring its opponents 172-35 overall. But, the Hawkeyes did receive quite the scare last weekend from fellow ranked Big Ten member No. 14 Illinois, who went head to head with Iowa until the end before falling 18-17.

The Knights have struggled mightily against the Hawkeyes in the past, losing all three previous matches, including the past two — as members of the Big Ten — by a combined 41 points.

The 29-6 defeat two seasons ago was the worst loss of the season that year, when Iowa was ranked No. 2 at the time of the match.

With all of the thoughts going through head coach Scott Goodale’s mind about the team and this matchup, one of them must be about what he is going to do with the 174-pound weight class shakeup going on. 

As of last weekend’s match with Lock Haven, junior Jordan Pagano — who was named the starter at 174 pounds in the preseason — has a 6-4 record, but is 1-3 in duals, while redshirt freshman Joseph Grello stands at 5-0 with a 1-0 dual mark. 

With No. 2 Ohio State on the horizon midway through winter break, Goodale should use Friday night’s match, as well as the Midland Championships at the end of the month, to decide who he will have face the Buckeye's No. 3 Bo Jordan.

Heavy Big Ten play will swing into effect for Rutgers after the Midland Championships, with Ohio State kicking things off on Jan. 7, 2018 and continuing with a slew of nine straight matchups through Feb. 16 at No. 19 Wisconsin. 

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

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