Pagano holds own fate in 174-pound weight class

Coming into the season, the Rutgers wrestling team had five ranked wrestlers — sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano, fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, fifth-year senior 157-pounder Richie Lewis, redshirt junior 174-pounder Jordan Pagano and fifth-year senior 184-pounder Nick Gravina.

While many of them — as well as other unranked Scarlet Knights — have met or exceeded expectations, some have gotten off to rocky starts including then-No. 14 Pagano. 

Pagano, a South Brunswick, New Jersey native who transferred from Penn State after his first year, headed into this season ready to build off his 27-12 season last year and help elevate Rutgers as a top-tier wrestling program.

“Personally I feel really good, better than I felt coming in last year,” Pagano said. “Just mentally and physically, I feel a lot stronger than I did last year.”

Unfortunately for him and the No. 16 Knights (3-1, 1-0), Pagano’s 2017-18 campaign has not started off the way they would have wanted.

At 2-4 overall so far, Pagano has already lost more dual matches (3) this season than he had in his first two years at Rutgers combined (1), leading to him losing his preseason ranking as well. 

Most recently, Pagano managed to escape with a 4-2 sudden victory overtime win in his match against Lock Haven in which he moved up a weight class (184). The victory marked Pagano’s first dual win of the season.

Two weeks before, at the Black Knight Invitational, Pagano and fellow 174-pounder teammate Joe Grello met each other in the 174 final. In a last minute 4-3 decision, Grello, a redshirt freshman, took home the title over Pagano.

Grello, who is still undefeated at 5-0 on the year after missing some time earlier in the season due to injury, has begun to press head coach Scott Goodale’s hand — a testament to the depth of the team, as noted by Pagano.

“I think as a team coming in, we look a lot better than we looked last year,” Pagano said. “I think we’ve got talent throughout the whole lineup and I think we’re going to do really well this year.”

Pagano who was once the clear starter entering the season now needs to grapple with this newfound competition, which will hopefully motivate him and help bring him back to where he needs to be. If not, he could be left behind.

In the meantime, Grello — who was once Pagano’s classmate back at Bergen Catholic High School —  continues to excel as he enjoys his success this season, while doing his best to muddy the waters for Goodale. 

Nonetheless, both Pagano and the Knights know he is better than what his record might say right now. 

But no matter who is wrestling at 174 for Rutgers, the goal remains the same — to win.

“We want to be considered a national powerhouse,” Pagano said.

But to do that, Pagano should heed his own advice from earlier in the season.

“I think (the No. 12 ranking) helps keep us grounded and we know that if we don’t work hard and we don’t prepare, we’re going to finish lower than 12,” he said. “But if we keep pushing and keep training like we did all summer, like the way we did all preseason and the way we’re doing now, we know we can break into that top 5.”

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

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