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Rutgers gets through rocky winter break

While the rest of us were relaxing in bed or taking a much-needed vacation, the Rutgers wrestling team was grinding through a tough stretch of its schedule after a three-week break from competition. 

The No. 16 Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-2) took a small — yet needed — break from duals after suffering a tough loss to then-No. 7 Iowa (9-0, 4-0) in the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) home opener.

Rutgers returned to action at the Midlands Championships, where the Knights produced the highest team point total in program history. The 109.5-point team performance was enough to secure second place in the tournament, just behind the Hawkeyes, who won the collective championship with 156.5 points.

Sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano became the first ever individual title Midlands champion in program history as well. Seeded at No. 1 in the tournament, Suriano defeated No. 3 seeded Ronnie Bresser from Oregon State 2-1, to secure the title.

Fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, junior 165-pounder John Van Brill and fifth-year senior 157-pounder Richie Lewis all added third place finishes for Rutgers as well. 

Back into the swing of things, the Knights then hosted No. 2 Ohio State (9-0, 4-0) at the RAC for a noon match on Jan. 7, but couldn’t keep the momentum from the Midlands Championships going. The Buckeyes handled Rutgers with ease, coming away with a 29-11 team and Big Ten victory.

The Knights collected three individual victories for the afternoon, including wins by Suriano and Lewis. But the most impressive victory of the match — even from Ohio State’s side — had to be from fifth-year senior 149-pounder Eleazar DeLuca.

No. 14 ranked DeLuca walked on to the mat to face No. 5 Ke-Shawn Hayes, who entered the match with a 17-1 record and 6-0 record in duals. 

After being down 5-0 midway through the third period, DeLuca scored a 6-point throw on Hayes to take the slight 6-5 lead. After Hayes tied things up with an escape, DeLuca scored another 6-point throw and ultimately secured the huge upset 12-7.

No. 15 Lewis also captured an upset win for Rutgers by taking down No. 11 Te’Shan Campbell with 35 seconds left in the match, resulting in a 3-1 lead. Campbell’s eventual 5-2 loss gave him his first loss in a dual this season, having come into the match 5-0 in duals and 13-2 overall.

The match with the Buckeyes saw a few lineup changes for the Knights, who seem to always try switching things up as their opponents change each match. 

Both redshirt freshman Joseph Grello and junior Jordan Pagano were in the lineup at the same time, when they usually share the 174-pound duties. Instead, Pagano moved up to 184-pounds in place of Nicholas Gravina, who got injured at the Midlands Championships a week before. 

Last weekend, Rutgers finally captured a dual win for the first time in over two months, defeating then-No. 24 North Carolina (6-8) 18-17. 

After being tied 17-17 through 10 rounds of matches, the Knights won the match 69-65 based on the 3.15.3 criterion, which adds the total match scores of both teams based on decisions, major decisions and technical falls. Rutgers picked up another five solid individual wins as a team.

The Knights will have another big and busy weekend ahead of them, as they host Hofstra (7-6, 2-2) this Friday night, before heading to No. 18 Nebraska (4-3, 2-1) for a Sunday afternoon dual with the Cornhuskers.

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

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