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Rutgers prepares for 2 duals in 3 days

Coming off the tightest of victories, the Rutgers wrestling team is finally through one of the toughest parts of its schedule and looks to capitalize on what lies ahead.

After a rough stretch of matches, the No. 16 Scarlet Knights begin the new semester with a 4-3 overall record, including 1-2 in the Big Ten. With Hofstra (7-6, 2-2) coming to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Friday night, the team will trek into the meat of a schedule that has it competing in eight duals over the next month.

Depending on how tonight’s match goes, Rutgers will need to either stay hot or refocus themselves for another dual just two days later as the Knights will travel to Nebraska to face the No. 18 Cornhuskers (4-3, 2-1) on Sunday to close out the weekend.

“Friday is gonna be a great opportunity, another match at the RAC. I love that,” said fifth-year senior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina, who made a return to competition against North Carolina last week after an injury at the Midlands Championships, which also kept him out of the dual with Ohio State. “And then Nebraska, we didn’t get to see them last year, and there’s always that small kind of rivalry we have going on with them right now, so it’s going to be an exciting match as well.”

Looking at the other side of Friday’s bout, the Pride come into the RAC a bit shaky as of late. After winning the Grapple at the Garden at Madison Square Garden in New York and sweeping its three duals on Jan 7. by a combined score of 105-30, Hofstra is 1-2 in its last three duals.

Last Friday, Air Force came into the home of the Pride and ended its four-match win streak, winning 21-12. Just two days later, Hofstra hosted Bloomsburg in the afternoon — a secured 27-12 win — before facing Binghamton in the evening, when the Bearcats handled the Pride easily and took a 27-9 dual on the road.

Over more than a 50 year span, Rutgers and Hofstra have faced each other 23 times, with the Knights holding a slight 13-9-1 lead over the Pride. Dating back to 1963, Rutgers almost made it out of the 1960s without a loss to Hofstra, but suffered its first one in 1969, when it lost twice in the same year.

The 1970s and 1990s were on completely opposite sides of the spectrum for the Knights against the Pride. Rutgers went 0-6 in the 1970s, took a break from Hofstra in the 1980s, then proceeded to go 7-0 in the 1990s.

The Knights and Pride took a 16-year hiatus from competition before meeting again in 2012 and then again, the next two years after that. Rutgers ended up taking two of those three contests, making Friday’s matchup one for the history books.

Once they step off the plane in Nebraska, the Knights will face a Cornhuskers team that includes five ranked wrestlers. 

Perhaps the most intriguing match of the afternoon will be No. 12 fifth-year senior 165-pounder Richie Lewis taking on Nebraska’s No. 11 Isaiah White. Lewis made the move up to 165-pounds midway through the season.

“I’m excited for Hofstra first, you know it’s first come first serve, so we’ve got to stay focused,” Lewis said. “Then head to Nebraska and be headstrong and catch a W out there.”

The Cornhuskers did not have a pleasant end to last semester, when the team lost three consecutive duals — two of them to ranked opponents, while the then-unranked Tar Heels came into the Bob Devaney Sports Center and defeated the team on its home mat.

Since then, Nebraska is winner of two straight, both within the conference, and looks to continue that stretch against Rutgers on Sunday.

“We’re just excited to compete again,” Gravina said. “We’ve got to take it one match at a time, and taking it from there, the results will speak for themselves.”

Since the season started, the Cornhuskers have been ranked as high as No. 12 and as low as No. 20, but Nebraska has slowly made its way back up the ranks.

The Knights and Cornhuskers faced each other twice in 2015, with each team getting a win in separate seasons. Nebraska thrashed Rutgers at the start of the new year, but the Knights returned the favor 11 months later with a tight 17-16 win.

“I’m grinding and that’s what I’m going to keep doing,” Lewis said. “Keep pushing the pace, keep working hard, keep adjusting until March comes. I want to be the best … I’m ready to get some respect.”

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

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