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Rutgers awaits its biggest challenge yet in No. 1 Penn State

No. 1 Suriano and crew look to upset the Nittany Lions

Few teams have had a tougher start to its season than the Rutgers wrestling team. The No. 18 Scarlet Knights (5-4, 1-3) have already faced five ranked opponents including Big Ten foes No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Iowa and No. 16 Nebraska. This Sunday, Rutgers will add another ranked conference rival to that list — No. 1 Penn State (9-0, 5-0).

Sunday’s match adds a bit of controversy to an already tumultuous relationship as sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano welcomes his former team, the Nittany Lions, into the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for the first time since his departure last year. 

Earlier this week, as a Knight, Suriano became the program’s first No. 1 ranked wrestler in his weight class in Rutgers history.

“I always thought in my mind that’s where I wanted to be,” Suriano said. “I had to earn it but in my mind that’s where I want to be and that’s where I want to stay. Now I got a target on my back so I gotta keep training.”

But Penn State is no slouch and will prove to be the Knights’ biggest challenge to date, and possibly the season.

The Lions’ biggest strength lies in the meat of their lineup. Penn State owns the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the 149-pound weight class through the 184-pound weight class except for the 174-pound weight class, where it possesses the No. 2 ranked wrestler.

“They’re gonna come here to put on a show,” Suriano said. “They’re coming here to score points and they’re coming here to win big so guys gotta be ready to fight. They’re coming into our house so it’s our job to make a statement and put up a fight and fight back.”

Fortunately, Rutgers will throw out some of its best wrestlers in those classes as well (from 149 to 184): No. 13 fifth-year senior Eleazar DeLuca, No. 17 junior John Van Brill, No. 11 fifth-year senior Richie Lewis, redshirt freshman Joseph Grello and No. 12 fifth-year senior Nicholas Gravina.

Other standouts for the Knights include No. 1 Suriano and No. 19 fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio — two weight classes the Lions have no ranked wrestlers in. 

The biggest matchup to look out for will be No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph versus the red hot Lewis, who has won five consecutive matches, including two against top-12 wrestlers. 

“Night in and night out he’s got a good one,” said head coach Scott Goodale about Lewis. “He’s got a national champ coming in and we’ve never beaten a national champ in our arena but we’ve got five opportunities to do it and I know Richie is looking forward to it.”

For Rutgers, two other things may come into play. Penn State’s schedule and the sold out crowd at the RAC. The Lions will come into Piscataway fresh off a match against No. 14 Minnesota (5-3, 2-2) on Friday.

As for the sold out crowd, Suriano put it best.

“I can’t wait, it’s gonna be awesome,” he said. “Friends, family, Jersey fans. This is why I do this sport. It’s gonna be great.”

No matter what happens in the match, one thing is for sure — Rutgers hopes to one day achieve what Penn State has achieved over the last half decade.

But to be the best, you have to beat the best.

“Forget the wins and losses,” Goodale said. “It’s an opportunity for us to wrestle extremely hard and show not only the country but our fanbase that we’re taking steps and getting better in closing gaps. That’s kinda what we’re looking to do.”

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

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