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Tough schedule lies ahead for Rutgers

Knights will wrestle on road for four of next five matches

With just a few days left in January, and February rapidly approaching, the Rutgers wrestling team finds itself with just five matches remaining in the regular season.

The No. 18 Scarlet Knights (5-5, 1-4) have an interesting schedule approaching them, with five duals coming in a span of two weeks. 

Rutgers has four more Big Ten duals on its schedule, while four of its last five matches are on the road. The lone and final home dual of the season will come on Feb. 9 against Minnesota at the RAC. 

If it wasn’t known already, let it be made as clear as possible, the Big Ten is hands down the strongest conference in all of Division I wrestling. A whopping 11 teams from the top-25 rankings come from the Big Ten, including three in the top five and four in the top 10.

“Here’s the thing with the Big Ten though, you’ve got to run it right back,” said head coach Scott Goodale on Friday night after the 25-15 loss to reigning national champion and still No. 1 Penn State. “That’s the type of effort you need against the best teams in the country.”

The Knights have already seen the top competition of the country this season and have produced some surprising, yet promising results. 

When Rutgers faced No. 2 Ohio State earlier this month, although the team score went in the Buckeyes' favor, No. 13 fifth-year senior 149-pounder Eleazar DeLuca did manage to secure arguably the biggest upset of the season for the Knights, when he produced a 12-7 come-from-behind win over then-No. 5 Ke-Shawn Hayes.

This past weekend when Rutgers faced the Nittany Lions, despite what the final results showed on the scoreboard once the final whistle blew, the Knights put in a tremendous effort.

Rutgers picked up three individual victories over the top team in the nation, including two that will remain in the mind of Penn State for the remainder of the season.

First, No. 1 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano faced off against his former team on Sunday afternoon and showed it exactly what it was missing. The Paramus-native faced off against his former teammate Devin Schnupp and pinned him towards the end of the third period, giving the Knights 6 points right out of the gate.

In the 157-pound matchup, Rutgers’ No. 18 junior John Van Brill was squared up against 1 of the 4 No. 1 ranked members of Penn State in Jason Nolf. In what was already an amazing match with things tight at 5-4 between the wrestlers, Van Brill was awarded the injury default victory after Nolf’s leg gave out on him, resulting in him being carried off the mat by his teammates and coaching staff.

Although the Knights had some points of success against those top-ranked teams, they still lost both matches and have just one win in the Big Ten so far this season — certainly not what the team expected coming into the year.

The remaining schedule doesn’t present any easier tasks. Rutgers will first spend a long weekend in Illinois, where it will face No. 20 Northwestern next Friday and then No. 15 Illinois less than 48 hours later. 

Five days later, the Knights will host the No. 15 Gophers at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), and luckily for them, they will not have another match that Sunday to think about. Rutgers will get to endure that pressure the following week instead.

In what may be the toughest way to end off a regular season, the Knights will first travel up to Madison, Wisconsin to face the No. 21 Badgers. Rutgers will need to pack its bags quickly after the match, no matter the result, as the team must jet back home to New Jersey and get ready for the final dual of the season against Princeton on Feb. 18.

“It’s good for Rutgers University, it’s good for Rutgers wrestling,” Goodale said when speaking about the increased interest in wrestling at Rutgers. “This was our vision … I just hope that this state, these wrestling fans — it’s a knowledgeable fan base — I hope they appreciate good, hard wrestling.”

Knights fans showed this over the weekend, producing a sold-out crowd at the RAC for a record 8,319 people in attendance. 

This season may seem like a slight let down considering preseason expectations for this group that came in ranked No. 12, but this also may be one of the best seasons in program history and one of its best all-around teams. 

“These next couple of months are going to be exciting,” Goodale said.

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @cgreen204 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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