Rutgers simmers on Senior Night, falls to Minnesota, 20-12

Knights fall in RAC finale

It was supposed to be a great night for the Rutgers wrestling team as friends and family poured into the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) one final time this season to honor the seniors who were leaving behind their legacies for the program. 

At the same time, the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (6-7, 2-6) were getting ready to face No. 21 Minnesota (7-6, 4-4) in an evenly contested matchup.

The stage was set. But things don’t always happen like they do in the movies and Rutgers quickly realized that. 

It was a strange match from the beginning, as senior heavyweight Razohnn Gross — normally the closer — got the call to start things off. 

And despite his best efforts, the senior could not secure the victory on his night — mostly due to his struggles on the bottom, a theme plaguing the team throughout the night — falling to Rylee Streifel 2-0.

“We got ridden hard,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “You can’t win Big Ten matches, you can’t win national level matches if you can’t get off the bottom, so we gotta address it.”

No. 1 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano was out for the Knights once again as he continues to deal with the flu. In his spot was freshman Luke Ecklof, who lost via technical fall to No. 6 Ethan Lizak, 16-0.

After Ecklof, No. 20 fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio took the mat to face No. 12 Mitch McKee. After a strong start by DelVecchio, McKee scored 5 unanswered points to take the bout, 8-6, spoiling another senior send off.

The Golden Gophers sent out another ranked wrestler at 141 in No. 14 Tommy Thorn and Rutgers countered with redshirt freshman Michael Van Brill. But like the previous three matches, Minnesota came out on top and had a convincing 14-0 lead after four rounds.

The Knights finally got on the scoreboard after No. 11 fifth-year senior Eleazar DeLuca beat Miles Patton, 6-4, in his final match at the RAC.

But after a 10-minute intermission, it was more of the same as No. 17 Jake Short narrowly defeated junior 157-pounder John Van Brill, 4-3. 

“We need to win at heavyweight and 133, (those) are big swing matches there and even (John) Van Brill those are really, really tight matches,” Goodale said. “We have a lot on the line for Big Ten seeding implications and we just didn’t win those.”

Rutgers staged a miniature comeback toward the end of the night, though, and it started with No. 11 fifth-year senior 165-pounder Richie Lewis. 

Lewis faced off against No. 8 Nick Wanzek in the match of the night and after two and a half periods of close wrestling, Lewis secured a takedown in his final seconds at the RAC to take the huge upset win, 3-1, energizing the crowd that was desperate to cheer for anything.

“I was happy he won,” Goodale said. “That’s a huge win. It seems like every guy in this conference is a top-10 guy. At some point they’re gonna put (Lewis) in the top 10, I would think. So, he’s doing a good job, wrestling solid (and) knocking them off.”

Freshman 174-pounder Joseph Grello followed up Lewis’s performance with an impressive 12-7 victory of his own as the Knights inched closer, 17-9.

No. 12 fifth-year senior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina — who is coming back next year for a sixth year — made it three in a row for the Knights as he handily defeated Brandon Krone, 8-2, making things 17-12.

But that would be the closest Rutgers would get as fifth-year senior 197-pounder Anthony Messner finished the night off with an 11-4 loss — a disappointing ending to a disappointing Senior Night.

Regardless of the wins and losses though, Goodale reflected on the seniors' times here and what an impact they have made for this program.

“It’s a pretty special group,” he said, also including Gravina and fifth-year senior Anthony Ashnault who is out for the remainder of the season. “They’ve had some great moments out at the RAC, they’ve won some huge matches. They’ve really, really put this program on the map there’s no question about it.”

The Knights are now under .500 for the first time in 10 years and are in danger of ending the season below .500 if they don’t take care of business against No. 20 Wisconsin next Friday and Princeton the following Sunday. 

But Goodale knows what’s at stake as well, and knows what his team must do from here on out.

“I wanna win the next match,” Goodale said. “You know, Wisconsin is a big one for us. I’m sure this group doesn’t wanna be the team under .500 so we got two big ones next week and then we’re on to the postseason.”

As for the postseason, which will culminate in Cleveland, Ohio from March 15-17, Goodale had one thing to say.

“There’s a lot more to do right now and it won’t be complete until Cleveland,” he said.

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

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