Rutgers splits two matches in Illinois

The weekend started out promising for the Rutgers wrestling team, beating Northwestern handily in Evanston, but things took a turn for the worse during the matchup against Illinois in Champaign.

On Friday, the No. 19 Scarlet Knights (6-6, 2-5) handed the No. 17 Wildcats (8-4, 3-4) their first loss at home, winning by a score of 22-13.

“Anytime you get a win in the Big Ten on the road against a nationally-ranked program, it's big,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “I thought we wrestled hard again. We backed up our Penn State effort with another really good effort and we won a lot of close matches, which is important.”

Starting things off was No. 1 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano against No. 10 Sebastian Rivera — a rematch of the Midlands Championships title match.

And like at the Midlands, Suriano came away with the win, 4-1.

The rest of the night went as the team would expect, with Rutgers securing five more individual wins from No. 20 fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, redshirt freshman 141-pounder Michael Van Brill, No. 17 junior 157-pounder John Van Brill and fifth-year seniors No. 11 165-pounder Richie Lewis and No. 12 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina.

But on Sunday against the No. 14 Fighting Illini (7-3, 6-2), things went south for the Knights right from the get-go. 

At the 125 weight class, Suriano was forced to forfeit due to illness — Suriano’s first loss of the season — giving Illinois a quick 6-0 advantage.

“Nick developed flu-like symptoms this weekend, forcing us to hold him out of our dual with Illinois,” Goodale said, according to Rutgers Wrestling on Twitter. “We'll continue to monitor him moving forward.”

After a 3-1 win for DelVecchio over Dylan Duncan made it 6-3, Michael Van Brill couldn’t keep the momentum going, falling 10-4 to the Illini’s Mike Carr.

For the 149 weight-class, a spot normally locked down by No. 12 fifth-year senior Eleazar DeLuca, freshman Nick Santos took the reigns. Santos almost squeaked by with the win, but was ultimately edged out 3-2 by Eric Barone.

John Van Brill followed that up with an 8-6 loss of his own to an unranked Kyle Langenderfer to make things 15-3, advantage Illinois. 

Of the many disappointments on the day, most notably was the absence of Lewis at 165. Lewis was scheduled to wrestle No. 2 Isaiah Martinez, but instead was replaced by sophomore Brett Donner, who went on to lose by technical fall.

"We're kind of hurting, and once we realized Nick wasn't going to wrestle, we decided to rest these guys," Goodale said to NJ Advance Media. "We just felt that's in the best interest going forward to the postseason, to get these guys back to healthy."

Although a 6-2 win for redshirt freshman Joseph Grello at 174 inched Rutgers closer at 20-6, the win proved futile as the damage had already been done.

And like Lewis, his classmate Gravina would not wrestle in his highly-anticipated matchup against No. 6 Emery Parker either. In place of Gravina was sophomore Willie Scott who wrestled well but lost a close one, 4-3. 

Fifth-year senior 197-pounder Anthony Messner and senior heavyweight Razohnn Gross finished things off with wins for the Knights, but it was too late, as the Illini came away with the 23-12 win.

Rutgers will now get ready to host No. 18 Minnesota (5-6, 2-4) at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Friday at 7 p.m. — the team’s final home match of the season.

"We're looking forward to returning home, healing and preparing for our dual with Minnesota on Friday," Goodale said.

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

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