Rutgers' dual meet season sees freshmen contributions
The Rutgers wrestling team concluded its 13th season with head coach Scott Goodale at the helm, last Sunday in Princeton. The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (10-7, 4-5) won five bouts against the No. 14 Tigers (9-4, 5-0), but Princeton came away with an 18-15 victory.
Rutgers entered the 2019-20 campaign having topped the podium twice at the national tournament in March 2019 for the first time in the program’s history. Alumnus 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault and Olympic redshirt 133-pounder Nick Suriano were the program’s first-ever individual national champions.
Coming into this season, the Knights boasted a loaded freshman class that has seen time on the mat. The expectation was that several newcomers would see starting lineup spots and meet appearances.
At the lightweight class, two wrestlers have embraced their spots in Goodale’s starting 10: No. 20 redshirt freshman 125-pounder Nicolas Aguilar and No. 9 true freshman 133-pounder Sammy Alvarez.
For Aguilar, this season was about earning his reps in the starting spot. He boasted only a 7-7 record in his redshirt season, the 2018-19 campaign. His achievement last year was topping the podium at the Patriots Open, a tournament in Fairfax, Virginia.
Fast forward to this season, and the Gilroy, California, native owns a 20-8 record and national ranking in his first season in the spotlight of a Big Ten program. He has two ranked wins over nationally ranked opponents, including a 3-1 victory over Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino, who was ranked No. 11 on Feb. 14.
Aguilar set the tone for his first season as the 125-pound starter when he secured a pin against Fresno State’s Robert Garcia IV on Nov. 15, 2019. That was the redshirt freshman’s first dual match appearance of the season.
Finding a wrestler to fill Suriano’s 133-pound spot in the lineup was going to be a challenge. Goodale knew what he was doing, though, by putting Alvarez, a true freshman, in at 133.
In his first match of the season, Alvarez earned a technical fall over LIU’s Michael Blando at the home quad meet in November. The Garfield, New Jersey, native actually signed with North Carolina State before switching to his home state school.
He competed at St. Joseph's Regional, where he became a state finalist for three years, which includes a championship at 126 pounds in 2019. That year, his senior season, Alvarez owned a 27-0 record.
The accomplished wrestler won the Southern Scuffle at 133 pounds this past January. He also defeated the Tigers' Sean Pierson to close out his first season on the Banks.
Rutgers also had a new wrestler at the 141-pound weight class: True freshman 141-pounder JoJo Aragona. Aragona won the starting spot after defeating sophomore 141-pounder Andrew Gapas and former starter Peter Lipari for it. Lipari, who was on the roster last season and saw time at the starting 141-pound spot along with junior 157-pounder Michael VanBrill, transferred to Rider.
Aragona and Lipari wrestled against each other when the Knights faced the Broncs (12-3, 7-1) back on Feb. 9. It was Aragona who came away with a win there, muscling his way to a 3-2 victory in extra time.
A large hole in the lineup ahead of the 2019-20 campaign was the 149-pound weight class. Rutgers had enjoyed much success there with Ashnault in 2018-19. He did not lose any bouts for the Knights, finishing with an unblemished 32-0 record in his last season on the Banks.
After Ashnault’s graduation, redshirt freshman 149-pounder Gerard Angelo and sophomore 149-pounder Nick Santos have seen time. Angelo has wrestled the bulk of the bouts, going 14-10 in 24 matches. Santos has a 7-2 record on the season.
At the conclusion of the dual-meet season, No. 13 redshirt freshman 184-pounder Billy Janzer leads the team with 47 dual points. He owns a 19-6 record on the season, his first in varsity action.
Alvarez’s 22 victories are the most by any Rutgers wrestler. His fastest pin was 3:34 minutes into the bout. Sophomore heavyweight Alex Esposito owns the fastest fall out of the varsity starters at 20 seconds. Gapas has a 12-second pin to his name, but has not competed in dual meets with the everyday starters.
The Knights will prepare to host 13 other Big Ten programs on March 7 and 8 for the 106th edition of the Big Ten in Piscataway, New Jersey. Saturday, March 7 at 10 a.m., the morning session will begin. Session two will start at 6:30 p.m. that evening.
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