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Rutgers prepares for last RAC match of season

The last time the Rutgers wrestling team faced Northwestern, it was on the road, and both were ranked inside the top 20 of the NWCA Coaches Poll. This was two seasons ago, on Feb. 2, 2018 in Evanston, Illinois. The away team only dropped two individual matches then, but downed the home team 22-13.

The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (9-6, 4-5) now face a Wildcats (4-6, 2-5) team with two Big Ten wins. The victories came against Michigan State last Friday by 9 points and over Indiana back on Jan. 18. 

Against the Spartans (7-9, 2-7), Northwestern captured six individual matches, including three major decisions in the 141, 157 and 197-pound bouts. 

For the Wildcats, this match will be the first of two on the Atlantic Coast this weekend. After taking on Rutgers at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) this Friday, Chicago’s Big Ten team will head down I-95 to College Park, Maryland, for a matchup with Maryland. The Terrapins (2-14, 0-8) are winless in the Big Ten and at home.

The Knights will look to finish off another winning season at home on Friday in their final RAC match of the season. It will be Senior Day for several of the starters, including No. 20 graduate student 197-pounder Jordan Pagano, who first came to the Banks as a Penn State transfer during the 2015-16 season. 

During that campaign, the former Bergen Catholic product had a 16-11 record. In his second season on the Banks, Pagano earned a bid to the NCAA Championships, where he compiled a 1-2 record.

The next several seasons for the graduate student were riddled with injuries. During the 2017-18 season, Pagano only appeared in six bouts, winning three. Pagano also missed a majority of his next season due to injury. For this reason, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility.

This season, Pagano has a 21-6 record, with his most recent win being a 4-2 decision in sudden victory over Rider’s No. 11 Ethan Laird. Seven other Rutgers wrestlers contributed wins as the Knights downed the Broncs (10-3, 6-1) 25-6. 

Wrestling down Route 1 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on the 303-acre campus of Rider, No. 20 redshirt freshman 125-pounder Nicolas Aguilar and true freshman 141-pounder JoJo Aragona picked up victories over ranked foes.

Aguilar defeated No. 28 Jonathan Tropea 11-7 in the first bout of the day last Sunday. Aguilar now owns a 19-8 record in his first season as the day-to-day starter at the 125-pound weight class.

Aragona took down former Rutgers wrestler 141-pounder Peter Lipari, who was ranked No. 25 for the Broncs. Lipari started at 141 pounds last season under head coach Scott Goodale. This past fall, though, Aragona beat out the Byram Township, New Jersey, native for the starting 141-pound spot in the wrestle-offs.

After this, Lipari, a fifth-year senior who finished his Knights’ career with a 40-31 record and a national tournament appearance last March, transferred to Rider for this season, becoming eligible immediately. 

Aragona pulled away with a 3-2 win, courtesy of a match-clinching reversal. The win snapped a two-bout losing streak for Aragona, who now owns an 11-8 record in his first season as a starter and on the Banks.

Fifth-year senior 184-pounder Willie Scott is the other starter who, like Pagano, will be honored on Senior Day. Scott has filled in for junior 174-pounder Joseph Grello, who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since competing against the Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-1) on Jan. 19. It is unclear if Grello will return to the mat for the final home event of the season.

Scott was 1 of 2 Rutgers wrestlers to come out on the losing end last Sunday. He was defeated by Dean Sherry, who was ranked at No. 18 by FloWrestling. Scott's record now sits at .500 with a 7-7 standing.

Junior 157-pounder Michael VanBrill also lost to a ranked wrestler, No. 6 Jesse Dellavecchia. Dellavecchia, a 165-pounder, won 3-1 against Van Brill, who now has a 16-14 record with two dual matches remaining.

Fifth-year senior heavyweight Christian Colucci will also be honored on Senior Day, but it is unknown if he will wrestle in what would be his final match of the season. Colucci last took the mat on Dec. 7, downing Maryland’s Parker Robinson 13-4 for a major decision victory. Colucci has a 9-2 record.

After hosting Northwestern on Friday, the Knights will head back down Route 1 for a matchup against in-state rival and Ivy League opponent Princeton on Feb. 23. The next time Rutgers returns to the RAC will be on March 7 and 8 for the Big Ten Championships.

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

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