This upcoming season for the Rutgers wrestling team will include a mixture of excitement and high expectations.
On Sept. 23, the Scarlet Knights and head coach Scott Goodale agreed to a contract extension through the 2023-2024 season. Goodale, last year’s NCAA Tournament Coach of the Year, will look to build on his team’s first-ever top-10 finish at the national tournament last season. This historic season also included the team’s first-ever individual national champions, won by Olympic redshirt 133-pounder Nick Suriano and alumnus 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault.
Going into this season, the roster is shaping up to once again be among the top in the nation. FloWrestling has ranked three of the wrestlers to be in the NCAA Top 25, including junior 174-pounder Joseph Grello (17th), fifth-year senior heavyweight Christian Colucci (22nd) and fifth-year senior 141-pounder Peter Lipari (24th).
Grello and Lipari each picked up wins at last year’s national tournament. Colucci was no slouch either, participating in the Big Ten Championships as a starter at heavyweight.
The roster’s championship-level experience is balanced with an elite incoming freshman class, ranked fourth-best in the country by FloWrestling. The recruited prospects include 2019 NJSIAA state champions true freshmen 125-pounder Sammy Alvarez, 141-pounder JoJo Aragona and 157-pounder Robert Kanniard. Aragona was ranked the best in his weight class, while Kanniard ranked seventh in his class.
The unveiling of the new $115 million RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performing Center also adds to this season’s excitement. The team will now get to practice at a state of the art facility, right across from the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), where they have their home matches. Before, they trained at the older and less spacious College Avenue Gymnasium.
Goodale expressed enthusiasm when talking about the new facility.
“There’s no excuses right? We never made excuses and we never will, but nobody can say ‘Well look at what they’re working with,'" Goodale said. "We have all the support, all the resources from an academic and athletic standpoint. We have just as much as Penn State, just as much as Iowa.”
Goodale comparing his program to Penn State and Iowa, two championship-level teams, illustrates what he is expecting from Rutgers. Nothing below excellence will be accepted.
The Knights will start the season at home, where they will expect to fill up seats. Over the past four years, the RAC has been top-five in national collegiate wrestling attendance. On Nov. 2, they will host Centenary, LIU Post and Pitt-Johnstown. Their first Big Ten competition will also be at the RAC, hosting Maryland on Dec. 7.
Rutgers will also have important matches away from home. On Feb. 1, the Knights will be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They will be facing Michigan as part of MSG’s Super Saturday event, a showcase that will also include each school’s men’s basketball team.
Shortly after, Rutgers will host the 2020 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at the RAC. The event will take place on March 8 and 9, 2020. The program will look to repeat last season’s success in front of their faithful home crowd.
With the combination of Goodale, the winningest head coach in school history, along with a well-rounded roster, the Knights should once again be an elite wrestling squad this year. Whether they can take the next step and become national champions remains to be seen.
It won’t be easy, but there is hope and confidence within the program.
“It takes years to get that tradition, obviously,” Goodale said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t continue to have national champs and All-Americans and top-10 finishes."
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