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Rutgers' Alvarez, Janzer set to compete in NCAA Championships after weekend performances

 – Photo by Kelly Carmack

The Rutgers wrestling team welcomed the 13 other Big Ten teams to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for the 106th edition of the conference tournament. At the conclusion of the first morning session on Saturday, the No. 25 Scarlet Knights (10-7, 4-5) did not have any wrestlers in the semifinal rounds.

Iowa took first in the team score with 157.5 points, followed by Nebraska with 132 and Ohio State with 112. 

Rutgers dropped to 12th out of the 14-team field. The Knights finished with 25.5 points, ahead of only Indiana and Maryland. 

No. 9 redshirt freshman 125-pounder Nicolas Aguilar was 1 of 6 Rutgers wrestlers to advance to the quarterfinals round. He held Wisconsin’s Eric Barnett without a point in the preliminary round. But then, Aguilar, who boasts a 20-9 overall record, suffered a pin 2:53 into his quarterfinal bout against No. 1 Spencer Lee of the No. 1 Hawkeyes (13-0, 9-0).

Aguilar, like many Knights, fell to the consolation rounds. On Saturday, in his first wrestleback matchup, he lost 13-7 to the Hoosiers' (2-10, 1-8) Liam Cronin. Aguilar previously lost to Cronin back on Jan. 24. 

The redshirt freshman then took down Brandon Meredith of No. 2 Penn State in the wrestleback quarterfinals.

No. 7 true freshman 133-pounder Sammy Alvarez was the first Rutgers wrestler to book his ticket to the NCAA Championships. The top seven finishers in the 133-pound bracket earned bids to the national tournament. Alvarez wrestled Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski, the No. 4 seed in the fifth-place match, but lost 5-3 in the first sudden victory period.

No. 5 redshirt freshman 184-pounder Billy Janzer came into the RAC as the top-ranked Knight. After advancing to the quarterfinals, though, he lost to the Cornhuskers' (11-3, 6-3) Taylor Venz, the No. 4 seed. In the wrestleback second round, Janzer lost a 4-2 decision to Purdue’s Max Lyon.

Janzer became the second wrestler to represent Rutgers in Minneapolis, the site of this year’s national tournament. He pinned Jakob Hinz of Indiana 2:07 minutes into the match.

While Janzer and Alvarez are officially going to compete at the NCAA Championships in several weeks, No. 7 graduate student 197-pounder Jordan Pagano could earn a wildcard selection to wrestling’s big dance this March. He was an injury default in the conference tournament. 

After upsetting No. 6 Cole Martin of the Badgers (11-5, 4-5), 15-11 in the preliminary round, No. 11 redshirt freshman 149-pounder Gerard Angelo was hurt in his quarterfinal bout against Minnesota’s No. 3 Brayton Lee. He was an injury default 3:21 minutes into the bout.

No. 10 fifth-year senior 174-pounder Willie Scott had an opportunity to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships on Sunday. He faced Wisconsin's Jared Krattiger in session three of the Big Ten Championships. Ultimately, it was Krattiger who came away with a 2-1 victory.

No. 11 junior 165-pounder Brett Donner fell out of the bracket with a 7-4 loss to Northwestern’s Shayne Oster in the preliminary round. The Badgers' No. 3 Evan Wick medically forfeited his bout against Donner in the first consolation round. 

Donner then lost to Ethan Smith of the Buckeyes (10-4, 6-3) in the second wrestleback round.

True freshman 141-pounder JoJo Aragona had a difficult time on Saturday at the RAC. He was 2-2 on the day, with both of those wins coming against No. 14 Hunter Baxter of the Terrapins (2-17, 0-9). Aragona faced Baxter in the first consolation round and in the consolation quarterfinals. 

No. 10 sophomore heavyweight Alex Esposito navigated his way to the quarterfinals on Saturday after the Nittany Lions' (12-2, 8-1) No. 7 Seth Nevills was injured during the bout. Esposito then lost to No. 2 Gable Steveson of the Golden Gophers (9-8, 4-5). Steveson pinned Esposito less than a minute and a half into the match.

No. 9 junior 157-pounder Michael VanBrill joined Alvarez as the Knights’ only placewinners on the podium. He captured a seventh-place finish after pinning Garrett Model of Wisconsin. VanBrill went 2-2 on Saturday, defeating Eric Barone of the Fighting Illini (10-4, 6-3) 6-4 and Maryland’s Jahi Jones 7-4. 

Rutgers will look forward to this year’s NCAA Championships in Minneapolis from March 19-21. The Knights, so far, have two representatives in Alvarez and Janzer. 

"I thought the fans here in New Jersey were awesome this weekend," said head coach Scott Goodale. "Our operations team did an excellent job with this incredible challenge of having a championship right here in the RAC. You always want to wrestle at a hard level here, which is a hard thing to do. We're just happy to get through it and get as many guys as we can to nationals. It was a great weekend of wrestling not just for Rutgers, but for the state of New Jersey."

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

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