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Rutgers' Aragona shows promise that comes with being No. 1 recruit in weight class

 – Photo by Curstine Guevarra

The Rutgers wrestling team always bolsters top New Jersey high school products on its roster. Alumnus Anthony Ashnault captured four consecutive state titles with South Plainfield, not to mention a 170-0 record in that time span. 

Head coach Scott Goodale likes to stay close to home when it comes to recruiting. New Jersey, along with Pennsylvania and Ohio, are hotbeds for collegiate wrestling scouts. Top high school wrestling programs are up and down state lines, easy for coaches and university administrators to get to.

Goodale’s current freshman class includes 5 New Jersey high school products out of 7 true first-years. True freshman 141-pounder JoJo Aragona is an exception to this.

He resides in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, located on the edge of the Delaware River and to the left of Port Jervis, New York. Southeast of the town is the Garden State.

Be that as it may, Aragona’s decorative wrestling career manifested itself in Sparta, New Jersey, at Pope John XXIII. He medaled all four years of high school, but captured the NJSIAA state championship last season at 138 pounds.

Goodale made it official on Nov. 19, 2018: The Pope John XXIII product signed his National Letter of Intent (NLI) to move to the state where he garnered his success.

"We've never had a No. 1 overall kid in their weight class sign with us, so it's a big deal for our program,” Goodale said the day the NLI’s were announced. “He earned that and is ready to go. He has trained with our ROTC for a long time, so he's just an exciting kid who comes from a hard-working family.”

In Sussex County, Aragona racked up a whopping 158 wins before he graduated this past June.

Listed at 141 pounds, Aragona was the top recruit in the country in his weight class, according to FloWrestling. FloWrestling also tapped him as the 6th-highest overall recruit out of all the 10 weight classes. 

Aragona also competed in the Grapple at the Garden event on May 6, 2019, alongside Ashnault and Olympic redshirt Nick Suriano. Aragona pinned Penn State’s Adam Busiello at Madison Square Garden.

This past summer, Aragona made the jump from the high school level to the high level of competition in the Big Ten.

“I’ve definitely made huge jumps in every position. On my feet, top (and) bottom,” Aragona said on the No. 25 Scarlet Knights’ (10-7, 4-5) media day in October. “It was a very hard adjustment, but these coaches, they’re the best in the country, and they’ve helped me."

In his first meet on the Banks on Nov. 2, 2019, Aragona swept the quad meet with three wins. His first loss came eight days later, when he lost a 4-1 decision to Nebraska’s Chad Red Jr. at the Journeymen Classic. Red Jr. was ranked No. 7 in the nation at the time of the bout.

At the Southern Scuffle to start the 2020 calendar year, Aragona won his first two matches before losing to Lock Haven’s Kyle Shoop. Following that match, Aragona dropped the next 3 of his 4 matches.

He finished his season with a 2-0 loss to Northwestern’s Alec McKenna and did not wrestle against Princeton on Feb. 23. Aragona concluded his first season in Rutgers' lineup with an 11-9 record. 

It remains to be seen if Goodale will opt for Aragona at the Knights’ 141-pound allocated spot for the Big Ten this upcoming weekend. Junior 133-pounder Zach Firestone has appeared in 7 bouts this season, winning 4 of them. He captured his second win of the month when he defeated Marshall Keller of the No. 12 Tigers (9-4, 5-0). 

Aragona was 7-7 against Big Ten opponents. The highest-ranked conference opponent he faced was Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher, who was then the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country at the 141-pound weight class. Pletcher downed Aragona in a 12-4 major decision when Rutgers visited Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 10. 

On InterMat Wrestling’s rankings, the Nittany Lion's (12-2, 8-1) Nick Lee tops the rankings and is followed by Pletcher. Iowa's Max Murin sits at the No. 5 ranking in the country. Red Jr. of the Cornhuskers (11-3, 6-3) and Minnesota’s Mitch McKee round out the Big Ten 141-pounders inside the top 10. 

If Aragona is tapped to wrestle at 141 pounds this weekend, he will have to contend with some of the top-rated talent the conference has to offer. 

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

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