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5 Knights set to represent Rutgers in NCAA Championships

 – Photo by Kelly Carmack

Forget for a second that the Rutgers wrestling team finished 12th at the Big Ten Championships with less than 26 points this past weekend. The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (10-7, 4-5) came away with podium finishes in the 133 and 157-pound weight classes.

With that being said, that isn’t all that transpired in front of a Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) crowd filled with fans of all Big Ten wrestling schools. While a conference tournament title is good for a team, topping the podium or earning an All-American status at the national level takes the prize.

Five Rutgers wrestlers will have the opportunity to pursue an NCAA Championship title. No. 7 true freshman 133-pounder Sammy Alvarez and No. 5 redshirt freshman 184-pounder Billy Janzer were the first Knights to capture automatic qualifying bids to NCAAs after their performances this past weekend. 

The other three were No. 7 graduate student 197-pounder Jordan Pagano, No. 8 redshirt freshman 125-pounder Nicolas Aguilar and junior 157-pounder Michael VanBrill, who all secured at-large selections after the Big Ten Championships' conclusion.

Alvarez placed sixth after losing to Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski in the fifth-place match. Alvarez faced him before when Rutgers faced the Fighting Illini (10-4, 6-3) on Feb. 7, but it was all Piotrowski in that bout. He pinned Alvarez 2:43 minutes into it.

Piotrowski muscled out a 5-3 decision in sudden victory on Sunday. 

Alvarez boasts an impressive resume heading into the NCAA Championships. He captured three wins at the Big Ten Championships. During the season, he defeated Pittsburgh’s Micky Phillippi, the No. 4 wrestler back on Jan. 2, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Alvarez was crowned the Southern Scuffle Champion there.

Alvarez finished the regular season 23-7, ending his first year on the Banks on a three-match winning streak. He took down Princeton’s Sean Pierson to close out his 2019-20 regular season campaign.

A homegrown wrestler out of Garfield, New Jersey, Alvarez is no stranger to the big stage. Dubbed the No. 3 recruit by FloWrestling, he was a state champion at 126 pounds in 2019. Alvarez competed at St. Joseph’s Regional, where he finished with more than 80 individual career wins.

Like Alvarez, Janzer is a local product. Hailing from Elk Township, New Jersey, Janzer attended Delsea Regional High School, where he collected two NJSIAA titles. At the Big Ten Championships, he was the highest pre-seed for the Knights, coming in at No. 5.

Janzer went 2-3 this past weekend at the RAC. He defeated Northwestern's Jack Jessen in the preliminary round, but couldn’t manage a victory against Nebraska’s Taylor Venz in the quarterfinals. Venz took a 10-3 victory over Janzer.

Falling to wrestlebacks, Janzer proceeded to lose to Purdue’s Max Lyon on Jan. 26, an opponent that he defeated in sudden victory. This time around at the Big Ten Championships, it was Lyon who came away with a 4-2 victory. 

Janzer then faced Jakob Hinz of Indiana in the ninth-place semifinals bout. Rutgers' NCAAs wrestler started out fast and pinned Hinz. Illinois’ Zac Braunagel took the 7-2 victory over Janzer in the ninth-place bout. 

Despite the loss to Braunagel, Janzer had locked up an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium. 

Janzer brings a compelling resume to the national tournament. His record stands at 19-7. He defeated Michigan’s Jelani Embree, then ranked No. 17 on Feb. 1, at Madison Square Garden as a part of the Big Ten's Super Saturday festivities.

He also took down Cornell’s Jonathan Loew, then ranked No. 19 on Jan. 19. Janzer has a 14-3 dual record and a 7-2 record against Big Ten opponents. He also owns 47 dual points and three major decisions.

While Alvarez and Janzer locked up bids this past weekend, more Knights followed suit soon after. Pagano did not wrestle at the Big Ten Championships, due to an injury default. With that being said, he still picked up an at-large selection. 

His resume includes a 22-7 record and a top-five ranked win. He defeated the Tigers' (9-4, 5-0) Patrick Brucki on Feb. 23, then the No. 3 wrestler at the 197-pound weight class.

Aguilar finished the conference tournament with a 4-2 record, but lost to Iowa’s No. 1 Spencer Lee. He was the champion in the 125-pound weight class at the Big Ten Championships.

Aguilar boasts a 20-9 overall record in his first season with the varsity team. He also owns a 5-4 Big Ten record and 31 dual points to go along with the NCAAs bid. Aguilar has four major decisions to his name on the season.

The last wrestler to secure an at-large selection was VanBrill. He finished seventh at the Big Ten Championships, earning three victories over the weekend. One of the wins came against two-time NCAA qualifer Eric Barone of the Fighting Illini.

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

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