After a regular season that saw him compile a 26-10 record, true freshman 133-pounder Sammy Alvarez was able to claim the 10th seed at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships before the event was canceled due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Alvarez was already having a successful season. Wrestling at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), Alvarez earned sixth place in his weight class at the Big Ten Championships.
During the regular season, Alvarez was crowned the Southern Scuffle champion. He defeated No. 4 Micky Phillippi from Pittsburg and No. 9 Cam Sykora from North Dakota State. Additionally, Alvarez claimed victory against eight ranked opponents.
Alvarez recalls important lessons learned and experiences gained from his first year on the Rutgers wrestling team.
Q: Besides the season ending early, what did you think about your first year at Rutgers?
A: I thought it was a big growing period. I learned a lot on the mat as well as off. It was a good year. It was important to my development as a wrestler and it will definitely carry into the next season.
Q: What was the significance for you to stay home and wrestle instead of going to North Carolina State?
A: Staying home and wrestling for your home state is definitely a big factor. It's a huge difference, rather than being eight hours away and in a totally different conference. It's a different scale. I think it's more important to me to stay home and wrestle in front of the people I've wrestled in front of my entire life.
Q: Did you feel like you had big shoes to fill with the departure of Anthony Ashnault and Nick Surino redshirting?
A: It was definitely more of an expectation that we set as a team and a program. It wasn't just about me, it's always more than one guy … I think it was definitely exciting, and it was definitely something that was always in the back of our minds, that we're capable of putting Rutgers on the map and competing at a high level.
Q: Did any of your older teammates ever give you advice about starting your collegiate career?
A: In that aspect, it's lead by example. It wasn't really a verbal thing. It was just you came in, you saw how the older guys work and just fall in line and do your job. That's the most important thing.
Q: Is there a specific moment when you realized how different the stage is between high school and Big Ten (collegiate) wrestling?
A: The first match, I think it was a quad. It wasn't too high level of competition, but I learned a lot. It was definitely exciting to wrestle in the (Rutgers Athletic Center) RAC first off. That's definitely the first thing you have to acknowledge when you are wrestling for Rutgers. You are wrestling in the RAC, it's exciting, there's a lot of people there and there's a lot of culture. More than just wrestling, the basketball teams and just a lot of different things you want to be a part of.
In retrospect, it's just creating moments and memories that you can cherish forever.
Q: What did it mean to you to step out on the mat and look around and see all the spectators?
A: It was cool. To me, it's exciting, just the feeling that you crave, and once you get it, you want to keep getting it. You never like losing, especially in your home state, in front of your home crowd. It's definitely exciting for sure.
Q: What did it mean to you to qualify for the NCAA Championships as a freshman?
A: It was huge. I think that was definitely the next step in my career, solidifying myself as a guy that even though I'm younger in the tiers of the top five guys in my weight. I still felt that I had the capabilities of competing at a high level.
For me, it was just about peaking at the right time, and it sucks that we didn't get the opportunity to really see what would've happened. But food for thought, I'm definitely going into next season looking at myself as a top-five guy ready to break through.
Q: Do you have any specific goals set up for next season?
A: No, not really. Especially in times like this, you can't really think too far ahead. The most important thing is waiting until this subsides and getting over this as a state and a country and moving forward. Not really worried about looking too far ahead.
Q: Do you think the way everything ended will have some kind of impact on you?
A: Yeah, it means a lot to be a guy that can say, 'when I was a freshman, we didn't even get our postseason. Things were going crazy all around and it was just a rough time.' I think it'll play a big role and probably affect us for the best. I can see a positive coming out of it.
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