2021 All-American John Poznanski (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
On Friday evening, the nation's winningest team for 2021-22 will host perhaps the gutsiest team in the country, as Army West Point makes the short trek to Rutgers for a non-conference dual.
While many teams front-load their schedule with open tournaments or individual bracket tourneys, Rutgers has wrestled duals after duals after duals. Their 9-0 mark in dual meets is far and away best in the nation. Among Big Ten and top-25 schools, only Purdue's 6-0 record comes remotely close. That may be a wise move from Scarlet Knight head coach Scott Goodale, as Rutgers generally has an experienced team that may not need the wear-and-tear associated with tournament action.
The Scarlet Knights come into Friday with a #12 ranking on the dual meet front and have a solid lineup with no significant holes. Even with a returning All-American out of the lineup for the bulk of the season, Rutgers has not missed a beat and outscored their nine opponents by a margin of 321-49.
In comes an Army West Point team that captured the imagination of the wrestling community two weeks ago by agreeing to a dual meet with top-ranked Iowa on less than 48 hours' notice. Head Coach Kevin Ward and his team were in Iowa to meet Iowa State on Saturday and participate in the school's Cyclone Open on Sunday. The Hawkeyes were slated to host #23 Oregon State, but post-Thanksgiving travel repeatedly delayed the OSU team and eventually prevented them from making the trip. Ward and did not balk at the daunting task of meeting the defending champs in a hostile Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Though the scoreboard was lopsided in Iowa's favor (36-7), the Black Knights won the respect of Iowa head coach Tom Brands, Iowa fans, and fans around the county.
The dual against Iowa was just another high hurdle on a daunting schedule for Army West Point in 2021-22. The Black Knights already traveled to #2 Penn State in November. They will be the only non-conference school in the country that wrestled duals at both Iowa and Penn State. Now they have a date with #12 Rutgers looming.
Rutgers is a team with three returning All-Americans and nine of the ten starters currently ranked in the top-33.
Here's a quick look at the potential matchups for tonight's tilt between Army West Point and Rutgers.
125: Ryan Chauvin (Army West Point) vs. #24 Dylan Shawver (Rutgers)
Don't be deceived by Chauvin's unsightly 1-4 record. He has been close with most of his opponents and took Iowa's Jesse Ybarra to sudden victory. Shawver is perfect at 8-0. The Scarlet Knight 125 lber has been the opposite and managed to win a handful of close bouts. He has one sudden victory win on his resume and has prevailed in bouts with two-point margins, or less, on three occasions.
133: Mark Montgomery (Army West Point) vs. #12 Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers)
Montgomery started the year by wrestling close matches with a pair of top-25 opponents, but ultimately coming up short. He struggled a bit during the Iowa trip with a major decision loss at Iowa State, then two other setbacks at the Cyclone Open. Trying to get back on the winning track against #12 Sammy Alvarez might be a tough ask. Alvarez has bonus points in four of his six wins this year and sports a 35-11 career record.
141: #29 Corey Shie (Army West Point) vs. #4 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers)
Army West Point has an extremely deep bench and may turn to someone other than Corey Shie here. If it's Shie who gets the nod, it will be an experienced veteran who is 3-2 on the year and a 2019 NCAA qualifier. Both of Shie's 2021-22 losses have come to top-12 opponents and he is as steady as they come. Rivera is a three-time NCAA All-American that has a pair of Big Ten titles to his credit. On two occasions, Rivera has earned the #1 seed at the NCAA Championships. Every time Rivera has stepped on the mat this season, he's come away with bonus points and a 9-1 major decision represents his â€œclosestâ€ match.
149: #24 PJ Ogunsanya (Army West Point) vs. #21 Mike Van Brill (Rutgers)
This is perhaps the match of the night, as one of Army West Point's top grapplers will face a solid competitor in Mike Van Brill. Both are ranked in the same range and it should be a close contest. Ogunsanya was the lone Black Knight wrestler that emerged from Iowa with a pair of wins. During the Iowa State dual, he recorded a close, 4-3 win, over All-American Jarrett Degen. Van Brill had an excellent showing at the 2021 Big Ten Championships and left with third place and a #10 seed at nationals in St. Louis. Unfortunately, Van Brill went 0-2 in his first trip to the â€œBig Dance.â€ Thus far, in 2021-22, Van Brill has been perfect and notched a pair of wins over past national qualifiers.
157: #29 Markus Hartman (Army West Point) vs. #32 Robert Kanniard (Rutgers)
This is one of the few matchups where Army holds the advantage, albeit a slim one. Don't let Markus Hartman's 2-4 record fool you. His two losses in Iowa came to a returning National Champion (David Carr - Iowa State) and a two-time All-American (Kaleb Young - Iowa). The high point of his season, thus far, has been a 9-0 major decision win over Penn State's Terrell Barraclough. Hartman is a two-time NCAA qualifier that was third in the conference in 2020. Robert Kanniard makes his way back to the rankings after a win via tech fall against American University in his last outing. Kanniard has captured bonus points in four of his five wins this season.
165: Dalton Harkins/Christian Hunt (Army West Point) vs. Andrew Clark (Rutgers)
Lots of options for Army West Point here. Their most impressive 165 lber has been Dalton Harkins, who has amassed a 16-3 record primarily in open tournament competition. He did get the go-ahead against Iowa State and responded with an 11-6 win. Hunt has seen action in duals this year and is 1-4. Andrew Clark has gone 7-7 during his first extended run as a starter for the Scarlet Knights. His most significant win of the year came in his last bout, when he edged returning national qualifier, Tim Fitzpatrick (American), by a point. Clark and Harkins have already met once this year, at the Shorty Hitchcock Open, and Harkins pitched a 3-0 shutout.
174: #25 Ben Pasiuk/Clayton Fielden (Army West Point) vs. Connor O'Neill (Rutgers)
We're not exactly sure what to expect at 174 lbs. Both teams have a prominent starter that could end up on the bench Friday night. 2021 EIWA champion Ben Pasiuk went 1-2 during Army's first event of the year on November 14th, but has not seen action since. 165 lber Clayton Fielden has moved up and seen action in all of the team's duals at 174 lbs. He's still looking for his first victory of the year in dual competition. Rutgers also has a starter that probably doesn't go Friday, in All-American Jackson Turley. Turley suffered an uncharacteristic loss that same weekend and has been on the shelf since. In his stead, Connor O'Neill has handled the action at 174. O'Neill has acquitted himself well, going 5-3, and being â€œinâ€ every match, even the losses. Expect more of the same effort here.
184: #30 Brad Laughlin (Army West Point) vs. #5 John Poznanski (Rutgers)
There was some uncertainty as to who may emerge as Army's 184 lber, but Brad Laughlin seems to have quelled any questions surrounding the weight, by winning the Journeymen Collegiate Classic in his first outing of the year. Since, Laughlin has run into a formidable gauntlet of opponents and suffered three consecutive dual losses. It doesn't get any easier for Laughlin, as one of Rutgers' best wrestlers will stand across from him Friday night. John Poznanski became the first true freshman to earn All-American honors last season, when he was fourth in the nation. Poznanski has shown no signs of slowing down this year with a 9-0 start and bonus points in five of those contests. A third of those wins have come against competition with prior NCAA experience.
197: #27 JT Brown (Army West Point) vs. #13 Greg Bulsak (Rutgers)
One of the most experienced wrestlers in the Army lineup is their 197 lber JT Brown. In each of the last two seasons, Brown has qualified for the NCAA Championships. In fact, last year, Brown claimed a win at nationals over Rutgers' entrant, Billy Janzer. Brown was one of two Black Knights that left Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a win, as he took out Zach Glazier, 4-1. Replacing Janzer is Clarion graduate transfer Greg Bulsak. Bulsak has proven to be a spectacular addition, going 7-0 with wins over three past national qualifiers. During his time at Clarion, Bulsak qualified for the NCAA Championships four times and won a MAC title in 2020. That year he was seeded tenth at the national tournament.
285: Ben Sullivan (Army West Point) vs. #25 Boone McDermott (Rutgers)
Senior Ben Sullivan has been in-and-out of the starting lineup during his tenure in West Point. He has been the team's entrant at the EIWA Championships on two occasions and is seeking his first trip to the national tournament. Sullivan has a solid career record of 39-24. He was turned to at the Iowa State dual and responded with a win in sudden victory. Rutgers has another transfer at the end of their lineup as 2020 Junior College national champion Boone McDermott has grabbed ahold of the starting role. The Iowa native is 6-1 and has proven to be a stabilizing figure at a weight class that gave them some problems in 2021.