(Photo Courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com; Graphic from Anna-Lee Marie)
The Garden State Grapple event at the Prudential Center in Newark will feature multiple duals, including an ACC vs. Big Ten battle between ranked teams. No. 12 Rutgers is 6-0 on the season and will face off against No. 18 North Carolina in a dual that features 15 ranked wrestlers across the 10 weights. The following is a match-by-match preview of the dual.
How to Watch: 7:30 on BTN+ (Link is good for Rutgers' two bouts. They will also wrestle Hofstra at 5:30pm)
125: No. 23 Dylan Shawver (Rutgers) vs. Spencer Moore (North Carolina)
During the 2021 campaign, Shawver only had two matches in the regular season, but still ended up representing Rutgers at the Big Ten tournament. There he finished with a 2-3 record, but did score an impressive upset over No. 10 Patrick McKee (Minnesota) via a 6-5 score. The Ohio native has started all the way for Rutgers this season and holds an undefeated 5-0 record. In his first bout of the season, he scored a decision victory over No. 31 Logan Heil (Cleveland State).
As a true freshman in an unusual season, Moore has already faced some much older opposition. He recently wrestled Nebraska's No. 22 Liam Cronin, who was a full seven years older than him. In his very recent high school career, Moore was a two-time Kentucky state champion and a member of the 2021 Cadet World team.
Moore has been extremely active this season and currently holds a 6-5 record. However, half of his wins on the season have come against non-Division I opposition. Shawver did not have very many matches last year due to the shortened season, but the experience he did gain should help him here.
Prediction: Shawver decision over Moore (3-0 Rutgers)
133: No, 12 Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers) vs. No. 10 Jaime Hernandez (North Carolina)
Alvarez qualified for the NCAA tournament as a true freshman during the 2020 season. Last year, he had only three matches, but went 3-0 with impressive wins over Jordan Decatur (Ohio State) and former Minnesota wrestler Boo Dryden (Nebraska). Things got off to a rocky start this year as Alvarez was caught in a headlock and pinned by Anthony Sobotker (Binghamton). However, he has since turned things around and holds a 4-1 record on the year.
Much like Alvarez, Hernandez also only wrestled three matches last year after qualifying in 2020. He has started this season with a 4-0 record that includes a two-point victory over Dylan Koontz (Ohio State) and a 10-4 decision over Alex Thomsen (Nebraska).
Against Thomsen, Hernandez gave up the first takedown before getting back into the match and making a difference from the top position. If he falls behind here against Alvarez, he may not be able to recover. Alvarez normally excels in wide-open matches with a lot of scoring, and that is likely to be the case in this contest. Look for both wrestlers to have their moments, but Alvarez's persistent offense should be the difference-maker in what would be a slight rankings upset. Then Alvarez has shown throughout his career that he can be susceptible to big moves.
Prediction: Alvarez decision over HernÃ¡ndez (6-0 Rutgers)
141: No. 4 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) vs. No. 10 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina)
2021 was another successful season for Rivera. He finished fourth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American for the third time. While it was just his latest trip to the podium, it was his first for Rutgers after transferring from Northwestern. After a summer that saw him focus on freestyle as part of an attempt to make the Olympics for Puerto Rico, he has returned for one final run on the college mats. Rivera has started his final campaign with four victories, including a pair of technical falls.
Clarke transferred to North Carolina from American, where he was an NCAA qualifier in 2020. He has already made a big impact on the new squad. Not only has he won all five of his matches, but he also picked up a sudden-victory upset over No. 11 Chad Red (Nebraska). He holds career victories over No. 18 (at 149) Kanen Storr (Michigan) and Jacob Butler (Oklahoma).
In the upset over Red, Clarke was able to hang physically and defend some pretty deep takedown attempts. While that will likely serve him well against Rivera, the pace of attacks from Rivera will likely be the difference. Against both Red and Jordan Decatur (Ohio State), Clarke was able to slow things down and make it basically a one-score match. That will almost certainly be tough against Rivera, who will likely string multiple attacks together in order to score.
Prediction: Rivera decision over Clarke (9-0 Rutgers)
149: No. 25 Mike Van Brill (Rutgers) vs. No. 16 Zach Sherman (North Carolina)
Van Brill is a two-time NCAA qualifier who is still looking for his first win at the NCAA tournament after going 0-2 last year and the 2020 cancellation. So far this year, he has gone 5-0. Four of his five victories have been by five points or less, and his win over Nick Lombard (Binghamton) came in sudden victory via a 3-1 score.
Sherman began his college career at 133 pounds before becoming an All-American at 141 last year. For this season, he moved up to 149, and the early season results have been somewhat concerning. Sherman currently holds a 2-3 record, with both of his victories coming against non-division 1 opposition. He has lost three-straight matches against No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), No. 13 Ridge Lovette (Nebraska) and No. 15 Josh Heil (Campbell).
It is too early in the season for this to be a must-win bout for Sherman, but considering his current run, he would almost certainly want to change his momentum. Both of these wrestlers find themselves in a lot of close matches, so this might not be an exception. Sherman should be the favorite here, but if his recent issues are weight-related, it could be a struggle.
Prediction: Sherman decision over Van Brill (9-3 Rutgers)
157: Robert Kanniard (Rutgers) vs. No. 7 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina)
After starting four duals last year, Kanniard has stepped into the consistent starting spot for the Scarlet Knights this year. Through five matches, he has gone 4-1, with his only defeat coming against Trevor Elfvin (Clarion).
Despite winning an NCAA title last season, O'Connor, like Sherman, has bumped up a weight class. He started his 157-pound campaign with three-straight bonus-point victories, but then hit a snag when he dropped a 5-2 decision against No. 6 Peyton Robb (Nebraska). O'Connor bounced back nicely against Matthew Dallara (Campbell). He led by a 14-4 score going into the final period before Dallara was disqualified for stalling.
O'Connor's style really depends on his ability to physically dominate his opponents, so in theory, wrestling against larger opposition might give him some trouble. Robb wrestled exceptionally well in the match against O'Connor, so it might be a mistake to try to extrapolate a lot from that bout. O'Connor should be able to handle Kanniard here, but the bout should be another solid barometer of the returning champion's prospects at the new weight.
Prediction: O'Connor decision over Kanniard (9-6 Rutgers)
165: Andrew Clark (Rutgers) vs. Sonny Santiago (North Carolina)
Clark started five of Rutgers' six duals so far this year and got some extra work at the Shorty Hitchcock Open. His record currently stands at 6-5, but three of those victories have been against wrestlers from lower divisions. Clark was a 2020 New Jersey state champion and wrestled only one match during his redshirt season in 2021.
Santiago went 4-1 last year, competing primarily in extra matches. He has assumed a starting role this year and gone 5-3. Against Nebraska, he dropped a one-point match against Bubba Wilson, but he bounded back with a 6-3 win over Riley Augustine (Campbell). Santiago was a 2019 California state champion for powerhouse St. John Bosco.
This should be an interesting bout between a pair of wrestlers with a lot of accomplishments at the high school level who are still making the adjustment to college. At this point, Clark has picked up the better wins and faced the tougher schedule. That makes him the favorite, but this could easily be a swing match.
Prediction: Clark decision over Santiago (12-6 Rutgers)
174: No. 13 Jackson Turley (Rutgers) vs. No. 15 Clay Lautt (North Carolina)
Turley had only four matches last season prior to the Big Ten tournament. However, he still managed to qualify and ultimately finish eighth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American. Turley was a top-50 recruit and a National Prep champion on the high school level, but few expected him to be an All-American in his first year in the lineup. Despite the early career success, he has only wrestled one match this year and dropped a decision against John Worthing (Clarion).
Lautt also had a strong showing at the last NCAA tournament. He picked up key wins over No. 16 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State) and No. 11 Peyton Mocco (Missouri). Despite those strong performances, Lautt ultimately came up short in the blood round and finished 12th. He has started this year with a 2-2 record, with both of his losses coming against ranked wrestlers, No. 20 (at 184) Rocky Jordan (Ohio State) and No. 2 Michael Labriola (Nebraska).
Given Turley's performance in his only match this year, it would be safe to assume that he is either injured or not in peak form. Do not be surprised if Rutgers sends out Connor O'Neill instead, as he has started five duals already this year. Either way, considering the current trends, Lautt should be able to pick up a victory here.
Prediction: Lautt decision over Turley/O'Neill (12-9 Rutgers)
184: No. 5 John Poznanski (Rutgers) vs. No. 23 Gavin Kane (North Carolina)
Much like Turley, Poznanski was a pleasant early surprise for Rutgers. He joined the squad after winning a 2020 New Jersey state championship and was 40-0 in his final high school campaign. Poznanski took it a step forward in his first season for Rutgers. At the NCAA tournament, he went 4-2 with wins over No. 7 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) and No. 12 (at 197) Louie DePrez (Binghamton) and ultimately finished fourth to become an All-American.
Despite starting the year at 174 pounds, Kane looks to be the answer for North Carolina at 184. At least, this was the case in their recent match against Campbell. He moved up for the first time this year and dispatched Caleb Hopkins via a 7-3 decision. During his high school career, Kane was a four-time Georgia state champion and a Super 32 runner-up.
Kane will likely have a strong season up at this weight, but he will be up against it here. Poznanski adapted well to the college game almost immediately, and so far this year, the results have been just as strong. He is undefeated at 6-0 with three bonus-point victories. At the very least, he will make it very hard for Kane to get on the board.
Prediction: Poznanski decision over Kane (15-9 Rutgers)
197: No. 14 Greg Bulsak (Rutgers) vs. No. 26 Max Shaw (North Carolina)
Bulsak was a four-time NCAA qualifier for Clarion, who is now trying to make one final run at the podium for Rutgers. He has wrestled three matches on the year and picked up a pair of falls, including one against his former squad as he decked Will Feldkamp a few weeks ago.
Last year as a redshirt freshman, Shaw picked up wins over Kaden Russell (Duke) and Andy Smith (Virginia Tech) at the ACC tournament to qualify for the 2021 NCAA tournament. Things got off to a rough start this year as he was the only Tar Heel to lose in their dual against NAIA champion Life. Not only did Shaw lose, but the loss came via fall. Shaw returned to action last Sunday and got back on track with a 3-2 decision over Campbell's Levi Hopkins.
At this point, Bulsak has been around the block and seen it all. He should be able to impose his will physically in this match and control it throughout. Shaw has been able to keep it close against top wrestlers in the past, and that should be the case again here. However, Bulsak will likely be the one picking up the win.
Prediction: Bulsak decision over Shaw (18-9 Rutgers)
285: No. 23 Boone McDermott (Rutgers) vs. Brandon Whitman (North Carolina)
McDermott was an NJCAA champion at Iowa Central in 2020. He then transferred to Rutgers. Last year, he defeated Gary Traub (Oregon State) and Jamarcus Grant, then of Purdue, while backing up Christian Colucci. This year, McDermott has been impressive as he has won all four of his matches and pinned John Kelbly (Cleveland State) and Grayson Walthall (Chattanooga).
Whitman was an unlikely NCAA qualifier as a true freshman in 2019. Last season, he moved up to heavyweight and went 2-3 in a reserve role. However, Whitman did pick up an impressive 3-1 victory over No. 32 Jacob Slinger (Pittsburgh). This year, he has gone 2-2, but he is still looking for his first win over a Division I opponent.
Whitman is surprisingly agile for a heavyweight, and he was able to hang early against No. 13 Christian Lance (Nebraska). However, as the match went on, Lance was able to wear him down and take the major decision. Expected something similar here against McDermott, who has shown in limited action that he is ready for the grind of the Big Ten heavyweight division. North Carolina forfeited at heavyweight against Campbell, so it is possible there are issues with Whitman.
Prediction: McDermott major decision over Whitman
Dual Prediction: Rutgers over North Carolina (22-9)