COACH GOODALE HAS TOUGH LINEUP DECISIONS TO MAKE…
Last Friday, head coach Scott Goodale, along with a handful of Rutgers wrestlers, spoke to the media for Rutgers Wrestling’s media day. Goodale had an optimistic outlook on his team, which features one of the deeper rosters he has had in his tenure at Rutgers. One of the reasons Goodale credits his team’s depth is due to the off-season work his team put in this summer and fall.
“A lot of guys have been in the room over the course of the last five or six months”, Goodale said in his opening statement. “I think we did a really good job of getting our guys back and inspired, and excited to compete and wrestle”.
Although Goodale feels he has rejuvenated and talented team, he followed that up by saying that he is uncertain of his lineup for the upcoming season.
“This is a team of 10 weight classes and 10 question marks…I think we have a lot of talent. I think it’s a lineup that is extremely balanced”, Goodale stated.
“We have two very talented kids who can win a lot of matches (at 125lbs). (184-lbs) that’s a question mark”, Goodale said, referring to this as a good problem to have.
Like every year, the Rutgers coaching staff does not rely on wrestle-offs, but indicator matches and open tournaments. This year, due to a new NCAA rule, wrestlers are allowed to wrestle in five events and are still able to redshirt. This will allow Rutgers to use a flexible lineup in the first half of the season, in order to hammer out the lineup for the Big Ten dual meet season.
Regardless of the challenge of figuring out his lineup, Goodale put a lot of emphasis on how much he enjoys this team. His expectations are high, and he sees this team as one that can make a lot of noise in the dual meet season.
“I think this is a very good dual meet team right now”, Goodale mentioned when discussing his roster. Goodale later stated, “It’s going to be a fun season. I love to come to work every day – some of the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time being around these guys”.
POZNANSKI & SOLDANO PUSH EACH OTHER AS THEY JOCKEY FOR STARTING JOB…
John Poznanski came into the 2021-22 season with high expectations – from both himself and from the Rutgers wrestling community. After finishing 4th at the 2020 NCAA tournament as a true freshman, Poznanski was surefire podium candidate, with his name being in the mix for the 184-lb crown.
Unfortunately for Poznanski, injuries riddled his season, and despite wrestling in the post-season, Poznanski failed to make the podium. This was inspiration for Poznanski to get out of the Rutgers wrestling room, get healthy, and regroup.
“Last year I was going through a little big of an injury. I think that, with a bunch of things on top of some off the mat stuff”, Poznanski told TKR. “This sport is hard day in and day out. It’s hard both on the mat, and off the mat. The mental, the physical”.
One of the adjustments “Poz” made was going back to his roots. As someone who was a daily fixture in the Rutgers wrestling and weight rooms, both in and out of season, Poznanski got off campus to train at home, clear his mind, and get strong.
“A big thing for me is staying strong. I am stronger at 184-lbs this year compared to what I was last year”, pointing out his strength training as one of the adjustments he made to his off-season regiment. “I trained with my club coaches at Yale Street Wrestling Club, went back to where it all started. I changed up the scenery a little bit, but I came back this year feeling really good”.
In order for Poznanski to get back to the national podium, his first test will be in his own room.
Brian Soldano, a true freshman from High Point, New Jersey, was arguably the pound-for-pound top in-state recruit in the class of 2022. Soldano won three state titles, finished his career with 99 pins, and looks ready for the college circuit in his very first year. And just because he is a freshman, who shares a weight class with a returning All-American, Goodale is not ruling out Soldano as the possible 184-lb starter.
“At 184-lbs we have two of the best kids in the country”, Goodale said at media day, emphasizing this is a weight class that he still has not figured out a starting wrestler.
Goodale is not the only one with faith in Soldano’s ability at such a young age. Soldano, himself, is confident he is ready to contribute to this team, and has high aspirations for this season as a true freshman.
“I really want to see myself All-American, and even winning (the national title)”, Soldano said when asked about his expectations. “Any less, I feel I would let myself down”.
Despite the competition for the starting job, Poznanski and Soldano have forged a good relationship, and rely on one-another to get better. Neither wrestler seemed to view the competition for the starting slot as a bad thing, but as a way to get better.
“John in the room is someone who mentors me, and is someone I can learn from”, Soldano replied when asked about his competition with Poznanski. “It’s the old saying, ‘iron sharpens iron’. He kind of put me under his wing, and we always get a good scrap when it is the two of us”.
Poznanski shared the same feelings when asked about Soldano.
“I’ve worked with (Soldano) eight or nine times this year already”, Poznanski said. “It’s great to have a guy there to help me, and I hope I help him too”.
When asked about the battle for the 184-lb starting role, Poznanski simply said, “I think it’s a good thing, overall”.
JOE HEILMAN FEELS NO PRESSURE IN FINAL SEASON AT HOME…
When Joe Heilmann committed to the University of North Carolina, it did not come as much of a surprise. His oldest brother Nick was the first of the Heilmann’s to become a Tar Heel. His other brother, Troy, also went to North Carolina, where he finished his career as an All-American.
However, with one season left, Joe Heilmann felt the best place to finish his career was back at home. Almost, literally home. Hailing from near-by South Plainfield, New Jersey, Heilmann had no time adjusting to Rutgers as a transfer student-athlete. With his family just ten minutes away, it was a big selling point in choosing his final destination.
“Being close to my hometown, then obviously close to my family, as well, that meant a lot to me”, Heilmann said when asked about his decision to transfer to Rutgers. “My family can see me wrestle any time they want now. I am ten minutes down the road, instead of being eight hours away”.
Not only was the location of the school familiar to Heilmann, but so was the team. Many of the Rutgers wrestlers are guys Heilmann grew up training with, making him confident that he would fit in right away in the wrestling room.
“A lot of these kids I trained with throughout high school”, Heilmann said when asked about his adjustment to the Rutgers wrestling team. “Obviously, I knew Coach Pollard from SKWC, and the rest of the coaches, so I knew if I wanted to succeed (in my final year), this is the best place to do it”.
Not only was Heilmann’s brother, Troy, a NCAA All-American, Troy was high school teammates and best friends with Rutgers’ 2018 All-American, Scott Delvecchio, and four-time All-American and National Champion, Anthony Ashnault. Joe Heilmann hopes to be the next South Plainfield Tiger to cement his name in Rutgers Wrestling history.
“I grew up in the same program as (Ashnault and Delvecchio). Growing up, our families are friends, we were like one big family”, Heilmann said when asked about the South Plainfield-Rutgers wrestling connection. “Rutgers is a great place for another South Plainfield guy like me to chalk my name up on the wall right next to theirs”.
Heilmann technically has two seasons of eligibility remaining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this will be his final season in college wrestling. Despite never reaching the national podium, Heilmann feels no pressure in his final season of college wrestling. He is focused on having fun, enjoying his final year, and doing the best he can to reach the national podium.
“A couple of the freshman came up to me and asked ‘hey, you got one more go at this, are you nervous at all?’”, when asked about the pressure of having one more shot at a NCAA trophy. “And, no, not really. I’m like ‘all right, it’s my time, let’s go’. That is the mentality I am going forward with”.
BOONE MCDERMOTT HOPES OFFSEASON GAINS PAY OFF…
When the Jersey’s Mike Arena hosted a Rutgers wrestling match, the dual usually finished with a familiar roar: “BOONE!”.
JUCO transfer and Rutgers heavyweight, Boone McDermott, wasn’t sure what to expect when he moved across country from his home state of Iowa to Rutgers University. He certainly did not know he was going to be a crowd favorite. However, McDermott’s big move ability and highlight-reel throws made the Rutgers faithful chant his name every time he stepped on his home mat.
“It was everything I hoped for”, McDermott said when asked about his first-year wrestling in-front of the home crowd. “I’m having a fantastic time here. I love it, I love Jersey”.
“Everyone sees the big throws and my reaction and celebration, and it’s a lot of fun”.
One of the reasons McDermott relied so heavily on those throws was due to his size, a point his head coach noted during his media day press conference.
“Our heavyweight went from 227 at the Big Ten Tournament (in March) to now weighing 261.80 things morning”, Goodale stated while talking to members of the media.
In a weight class that has a maximum weight of 285-lbs, standing at just under 230-lbs, McDermott did not feel confident in his leg attacks. After-all, shooting underneath an opponent fifty-pounds larger is an intimidating feat.
“The problem in the past has been my size”, McDermott said when asked about his lack of shot attempts last season. “You shoot on someone who is 270-lbs when you are 227-lbs, it’s a very scary thing to do”.
So, McDermott did the only thing he could do. He got bigger.
“At the end of last season, I went to the coaches, and I said, ‘listen, if you let me do this with the help our strength coaches and our nutritionist, I will be better, and they were on board with it”.
With the help of two lifts a day, a 10,000 calorie daily diet, and the support of his coaching staff, McDermott saw the gains he was looking for. The Iowa native put on a staggering thirty-four pounds and is more confident than ever.
“It’s paying off incredibly. My conditioning is ten-times better. I’m moving around good. Mentally, I know I don’t have to make up that weight difference anymore”.
The confidence is visible on McDermott’s face and in his words. When asked about his expectations for this year, McDermott said without a beat, “I am on a war path”.
“I’m in the toughest conference in the world, I could have Cohlton Schultz (2022 NCAA runner-up) next week, and I think this year I am finally embracing that”.
PRINCETON OPEN RECAP…
Over twenty Scarlet Knights kicked off their 2022-23 season this past Sunday at the Princeton Open, where a number of projected starters, back-ups, and redshirts took the mat. Rutgers was able to get eight top-four placers at the tournament, which included three champions, two runner-up’s, two bronze, and a fourth.
Joey Olivieri (141), Andrew Clark (157), and John Poznanski (184) were the three champions for Rutgers. Al DeSantis finished second to Andrew Clark at 157, where Clark won a 3 – 0 decision. True freshman, PJ Casale, took 3rd at heavyweight, and Connor O’Neill finished 4th at his new weight class of 165-lbs.
Most of the Scarlet Knight fan base had their eyes on the 125-lb bracket, where both Dean Peterson and Dylan Shawver ran into 2022 National Finalist, Patrick Glory, of Princeton. Peterson met Glory in the semi-finals, and gave Glory everything he could handle, losing a 6 – 5 decision to the national runner-up. Shawver got his crack at Glory in the finals of the tournament. Shawver was able to take down Glory on several occasions with go-behinds, but was unable to upend the multi-time All-American, and lost 11 – 9.
As previously mentioned, Shawver and Peterson will be one of the weight classes that has a competition battle for the starting job. Both wrestlers made it clear on Sunday that they can be the guy. Who will secure the sport will likely not be decided until after the Midlands.
With national signing day past, there has been a few recruiting updates that have transpired over the last few weeks.
On a low note for Rutgers wrestling (and everyone who is not from Virginia Tech): Jimmy Mullen, Rutgers wrestling’s top target in the class of 2023, has committed to be a dual sport athlete for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Mullen, who is a stand-out wrestler and football player at St. Joseph’s Regional, will play both sports at the next level. The decision seemed to surprise much of the wrestling community, as expectations were that Mullen could likely land at a Big Ten program to solely wrestle.
Max Hermes (Edison, OH) was the first 2023 Rutgers commit to sign his National Letter of Intent. Hermes is a two-time Ohio State Champion, and is projected to wrestle 125-lbs in college. Hermes is going into his senior season wrestling at 120-lbs for Edison, Ohio.
Rutgers wrestling had a 2024 “BOOM!” right before the dual meet season gets underway. Southern Regional (NJ) junior, and 2022 NJSIAA state place winner, Matt Henrich, committed to Rutgers wrestling in an announcement via Instagram. Henrich placed 7th in New Jersey at a very deep 138-lb weight class, and comes back in his junior year as a state title contender at 145-lbs. This makes Henrich the second 2024 commitment in the last month, as Rutgers received a commitment from Christian Brothers Academy’s (NJ) Alex Nini just a few weeks ago.
RUTGERS SET TO OPEN DUAL MEET WITH DREXEL FRIDAY; ARIZONA STATE / SACRED HEART SATURDAY…
Battle at the Barn
Rutgers wrestling has been known over the last several years as one of the most intense and intimidating places to wrestle in all of college wrestling. However, before Rutgers wrestling competed regularly in the Jersey Mike’s Arena, the Scarlet Knights called the College Ave Gymnasium home.
Rutgers goes back to College Ave to kick off the 2023 dual meet season in their home opener against Clarion. Not only is the match against Clarion the home opener, but it could be head coach Scott Goodale’s 200th career victory.
Clarion comes to town with a young team, which will have a tough time with a deep Rutgers lineup. Of course, there are several weights where Rutgers will use multiple wrestlers throughout the weekend, so it is hard to say who exactly Clarion will see Friday night – particularly, at 125, 141, and 184.
The Golden Eagles are tough at a handful of weights, including 125-lbs with Joey Fischer and 141-lbs in Seth Koleno. Both Fischer and Koleno posted over twenty wins last season. Clarion is led by their 184-lber, Will Feldkamp, who was a national qualifier in 2022 at 197-lbs last season. He could be a tough early season test for either John Poznanski or Brian Soldano.
After Rutgers finishes up their Friday night dual with Clarion, the team will travel to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to compete in the Journeymen WrangleMania. This event will feature eleven teams throughout the day in dual meet competition, including Arizona State, NC State, Lehigh, and Oklahoma. Rutgers will be squared off with Scared Heart at 1:00 pm and Arizona State at 5:00 pm.
Sacred Heart is coming off a 1 – 9 season last year and is off to a 0 – 1 start this season. This is a young program, that only features one senior in their starting lineup. The Pioneers kicked off the season last weekend, where they were shut out by Lehigh, 44 – 0.
This is a great match for Rutgers to utilize some younger talent, especially at weights they are unsure of. It would not be a surprise to see Dean Peterson, Al DeSantis, or Brian Soldano make an appearance in this match. Rutgers should be able to walk through The Pioneers without much trouble, if at all.
The matchup with Arizona State is a much different story, and is a very tough, early test for the Scarlet Knights. The Sun Devils come to the east coast as the preseason No. 6 team in the country, and a boatload of returning talent, which helped this team to a fourth-place finish at the 2022 NCAA tournament.
Arizona State may not bring all their starters to Pennsylvania, as names like Brandon Courtney, Kordell Norfleet, and Cohlton Schultz are not listed as projected starters. Despite the possibility of ASU leaving some star power back home, this will still be a very tough team to beat.
Richie Figueroa, Michael McGee, Jesse Vasquez, and Kyle Parco are four very tough outs to kick off this lineup. Figueroa was a top recruit in the class of 2021, and has the potential for a great career with the Sun Devils. Vasquez is a first-year starter, but a potential NCAA podium contender at 141-lbs. Both McGee and Parco are multiple-time All-Americans, with McGee being a four-time national qualifier.
Tony Negeron, who transferred into Arizona State from Penn State, will be the starting 165-lber. He will be followed by highly touted redshirt freshman, Cael Valencia, the younger brother of Zahid and Anthony Valencia, who were two former Sun Devil greats.
In order for Rutgers to knock off Arizona State, they are going to have to win a few matches down low. The best opportunities would most likely be at 125 and 141. Figueroa may not have the national ranking next to his name, but he is a name wrestling fans know. Dylan Shawver is the favorite on paper, but he will need to wrestle a very clean match to beat a slick Figueroa.
Jesse Vasquez is certainly beatable for either Sammy Alvarez or Joey Olivieri at 141-lbs. Again, this is a toss-up match, but I like the odds of Rutgers taking this bout, especially is Olivieri gets the nod. He had a great season in his first year at the collegiate level, and he is someone who Rutgers can rely on for steady performances on a consistent basis.
Up top, Rutgers will need their two former All-Americans to put on a show. Jackson Turley is returning from an injury, so it will be interesting to see where he is at physically. Valencia is capable of pulling off an upset if Turley is not back to 100%. Rutgers will also rely on John Poznanski to take out Anthony Montalvo, who was a national qualifier for Oklahoma State, prior to making his way to Tempe, Arizona.
This could be a great way to kick off the season for Rutgers. If the Scarlet Knights pull off a 3 – 0 weekend, they will have a lot of confidence moving forward in what is a tough first-half schedule. This team still has Stanford, UPenn, Drexel, Princeton, and the Midlands Tournament all before the New Year.
With a young and unproven team, that is still searching for their leaders and who their lineup will be, taking out Arizona State will create a lot of momentum behind this team. Something they may need to have a successful season, with such a tough schedule on the horizon.