Rutgers wrestling news: Squad enters 2023-24 season with reloaded lineup

Rutgers University wrestling coach Scott Goodale vowed last March 17 to add more depth to his team after the Scarlet Knights did not have an All-American for the first time since 2013.

Goodale and his coaching staff were able to accomplish that via the transfer portal.

Three graduate students, who will all be starters, were added to the program in Mitch Moore (141), Jacob Butler (149) and Yaraslau Slavikouski (heavyweight).

Moore and Butler transferred from Oklahoma. Slavikouski transferred from Harvard. All three are past NCAA qualifiers.

Oklahoma’s Jacob Butler works for a take down against Kaden Gfeller during a college wrestling meet between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.
Oklahoma’s Jacob Butler works for a take down against Kaden Gfeller during a college wrestling meet between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

Moore was a four-time national qualifier – twice at Virginia Tech and twice at Oklahoma. He was one win away from being an All-American at 149 in 2021.

Butler was a national qualifier at 141 in 2022, and Slavikouski was 3-2 and one win away from being an All-American at last year’s NCAA Tournament. He was the No. 6 seed in the tournament.

All are expected to be in the lineup when the Scarlet Knights, ranked No. 14 by, open their season Friday night in San Luis Obispo, California, against Duke and Cal Poly. The Duke match is at 7 p.m. and the Cal Poly match is at 10:30 p.m.

The Cal Poly match will be streamed on Cal Poly's athletic website and on X, formely twitter. The Duke match will not be streamed.

The home opener is Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Jersey Mike's Arena against No. 4 ranked Virginia Tech.

Rutgers' main lineup consists of 10 wrestlers who are nationally ranked by Intermat. All are past NCAA qualifiers. Eight are returning national qualifiers and two are past All-Americans.

More: Why Rutgers wrestling could see the best version of John Poznanski

More: Rutgers wrestling schedule 2023: Tough stretch includes match against Penn State

Diving into the transfer portal

There is no question Rutgers is better and more experienced than it was last season, when it was inconsistent at several spots in the lineup, especially in the middle.

“It was important for us to get in the portal," Goodale said at the team’s media day on Oct. 23. “That doesn’t mean the guys we have won’t be ready at some point. But I just felt after last year’s national tournament, the way things fell and the landscape of college athletics and where it is going, we had to continue to improve and it wasn’t going to be just reloading on recruiting class after recruiting class after recruiting class.

“It was going to be going into the portal and getting guys with experience, and not just getting guys to get guys, it was getting guys who have won at the highest level.’’

Rutgers University wrestling coach Scott Goodale and his coaching staff restocked their team in the transfer portal during the offseason.
Rutgers University wrestling coach Scott Goodale and his coaching staff restocked their team in the transfer portal during the offseason.

Rutgers has had success with graduate transfers in recent seasons. The most notable was Sebastian Rivera, who wrestled at Rutgers for the final two seasons of his career after wrestling the first four at Northwestern. Rivera concluded his career as a five-time All-American and four-time top-six finisher by adding fourth- and third-place medals at 141 in 2021 and 2022.

Now wrestling for the Scarlet Knight Wrestling Club out of Rutgers, Rivera qualified at 65 kg for Puerto Rico for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris by finishing second at 65 kg in the World Championships in September.

There is no question the explosion of the transfer portal in recent years has changed the way programs are built in all sports.

For example: The University of Michigan wrestling program reloaded by adding four past All-American graduate students via the transfer portal during the offseason, including 2021 165-pound national champion Shane Griffith from Stanford.

If a program, especially one in the Big Ten Conference for wrestling, does not use the transfer portal, chances are it will not be able to keep up.

“You jump on board with it, whether you like it or not," Goodale said. “You have to find guys who have been at other programs that can fit your culture, fit your mode and what you want. We’ve been very, very fortunate the last few years, and after two months, we’re very fortunate again. All three are true professionals.’’

What does Yaraslau Slavikouski bring?

At the last four weights, Rutgers now has 2021 NCAA eighth-place finisher Jackson Turley at 174; exciting sophomore Brian Soldano, who went 2-2 in last year’s NCAA Tournament, at 184; 2021 NCAA 184-pound fourth-place finisher John Poznanski at 197, and Slavikouski. It might be the most potent part of the lineup.

Rutgers has not had a heavyweight win a bout at the national tournament since current High Point High School assistant coach Billy Smith went 4-2 and was one win short of a medal in 2016, when the tournament was held at Madison Square Garden. Smith, who will be High Point’s head coach beginning in the 2024-25 season, was a four-time national qualifier from 2013-2016.

More: Rutgers wrestling gets commitment from heavyweight transfer

Slavikouski is ranked No. 6 by Intermat.

“We’ve never had a big guy that trains like him, runs like him, swims like him," Goodale said. “He trains at a very, very high level. He’s exciting to watch. He wrestles like a lightweight."

Slavikouski’s defeats at last year’s national tournament came to the fifth and eighth-place finishers. Fifth-place finisher Lucas Davison, then of Northwestern, now of Michigan, defeated Slavikouski, 4-2, in sudden victory in the Round of 12. Eighth-place finisher Trent Hilger of Wisconsin defeated Slavikouski, 1-0, in the pre-quarterfinals.

Slavikouski was also the No. 10 seed for the 2020 national tournament before that tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.

Harvard did not wrestle in 2021 because the Ivy League canceled all sports during the 2020-21 school year. Slavikouski missed much of the 2021-22 season with an injury after he finished second in the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in early Dec. 2021.

He said being with the Rutgers program and in the Scarlet Knights’ wrestling room can help him take that next step – which is to become an All-American.

“They convinced me they had the right tools and the right environment for me to excel, develop as a wrestler and reach my goals," Slavikouski said at the team’s media day.

Goodale said Slavikouski has no problem interacting with the rest of the team.

“Usually, you get a sixth-year guy and they want to live on their own," Goodale said. “He’s living in the dorms with freshmen and sophomores. That has been, really, really good."

Rutgers probable lineup

125: No. 6 Dean Peterson/Brandon Chletsos

133: No. 16 Dylan Shawver

141: No. 17 Mitch Moore/Joe Fongaro

149: No. 25 Jacob Butler/Michael Cetta

157: No. 21 Andrew Clark/Al DeSantis

165: No. 24 Anthony White/Luke Gayer

174: No. 28 Jackson Turley/Shane Cartagena-Walsh

184: No. 10 Brian Soldano

197: No. 12 John Poznanski

HWT: No. 6 Yaraslau Slavikouski/Kyle Epperly

Duke Probable Lineup

125: Logan Agrin

133: Raymond Adams

141: Peter Chacon

149: Jarred Papcsy.

157: Logan Ferrero/Nick Tattini

165: Gaetano Console/Aidan Wallace

174: Jack Wimmer

184: Connor Becker

197: Kwasi Bonsu

HWT: Connor Barket

Cal Poly Probable Lineup

125: Dom Mendez

133: Zeth Romney

141: Abe Hinrichsen

149: No. 8 Chance Lamer

157: No. 26. Legend Lamer

165: Michael Goldfeder

174: No. 23 Adam Kemp

184: Kendall La Rosa

197: Jarad Priest

HWT: No. 25. Trevor Tinker/Josh Harkey

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Rutgers vs Duke, CalPoly: College wrestling preview