By Michael Ricchione
The most-anticipated duel of the wrestling team’s season is coming on Feb. 9 against in-state foe Rutgers. This match pits two of the better wrestling programs in the state against each other, which caused Rider to alter the ticket pricing as well as exclude the match from the season ticket holder package.
The pricing for Rutgers vs. Rider is the same as a men’s or women’s basketball game but also adds a section called, matside reserved, which can be bought for $25 a ticket.
This matchup got an in-season boost when one of Rutgers’ returning NCAA qualifiers, Pete Lipari, transferred to Rider in November 2019.
Lipari, a redshirt senior, transferred after losing his starting job with the Scarlet Knights at 141 pounds.
True freshman Jojo Aragona beat out Lipari for his job. However, at this point in the season, Lipari is the higher-ranked wrestler, coming in at No. 24 by FloWrestling. Aragona is 10-7 on the season.
Lipari earned that ranking when he beat returning All-American Sa’Derian Perry of Old Dominion via a 5-4 decision.
Both teams attended the Southern Scuffle tournament on Jan. 1, so for some, it will not be the first time wrestling their opponents.
Potential rematches from the Southern Scuffle include graduate student Gino Fluri against Gerard Angelo at 149 pounds and redshirt senior Jesse Dellavecchia vs. Mike VanBrill at 157 pounds.
Junior Ethan Laird also wrestled Matt Correnti at the Southern Scuffle, but Rutgers has since been competing with Jordan Pagano at 197 pounds.
Rider swept that series of matches. Fluri won in overtime, 3-1, Laird won, 5-2 and Dellavecchia got the major, winning 14-5.
Rutgers has maintained a positive record overall at 8-5, but is 3-4 in the Big Ten with a loss against No. 25 Michigan, 21-16, at Madison Square Garden.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a season where Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault became the program’s first national champions. Neither will be wrestling against Rider, however, as Suriano is on an Olympic redshirt and Ashnault has graduated.
The Broncs returned all four of their NCAA qualifiers — Dellavecchia, Laird, redshirt seniors Anthony Cefolo and Dean Sherry — and also added another via the Lipari transfer from Rutgers.
The Broncs come into the week with a six-match win streak and entered the week well-rested. Head Coach John Hangey thought that the break was well deserved after the George Mason duel.
“They’ve been grinding pretty good since probably Christmas, just after Christmas. So it’s been a long stretch,” Hangey said.
One interesting storyline to look out for will be the return of redshirt sophomore Joe Casey at 165 pounds.
Casey was on a four-match winning streak before losing to Old Dominion’s Shane Jones by major decision, 16-3 on Jan. 19. He missed the George Mason on Jan. 25 match as he was recovering from a skin infection.
“His confidence is there, he’s wrestling more relaxed and he’s got talent just as much as anybody else in the team,” Hangey said
Rider and Rutgers have one more match each before they face each other. Rider will travel to Lock Haven on Feb. 7 as Rutgers hosts Illinois.
The Rider vs Lock Haven match begins at 7 p.m.
“Lock Haven and Rutgers is going to be a really big weekend for us so we’re looking forward to that,” Laird said.
During Rider’s six-match winning streak, Laird clinched the team victory for the last three matches.
“He’s good,” Dellavecchia said about Laird after the match. “He’s Top-8 in the country and he’s doing well.”
The Rutgers match can be streamed on ESPN+ with wrestling scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.