Sebastian Rivera has brought a leadership presence to the Rutgers wrestling room the Scarlet Knights have not felt in some time. That impact seeped out into public view for the first time on Friday night.

The Jackson native and Christian Brothers state champion made it clear: Rutgers’ season-opening 26-10 loss to Michigan was not good enough. Nor was his 8-0 major decision win at 141 pounds over Drew Mattin. And the two-time Big Ten champion and All-American will not be shy to let everyone know.

“I think this was a good eye-opener for a lot of guys on our team,” Rivera said. “We need to settle in. This is going to be a short season and there is not a lot of time to make these adjustments. I think we saw a lot out there we can make adjustments on. If we meet as a team later, I will definitely have some words.

“There are things that need to be said. There is a lot of work to be done. And I’ll be that guy. I don’t care. I’ll call you out by name and if you don’t like it, sorry. But I’m going to be honest with you. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Even with himself. The BTN cameras caught Rivera throwing his head gear after his win over Mattin. He didn’t know the network’s eyes could see him that far into the back corner of the RAC, but they could. So he offered an unprompted public apology in his post-match press conference, expressing regret he had set a back example for young wrestlers who look up to him.

But the high expectations were genuine. So were the frustrations. Mattin wrestled Rivera to a pair of decision losses when he was at Northwestern, and he almost prevented bonus points again in this encounter. The issue is Rivera feels that is by design.

“I’m pissed, obviously,” he said. “Drew’s a good kid, but he always just tries to keep the bout close, he doesn’t do anything else. It’s been a broken record every time I’ve wrestled him. I wasn’t happy because that was too close for me. I wanted that to be 15-0 (a technical fall).”

It may be the start of a trend though.

“Guys aren’t really going to come after him and wrestle him,” coach Scott Goodale said. “He’s frustrated because he’s not scoring. That will probably be the norm for a while, and then guys will open up and he’ll be fine.”

Sammy Alvarez’s status. It did not make it sound like the No. 6-ranked 133-pounder will be out long-term. “He’s just not ready to go right now. He’s banged up,” Goodale said. Devon Britton wrestled in Alvarez’s place and showed fight in a 10-5 loss to Jack Medley, who bumped up from his No. 13 ranking at 125 pounds.

Mike VanBrill is getting closer. Much was made of VanBrill’s knack for wrestling top competition smart and tough in dual meets last season to prevent bonus points, and his 4-2 tiebreaker loss to No. 6 Kanen Storr at 149 pounds falls into that category on paper. But the story was much different. VanBrill was never really in many of those decision losses last year. He should have won this one. The Clearview product was in deep on two shots — one late in the third period, one late in sudden victory — that could have sealed the biggest win of his career.

“He’s got to finish those single-legs,” Goodale said. “He’s been in there a couple of years now with opportunities to win big matches. He had two opportunities to finish the single-leg and just didn’t execute properly from a technique standpoint. Going forward, that’s what he needs to do. Just have to execute.”

If that starts happening … don’t be shocked if VanBrill’s brawling style and experience gives him a shot at an All-America finish in March.

Kudos to Anthony Ashnault. The national champion hopped onto a FloWrestling card on several days notice and wrestled two-time Cornell national champion Yianni Diakomihalis, the reigning Pan American and U.S. Open champion, in a 10-0 technical fall freestyle loss. Not an ideal result, but a valuable one as it lets Ashnault know exactly where he is against the guy many will say should be the favorite to win the 65 kilogram spot at April’s Olympic Trials.

Sharp-dressed men. America’s college basketball coaches have used the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to dress casually on the sideline, but the trend may not carry over with wrestling. Michigan coach Sean Bormet had a suit on and the Rutgers staff dressed as it always has to coach the match.

They made it. Winter sports took the brunt of the impact when COVID-19 halted our world right before the NCAA’s championship events. That made this night, and the ability to compete, that much sweeter.

“That doesn’t get lost on me, man,” Goodale said. “I’m grateful that our doctors at Rutgers and our administration put us in a really good spot to compete. It felt like everyone was safe. It was just awesome to wrestle. Competition is good. It stinks to come in for four months and just train. The outcome wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m just grateful our guys had a chance to compete.”

Michigan 26, Rutgers 10 (7-3 bout split)
125: Dylan Ragusin (M) pin. No. 20 Nicolas Aguilar, 1:01.
133: No. 13 Jack Medley (M) dec. Devon Britton, 10-5.
141: No. 4 Sebastian Rivera (R) md. Drew Mattin, 8-0.
149: No. 6 Kanen Storr (M) dec. Mike VanBrill, 4-2 TB.
157: No. 9 Will Lewan (M) dec. Rob Kanniard, 11-5.
165: No. 17 Cameron Amine (M) dec. Brett Donner, 10-4.
174: No. 2 Logan Massa (M) md. No. 19 Joe Grello, 13-5.
184: John Poznanski (R) dec. Joseph Walker, 7-1.
197: Billy Janzer (R) dec. Andrew Davison, 4-1.
HWT: No. 2 Mason Parris (M) md. Christian Colucci, 11-3.
Notes: Medley is ranked at 125 pounds.

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James Kratch may be reached at [email protected].

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