August 20, 2018 | ° F

“Murderer’s Row” reunites on collegiate level

“Murderer’s row” was not supposed to continue in college.

“Honestly, I have no idea [how this happened],” said freshman 133-pounder Corey Stasenko. “This was not supposed to happen at all.”

The nickname, given to the lineup of Stasenko, Anthony Ashnault, Scott DelVecchio, Dylan Painton and Troy Heilmann at South Plainfield (N.J.) High School, symbolized the five’s career dominance for the Tigers.

They combined for more than 700 individual wins at South Plainfield and delivered three team state titles for head coach Kevin McCann just 15 minutes away from where the Rutgers wrestling team practices.

“They were an inspiration in the room to the other athletes,” McCann said. “They worked hard and did all the right things in the wrestling room and in the classroom. They’re well-rounded.”

But their weights were thought to be too similar to each other for all of them to remain on the same team on the next level.

So they all began looking in different directions.

Ashnault, the No. 7-overall national recruit according to Intermat and New Jersey’s first four-time undefeated state champion, had a host of suitors to choose from.

Stasenko mulled an offer from NC State, while DelVecchio all but packed his bags when he accepted a scholarship to the Wolf Pack.

Heilmann pledged to North Carolina to join his brother, Nick, and Painton looked at lower-level programs Drexel, Roger William’s and Newberry College.

But one thing was consistent through all five of them.

“At first, no one really thought about going to Rutgers exactly,” Painton said. “It wasn’t really in the back of our minds.”

Head coach Scott Goodale also understood it would be hard to keep all five together.

So for Goodale, who said he first saw them grapple when they were seven and eight years old, getting four to dawn a Scarlet Knights singlet was an accomplishment to say the least.

“The goal was to try and get two of them, and then it just worked out where we got four of them. Things worked out for us,” Goodale said.

Only Heilmann followed through on his commitment to grapple out of state.

For the rest of “Murderer’s Row”, it was a gradual process to becoming teammates again in college.

Ashnault was the first to commit to the Knights before he started his quest for his fourth state title. Stasenko, lying on his couch one night after a workout as his sweat soaked the sofa, pledged next.

“I called Goodale at 8 o’clock that night and told him,” Stasenko said.

The season continued for South Plainfield as it finished as the state’s No. 1 team with a perfect 30-0 record.

Ashnault completed his undefeated season and DelVecchio captured his second straight individual title. Shortly after, Painton decided to give Rutgers a shot.

Only DelVecchio remained true to his word and left for NC State.

But something did not feel right and he was back in his home state almost as soon as he left. On Aug. 16, he committed to the Knights.

“It just wasn’t a good fit,” DelVecchio said. “I think to perform at your best ability you need to be somewhere you’re comfortable and somewhere where you fit in to excel and I just didn’t fit in there. There was no magic there.”

Goodale hopes the South Plainfield magic translates to Rutgers during the next five seasons.

He knows their future success is out of his hands. All he can do is coach them.

“They could be multiple All-Americans and win national titles, but that’s totally up to them,” Goodale said. “They have to put the time [in]. It’s kind of like them starting over. The one pedigree they bring in is that they won, they’ve always won.”

Two Tigers — DelVecchio and Stasenko — figure to make Goodale’s starting lineup Sunday for the Knights’ first dual match against Hofstra.

Both registered impressive victories Saturday in the Knights’ wrestle-offs. Ashnault, who figures to redshirt this season to debut in dual action for Rutgers when it competes in the Big Ten, also captured a 7-5 overtime victory at 149 pounds against Ken Theobold.

Four fifths of “Murderer’s Row” will continue their careers 15 minutes away from where they began them.

It almost never happened. Now that the majority of the group is here, they want to carve their new paths.

“We wrestle hard the whole time and we just want to come out here and give the fans a good show and hopefully they’ll like what they see,” Ashnault said. “We went 3-0 [during the wrestle-offs] for Rutgers, but it’s not South Plainfield anymore. It’s Rutgers.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

By Bradly Derechailo

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