Rookies make debut during wrestle-offs
Wrestle-offs serve as a way of seeing how wrestlers measure up to each other for the season.
For the Rutgers wrestling team, wrestle-offs showcased its new freshman class.
Nine true freshmen competed for the first time in a Scarlet Knights uniform Saturday morning at the College Ave. Gym.
Rookie 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault, the nation’s seventh-best grappler out of high school, headlined the 13th-best recruiting class in the nation, according to InterMat.
Ashnault faced sophomore Ken Theobold in a tight match. Tied 5-5 in overtime, Ashnault landed a takedown to win.
While the win does nothing for his individual record, it showcased Ashnault’s potential impact for years to come. At South Plainfield (N.J.) High School last year, Ashnault became the state’s first ever four-time undefeated state champion.
“There was a lot of anxiety going into this match as a freshman,” Ashnault said. “Expectations don’t really change coming to college. The only thing that changes is everyone is good and no one cares what you did in high school.”
Down 4-2 thanks to a Theobold takedown in the second period, Ashnault responded with an escape followed by a takedown of his own to go up, 5-4.
The rookie registered a takedown of Theobold early to lead, 2-0. Theobold then escaped to end the round, 2-1.
Ashnault was not the only South Plainfield product to finish his Rutgers debut in winning fashion.
Freshman 125-pounder Scott DelVecchio defeated redshirt freshman Sean McCabe.
The matchup was competitive throughout, with each Knight trading point leads.
But DelVecchio took advantage at the end of the second round and kept his lead to defeat McCabe, 11-7, for the decision.
Senior 184-pounder Dan Seidenberg won his matchup against freshman Anthony Messner. Seidenberg, who wrestled at 197-pounds last season, is coming off an injury-riddled year after dealing with shoulder issues. He figures to fill the hole at 184 pounds left by Dan Rinaldi’s departure.
Though the wrestle-offs may seem significant in the grand scheme of the season, they only represent the first competitive matchups of the year.
“I don’t put too much stock into this event,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “It most certainly is not the end for anyone if they lost their match [Saturday] because we may call on them later down the road. That being said, some wrestlers today earned a spot to start and [showed] what they are made of.”
For the true freshmen who may garner a starting role, they will begin their careers Sunday at Hofstra.
Redshirt freshman Phil Bakuckas also begins his wrestling-attached career, meaning his record now counts toward the program record. Bakuckas impressed in his 174-pound matchup against freshman Taylor Jackson.
To start the first round, the Hammonton, N.J., native recorded a quick takedown of Jackson. Bakuckas followed it up with a near pin fall to end the first round, 5-0. The redshirt freshman then issued a pin on the true freshman to win the match with 1:13 left in the round.
It is hard to tell if Bakuckas was more excited for wrestle-offs or the fact that he can start wrestling attached this year.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and I wanted to show everyone what I was made of,” Bakuckus said. “I was so pumped that everyone did well [Saturday] and I think the team is going to be pretty good this year.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.