June 18, 2019 | 75° F

Rutgers sets high bar in Big Ten


File Photo | February 2014 | Junior 157-pounder Anthony Perrotti was the first Knight since 2002 to be named an All-American after placing eighth at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Anthony Perrotti said last season that the Rutgers wrestling team trains just as hard as every other program in the nation. The 157-pound junior All-American also said he knew the Scarlet Knights were bound to have grapplers on the podium, but it was just a matter of time.

The expectations and wait for the first All-American under head coach Scott Goodale have ended, but the pressure to reach the podium has not for Rutgers. 

Hidden in the basement of the College Avenue Gym, back in the recesses of the cellar is the two-mat Rutgers Wrestling Room. Go down the hall a little, and the training room and locker room are nearby.

The walls in the wrestling room still don the banners that say “Rutgers Wrestling Needs All-Americans” and “Rutgers Wrestlers Need National Champions.” The only new addition to the wall is the painted mural, “We Want B1G Champions.”

The signage signifies the desires of the Knights but also illuminates what they don’t have. After all, they only have one All-American, have never had someone reach higher than Perrotti at Nationals and have never competed in the Big Ten.

They are reminded every day of what the program needs and the lofty expectations that are to follow. But they still need to practice, train and work towards those goals, which Perrotti sees every day. 

“Training is going [really] well this year. I feel like everyone is one board and doing [really] well,” Perrotti said. “It’s only a matter of time before it shows.” 

Last season, four wrestlers qualified for the NCAA tournament, but only Perrotti was able to string together enough wins to be considered and awarded a spot on the podium. Juniors Ken Theobold and Billy Smith return this season having also qualified, but both failed to amass the amount of wins needed at their respective weights. 

The duo was morose after being eliminated from contention and left with feelings of resentment for Oklahoma City. They had fallen short of their season goals.

Theobold, who qualified at 149 pounds, said he would use last season to help him during this year’s campaign.

“I think last season is really going to be a fuel. I’m going to fuel that fire [because] I don’t want to go 0-2 again at nationals,” Theobold said. “The biggest thing this year is staying consistent and trying to pick off a lot of [individually] ranked guys and teams. It’s going to be really good to have that NCAA Championships competition and experience.”

Smith doesn’t necessarily look at it that way because he has the same goal every season. He said it’s only a matter of getting his weight right and his confidence right.

“I feel like I just have a little more confidence. I know I’m right there with those guys,” Smith said. “I just need to put together a good tournament and knock somebody off who is supposedly ranked higher than me. At some point, I’m going to have to beat somebody like that. My expectations never change — it’s to win.”

The big difference from a season ago, Goodale says, is the depth in the room. After only losing Vinnie Dellefave and Dan Seidenberg to graduation, the Knights bring in eight freshmen, three midseason transfers who are ready to compete and six freshmen who are coming off redshirt seasons.

And, of course, that depth is a good thing.

“We have some really good depth, which is rare even with the Big Ten schools — not many Big Ten schools have as much depth,” Goodale said. “Our frontline guys need to be good, but it’s ultra-competitive. We’re trying to get to two-deep at every weight, and that’s important.”

The expectations and goals still linger, though, for the upcoming season. Last year, it was all about getting someone to All-American status.

This season is all about taking it one step further, Goodale said.

“This year, it’s about more guys. Get more guys to the podium, wrestle great at the end of the year,” Goodale said. “We want to be competitive and have a great first impression in the conference. What I’m looking for is how we handle this conference and then of course the Big Ten Tournament and the National Tournament. We feel really good and feel like we have a really good chance if we stay healthy [and] do all the little things right. We have some guys that could do a really good job at that tournament, and that’s always going to be the goal.”

Perrotti, who is all about taking steps forward, has brushed aside his All-American season from a year ago and has focused on bigger and better things for this season. 

“I basically pushed it aside. Last year, it means really nothing,” Perrotti said. “I could come back this year and not do anything, but with the way I’m training, the way I’m focused, the way I’m competing in the room, I don’t feel like that is going to be the case. I’m just trying to build on it and basically just be a national champ. That’s all there really is left to do.”

Does Perrotti really think he is going to be a National Champion? 

Last season, no one thought he was going to qualify for the NCAAs, and certainly no one thought he would stand on the podium, so he is used to proving people wrong.

“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” Perrotti said of his expectations to be a National Champion at 157 pounds. “I’m trying to go out there, with how ever many matches we have, and win every single one of them.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Tyler Karalewich

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