July 23, 2019 | 73° F

Trio of new arrivals excites Rutgers going forward

The date has been circled on this guy’s calendar since he joined the Rutgers wrestling team. He thinks about it more than he probably should, and he thinks he hasn’t proven anything to anyone quite yet at the collegiate level. 

This next grappler has been waiting perhaps his whole life for this opportunity in college, and he has had to wrestle unattached all of last season before he could don the Scarlet Knights’ singlet this season. 

But the whole state of New Jersey is perhaps more anxious for his arrival than he is.

These two key arrivals are complemented by a big move in the coaching staff for Rutgers, which adds an associate head coach with Big Ten conference pedigree both as a coach and as a wrestler.

These three new faces in the Rutgers wrestling program are junior 197-pounder Andrew Campolattano, redshirt-freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault and newly added associate head coach Donny Pritzlaff.

All these new additions have big visions for the Knights’ program. 

“I think these guys, for the most part, are ready [for the Big Ten]. I think our guys, some of them, have proven themselves nationally already, so it’s not a big surprise for what’s to come,” Pritzlaff said. “I expect these guys to compete hard. We’re going to improve and change our goals as we go, and I think our staff has certain goals for each individual and our guys have goals that they expect to reach.”

The addition of Pritzlaff brings Big Ten experience that will prove vital for the Knights. Pritzlaff mentored several All-Americans and National Champions and was a top recruiter while at Wisconsin and Michigan. He was also a two-time NCAA Champ, three-time Big Ten Champion and four-time All-American at 165 pounds while he was a grappler in college.

The wealth of experience is great, said head coach Scott Goodale, who praised the former Wisconsin grappler.

“He’s a great addition, an unbelievable addition,” Goodale said of Pritzlaff. “He’s another head coach — he could be a head coach anywhere in the country. I’m just glad he is home. He loves this place and is excited about it. He brings a whole other level of expertise to us. He’s just a good person, but he brings 10 years of experience to us.”

One of the big question marks surrounding the season is how well both Campolattano and Ashnault will do in the red and black singlet for their first season with Rutgers. While Campolattano was a two-time NCAA qualifier, it’s more of a ‘what have you done lately?’ motif with the transfer. 

But that criticism is something he agrees with. After all, he has waited a long time to take the mat again. 

And when he finally gets the opportunity, Campolattano said he will cherish it and perform the best he can.

“January 2 — that’s my next bout. I am counting down, and I think about it every single day,” Campolattano said. “Just putting on that Rutgers singlet is going to be another milestone accomplishment. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be wrestling again, and it’s a humbling experience. I’m hungry and willing to put my heart on the mat when I can.”

Goodale said Campolattano has to be focused moving forward, as the redshirt junior will have to sit out a semester due to transfer rules. But Goodale acknowledged the 197-pounder would bring good experience to the team as they compete in the new conference.

“He’s been in this conference and knows what lies ahead, but he has to have awareness of where he is at and make sure he is ready to go January 2,” Goodale said. “It can’t be about playing it slow until January. He needs to be ready now and continue to get better and better every day. When we hit the mats, we hit the mats running. We’ll put some tournaments in early December to see where he’s at, but he needs to be off and running January 2. He’s capable, but it’s up to Campolattano.”

After winning the National Collegiate Open last season along with 133-pound sophomore Scott DelVecchio, making it to the USA University World Team that traveled to Hungary and being the only four-time undefeated New Jersey State Champion in the state’s high school wrestling history, Ashnault has already set the bar high for this season’s expectations.

And that’s something he is fine with. He demands much out of himself, too, and expects bigger things than most redshirt freshmen. 

Leading up to this season, he feels as prepared as ever.

“I had ups and downs — had an injury — but I finished out strong winning the last tournament and had a really good freestyle season, wrestling a lot of Big Ten guys,” Ashnault said. “It prepared me and showed me I could hang with those guys in the Big Ten and in the nation. It made me realize that being a National Champ is right in front of me, just one step ahead. It’s time to make it happen.”

While Ashnault feels the need to prove himself, perhaps no one feels the need more than Campolattano. The other four-time New Jersey High School State Champion has yet to feel on top of the wrestling world.

“I know where I’m at wrestling,” Campolattano said, pausing before collecting his thoughts. “It’s just a matter of me being the most in-shape guy in the weight class — that’s what it’s always been. I just want to pull the trigger and go out there and compete like I know I can. I think big things are going to happen. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the potential to be a National Champion this coming year, and I would never shoot for less than that. I might have some bumps in the road on the way, but I just want to string together five good matches at Nationals.” 

Tyler Karalewich

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