Rutgers travels to Las Vegas for highly-billed invite
With nearly 40 teams bringing their whole lineups to Las Vegas this weekend, the Cliff Keen Collegiate Invitational serves as one of the first true tests for the Rutgers wrestling team in the early part of its grappling season.
It will be a trial for individual Scarlet Knights as the team deviates from the dual-meet competition to participate in a tournament-like atmosphere for one of the first times this season.
Nine of the top-25 ranked squads will be represented at the invite, with four of those teams slotted in the top-10. It will be a chance for some of the unproven Knights to jump up the rankings and make their case on a nationwide platform.
“From an individual standpoint, we have a huge test out in Las Vegas. Some of our nationally ranked guys will be tested and have great opportunities,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “This is a huge weekend from an individual standpoint, and this is as good a field as we have ever been involved in out in Vegas. Some of the top teams in the country will be there — I think four or five top-10 teams will be there. We will see where some of our guys are at, see where guys like DelVecchio and Ashnault are at.”
One of the toughest tasks will fall on one of the Knights’ most anticipated wrestlers. Redshirt freshman Anthony Ashnault will face one of the toughest brackets at 141 pounds.
The weight class will feature two finalists from the 2014 National Championships in Ohio State’s Logan Stieber and Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter, along with nearly a dozen ranked foes making their way to Las Vegas.
Ashnault agrees it is a big tournament for him. It’s the perfect opportunity to build for March in an effort to prepare for the Big Ten Championships and the National Tournament.
“[The Cliff Keen Invite] is huge for us. I think up and down our lineup, you are going to have at least one top-five kid in the nation. That’s huge — that’s national recognition and RPI points, which [you need] to get to the national tournament,” Ashnault said. “Going to this tournament, you are going to see the names that you need to knock off to get to NCAAs. We need to get as many guys in NCAAs as we can because that means more chances for All-Americans and National Champs.”
Coming off a 3-0 weekend and a win over then-No. 19 Oklahoma, the Knights have the momentum entering the tournament.
Even though junior 157-pounder Anthony Perrotti fell short and lost his bout in the team victory against the Sooners, it has motivated him in the last week of training leading into the invite.
“My first loss on the season doesn’t feel good,” Perrotti said. “But that’s why you come back in the room to correct your mistakes — because this is a big weekend ahead of us.”
While anything is possible going into such a large field in a big-name tournament, Ashnault decided to make his intentions simple before going to Las Vegas. It’s an opportunity to prove something.
“This is a big tournament to showcase mine and all of our team skills. I believe I am going to be the best in my weight class,” Ashnault said. “I’m sure a lot of guys on our team feel the same way at their weight classes. I’m going to Las Vegas to win the tournament and nothing else.”
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