Junior heats up on winter break
The season started off successfully for the whole Rutgers wrestling team, garnering a 9-0 dual-meet record start — its best start under the guidance of head coach Scott Goodale — and with most of the individuals enjoying career-best starts.
Junior 149-pounder Ken Theobold was no exception.
A returning NCAA qualifier, Theobold started the season winning nine of his 10 bouts, losing only to Hofstra’s Cody Ruggirello who was ranked 17th at the time.
But when the time came for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Theobold, along with every other Scarlet Knights grappler, went with Big Ten expectations for a successful bout in one of the biggest tournaments in the country.
Theobold balked his expectations for the tournament, splitting his four bouts after losing his final two matches.
When the New Year started, Theobold dropped an 18-5 major decision against Iowa’s then-No. 10 Brandon Sorenson.
While it was tough losing some bouts when he expected to win, Theobold rallied and came on strong to win four-straight decisions against Big Ten opponents in the bulk of the conference schedule.
Theobold, who is more than content continuing to build for March for the Big Ten Tournament and NCAAs, has welcomed the change and consistency.
“It’s a good feeling, having a match go my way,” Theobold said after collecting a come-from-behind 7-6 decision against Minnesota. “I had a win this past Friday, and it just feels good — two Big Ten wins. I am feeling strong and feeling confident. I’m just trying to push forward and keep competing at this level.”
When Rutgers won its first Big Ten dual-meet against Maryland this past Sunday, Theobold showed out scoring 15 unanswered points against the Terrapins’ Shane Arechiga to collect the 15-0 tech fall.
Goodale was pleased with the amount of scoring by his 2014 NCAA qualifier. He expects the Big Ten experience will help moving forward in the rest of the season.
Goodale said Theobold is coming along with the psychological part of the sport.
“Kenny did a good job and he scored a lot of points, which is something we are stressing,” Goodale said of Theobold after the Knights defeated Maryland, 24-11. “He’s really starting to catch a groove right now, and that’s good. He feels it right now, and he feels the momentum. Wrestling is a lot of that, mentally. That’s really important for him. Anytime you win the mental bout, that’s always a good thing.”
With Theobold tied with redshirt freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault for the team high in wins with a record of 17-4, things are starting to come together before the last half of the dual-meet season.
Although he still eyes improvement, Theobold believes he can still make a splash in March at the conference and national championships.
“I’m pretty happy where I am, but you can always get better, you can always learn,” Theobold said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I am taking out of this — learning, even from my wins. I could attack more. I could try to score more takedowns when I’m being a little hesitant. That’s the biggest thing that’s coming with all of us. We just need to attack more in third period. Pretty soon, toward the end of this, all of us are just going to be dominating, getting ready for Big Ten’s.”
Theobold’s ability to come back from tough losses where he had a chance to win will go a long way helping him in the postseason as well as the whole team, Ashnault said.
While Theobold’s season ended on a sour note last year — losing both of his bouts in the NCAA Championships — this year’s experience should help the Toms River, New Jersey, native get closer to his dream of winning a National Championship.
At least, that is what Ashnault thinks.
“We really thought going into the Illinois match that we were going to win the match. Everyone was pretty confident,” Ashnault said following the match against Minnesota. “We wanted to see how we would bounce back because the National Tournament, in the round of 12, you lose in the quarterfinals. You have to bounce back quickly. It’s just another test to see what we can do at this level.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.