July 20, 2019 | 85° F

Rutgers sets attendance record, collects first Big Ten win at RAC

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Redshirt freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault celebrates after winning his first Big Ten bout against then-No. 1 Iowa. Ashnault won four bouts over the winter recess, defeating Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa and Penn State. 

When most students were wrapped up on their couch watching Netflix for several hours straight, or taking long naps to pass the time of day, there was a group that was left to brave the loneliness of an empty Rutgers campus.

While nearly all of Rutgers was away on winter recess, the Rutgers wrestling team spent its time off from classes doing what most in the university went home to avoid — going to work.

The Scarlet Knights entered the gauntlet of their schedule starting January 2, rattling off dual meet after dual meet against Big Ten foes, leading to both individual and team accomplishments and also several firsts for the team.

After starting the dual-meet season undefeated with nine wins, the Knights hosted then-No. 1 Iowa at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in front of a then-record 5,420 fans. Rutgers would go on to lose, but the atmosphere at the RAC ushered in a new era for Rutgers wrestling.

“It was a great crowd — an awesome crowd,” said head coach Scott Goodale after the 27-9 dual-meet loss to No. 1 Iowa. “I’m into the crowd, and I know its part of what we are trying to build here, no doubt. It’s a passionate fan base and they love their wrestling.”

With little to compare the amount of support to — this is the Knights’ first season regularly wrestling at the RAC — junior Andrew Campolattano said the atmosphere compared favorably to venues he has competed at in the past before he left Ohio State.

“I think our attendance is right up to par with other Big Ten programs,” Campolattano said after his first victory in a Knights singlet. “I don’t think our crowd heckles as great as other places, but hopefully we will get there after a couple of more matches.”

When Penn State came to the RAC January 16, Rutgers went on to set a new match record of 6,071 fans, but would lose its fourth-straight dual after dropping bouts to then-No. 2 Minnesota and then-No. 13 Illinois.

Although the Knights were pleased with the draw from the Rutgers fan base, they acknowledged the importance of earning their first win in the Big Ten Conference.

“I think we are more competitive, but we still aren’t where we want to be,” Ashnault said after Rutgers lost 28-6 against the Nittany Lions. “We want to be winning these matches, but it’s just tough. It’s tough to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back losses.”

That win would come this past weekend against Maryland for the Knights first Big Ten victory of the season.

Rutgers defeated the Terrapins 24-11 Sunday behind the strength of winning seven bouts, including a tech fall from junior 149-pounder Ken Theobold and a major decision from sophomore 184-pounder Anthony Pafumi.

The win gives Goodale and Rutgers its first victory in its new conference, and Goodale said it lifts the pressure moving forward in the season.

“It feels good to win and it feels good to get our first Big Ten win,” Goodale said after the win against Maryland. “More importantly it feels good to see these individuals getting wins after wrestling some of the better guys in the country. Our focus has been to stay positive and when the opportunity comes — to seize it. And that’s what we did.”

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

Tyler Karalewich

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