July 20, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers headman reflects on rapid ascent in Big Ten

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Head coach Scott Goodale is impressed with the improvement of his team in its first year in Big Ten Conference competition. Goodale has four ranked grapplers on his squad.

When head coach Scott Goodale first arrived in New Brunswick eight years ago, he never thought it would possible that he and the Rutgers wrestling team would face four of the top five teams in the country and compete in the top conference in the nation.

It really was out of his mind, so all he could do at the start of this season was sit back and take in how far the program has come.

Now at the end of the Big Ten conference schedule, with two dual meets in the wings before the postseason, Goodale is afforded the opportunity to reflect on the adjustment to the new conference.

From the highs to the lows, the head man in charge knows how far the Scarlet Knights have come and how far they still have to go.

At least that’s what he has learned from before the season even started to the present when the season is winding down to a close.

“I learned that these guys are going to fight every time and we might not get the best result,” Goodale said. “I don’t know if we are Big Ten ready yet and I think it took a lot of guys by surprise, including the staff — maybe not [Donny Pritzlaff] who has been through it. But I realized tonight our guys are tired. Not tired in a seven-minute match, just tired over the course. I think I need to do a better job of putting matches in the first semester. We’ll evaluate going forward.”

While some of the results have not been as close as anticipated or even as they maybe should have been, there are still positives to take from the season.

The emergence of the lower weights in the lineup led to success and dominated the scoring for Rutgers.

Coming on strong has been junior 149-pounder Ken Theobold along with sophomore 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio and redshirt-freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault.

Ashnault and Theobold lead the Knights with 21 wins each, while DelVecchio is tied for third on the team total with 17 wins. Junior 157-pounder Anthony Perrotti has come on strong of late, too, for the Knights and has grappled to a 16-6 record.

While DelVecchio and Ashnault are the blue chips, Goodale is impressed by how much Theobold has grown since coming to Rutgers

“I think Kenny has really gotten better. Coming out of high school, you could really tell DelVecchio and Ashnault were Big Ten-type kids — I think they can win at the highest level. Kenny has really emerged and has been an unbelievable surprise, I don’t think he’s done getting better. And now, we have Perrotti wrestling really, really well. So, you get four-in-a-row right there in the lineup. We will kind of run with that.”

While the first half of the lineup has performed up to or exceeded expectations, the bottom half and the higher weights have struggled in the dual-meet lineup.

According to Goodale, junior heavyweight Billy Smith has been good this year along with 174-pounder Phillip Bakuckas.

But in the other weights, there has been a lack of consistency.

“We have to get more guys of course in the heavier weights,” Goodale said. “Billy is a darn good heavyweight, but he’s just in a conference where out of the top-14 guys, ten of them are from this conference. He is certainly capable and Phil, too. But no matter how close you wrestle these matches, if you are losing, it creeps in your mind and it’s a confidence issue. If you don’t get your hand raised at the end of the day, you start fighting your confidence.”

After what is considered a largely successful inaugural campaign in the Big Ten, Rutgers is still not satisfied.

Associate head coach Donny Pritzlaff knows that finishing towards the middle of the pack in the Big Ten is a big deal, but thinks that the Knights can still improve.

“I think, especially with us being in the Big Ten our first year, we don’t really want to be on the bottom of the barrel. And honestly, I don’t think we really want to be in the middle of the pack either,” Pritzlaff said. “I think a guy like Perrotti, and the other guys who have been in this program for a while, they want to show what they are worth it in the Big Ten. Being in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, it is a good standard to be in such a tough conference. These guys see we are closing the gap on some of these teams.”

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

Tyler Karalewich

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