Lone Rutgers All-American highlights NCAA Tournament
ST. LOUIS — Every Rutgers wrestler’s goal entering the 2015 NCAA Tournament was to advance as far as possible in the bracket and find themselves atop the podium as an All-American.
The Rutgers wrestling team had a realistic chance to accomplish those goals, too. With three repeat NCAA qualifiers and two newcomers, the Scarlet Knights brought half of their lineup to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Aside from redshirt-freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault, no one else made it to the podium Saturday at NCAAs.
Head coach Scott Goodale was convinced going into the tournament that the five Knights who made it could win matches. After the first day of competition, only three Rutgers grapplers were in it. After the second day, Ashnault was the only one left and he would go on to medical forfeit Saturday after a hamstring injury.
“I’m disappointed the other guys didn’t get through – I thought they were certainly capable of winning matches here,” Goodale said Friday after only three Knights were alive in the bracket. “It’s the National Tournament, so those things happen.”
The duo of Ashnault and returning All-American Anthony Perrotti figured to have the best chance at placing. Both grapplers came in as the only seeded wrestlers for Rutgers and both placed at the Big Ten Tournament.
But things did not go well for the returning eighth-place winner. Perrotti struggled to score in his two bouts at NCAAs, causing him to be ousted from the tournament after the first day.
His first match of the tournament was against unseeded Noel Blanco of Drexel. Perrotti struggled to find scoring in the match, using escapes and earned a technical point on a stall to end regulation tied at 3-3. In sudden victory, Blanco found Perrotti’s legs for a takedown late in the period.
With his Championship hopes extinguished, Perrotti still had the opportunity to make the podium for the second straight year, but Markus Scheidel of Columbia stood in the way.
It was déjà vu for Perrotti, who again struggled to score. He entered sudden victory, and again lost on a late takedown. Perrotti, visibly shaken, pounded the mat after the takedown and ran back to the hotel.
When Perrotti returned the next day to watch the rest of his teammates compete in the tournament, he wasn't what went wrong.
“It is tough, man,” Perrotti said. “Coming away from the Tournament empty-handed sucks — it’s just an empty feeling. You end your season last year on such a high note and coming back now, I don’t even know — I’m still upset. The season’s over and I can’t wait to get back to training honestly. I have to make everything crisp and chase the National Championship next year — just have to work a little harder this time.”
Perrotti failure to win a match surprised Goodale just as much as it did Perrotti.
After all the success Perrotti had during the season and leading up to the tournament, it is a disappointment for Rutgers he didn’t do better.
“You never expect your returning All-American to come back here and go 0-2,” Goodale said. “That’s the nature of this sport. We would have to really evaluate (what went wrong). He was training hard, he was prepared and he had really done a great job in the room. I thought he wanted this tournament, but you just can’t turn it on. Last year he caught fire and he wasn’t able to do it this year. He couldn’t generate any offense and score points — if you can’t do that you can’t win.”
Also failing to find spots on the podium were returning junior NCAA qualifiers Billy Smith and Ken Theobold.
The NCAA Selection Committee tasked Billy Smith with facing returning NCAA Champion and No. 1 seed Nick Gwiazdowski from N.C. State. Smith dropped the bout 8-2 after failing to score a takedown.
After the tough draw and loss to Gwiazdowski, Smith would go on a tear in the consolation bracket. Smith made quick work of George Mason’s Jacob Kettler and Oklahoma’s Ross Larson with a pair of major decisions (8-0, 12-2). Smith used a combined 8 takedowns and an average of over two minutes of riding time between the two bouts.
Smith seemed capable of claiming All-American status, but faltered against Ty Walz of Virginia Tech, dropping the decision, 5-3.
Theobold came into the tournament unseeded after being injured in the Big Ten tournament. He won his first match, 6-5, against Arizona State’s Christian Pagdilao. The Toms River, New Jersey, native then dropped decisions to Virginia Tech’s Sal Mastriani and Princeton’s Chris Perez to end his tournament.
Theobold didn’t have the tournament he had hoped, but said he might take a different approach this offseason. He said he wants to become an All-American before he graduates.
“It’s not the proudest moment of my life,” Theobold said. “But this is where you find yourself and rebuild. Luckily, I can redshirt next year, win some open tournaments and look toward the future. My big goal is to become an All-American before I graduate and that’s what I look forward to. I’m going to try to redshirt, work on my technique a little bit and get stronger for the next time I compete.”
Goodale said that while a redshirt is not out of the question for some of the Knights who still have one, the decision will be made later. Evaluation of the season and the National Tournament still has to be made, Goodale said.
“I think as a program we'll evaluate,” Goodale said. “We'll evaluate our staff, each and every one of us, then we'll evaluate our guys — we'll have individual meetings and come up with a plan for each one. If somebody emerges at (149 pounds), certainly (redshirting) is an option. But if he's the guy, then he's the guy and has to wrestle. So we need to get better in our room with our other guys and hopefully we're giving Kenny (Theobold) that opportunity to redshirt. But I can't sit here now and tell you what's going to happen.”
While sophomore Scott DelVecchio was the first Knight to be eliminated from NCAAs, he took it as a learning experience. As an unseeded NCAA qualifier and ninth-place finisher at the Big Ten’s, DelVecchio had the longest shot of any Knight.
Making it to the tournament shouldn’t be anyone’s goal, DelVecchio said. But advancing and making it to one of the top spots should be a priority.
“It’s tough – just qualifying is not something you want to do,” DelVecchio said. “It’s not what I wanted to do. It’s sour that you lose and are eliminated. If you were just okay with just making it here, you probably aren’t going to make it very far here in this tournament.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.