December 16, 2018 | ° F

Lone Rutgers grappler keeps hope alive at NCAA Tournament in St. Louis


ST. LOUIS – Anthony Ashnault’s dream of reaching the top of the podium at 141 pounds is still

alive. But, to the dismay of the Rutgers wrestling team, his journey is the only one that still exists

in the NCAA Championship bracket.

After a commanding 9-2 decision Wednesday against unseeded Mike Longo of Appalachian

State, Ashnault needed another strong performance to become the first Scarlet Knight since 2011

to reach the quarterfinals of NCAAs.

Ashnault was tasked with facing 10th seeded Zachary Horan of Central Michigan in order to

accomplish the long-awaited milestone for Rutgers.

With the score tied 2-2 at the outset of the third period, Ashnault was delegated to the defensive

position. The South Plainfield (H.S.) product took no time to make it neutral, escaping only 5

seconds into the third period.

With a lead, Ashnault went to his offense and stayed aggressive on the edge. Ashnault said he

knew Horan would play defense throughout waiting for a mistake. Ashnault made no mistakes

and found a leg for a takedown – riding out Horan for the 6-3 decision.

Ashnault never felt his match was in jeopardy and thinks he is peaking at the right time this

season.

“I feel like I’m wrestling the best that I have all year,” Ashnault said. “I’m going forward – I’m

not backing up at all like people saw me doing earlier in the season. I just feel like I’m on the

attack and I’m dominating these guys. That was a 6-3 win, but I never felt really in danger. I’m

really wrestling to the game plan and I feel good about that right now.”

Not every has had the joy of victory in the first day of competition at NCAAs. As happy as

Ashnault was to make it to the quarterfinals, two wrestlers were on the opposite end of the

spectrum.

Sophomore 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, who qualified for the first time in his career, did not

begin the tournament the way he had envisioned. After losing an 11-3 major against the 7 seed

from Penn State, Jimmy Gulibon, DelVecchio dropped his second, and final, match of the

tournament 9-4 against 10th seeded Mason Beckman of Lehigh.

DelVecchio not advancing in the Championship bracket wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the other

Knight who was eliminated in the first day was a surprise.

After claiming the first All-American under the guide of head coach Scott Goodale, Anthony

Perrotti wanted to at the very least duplicate his Top-8 finish from a year ago. Perrotti would not

do so.

After losing his first bout to Drexel’s Noel Blanco 5-3 in sudden victory, Perrotti would again be

forced to take his second match to overtime. While Perrotti shined in the consolation bracket a

season ago, he balked against Columbia’s Mark Scheidel.

Perrotti failed to find his offense in the match and, again, sudden victory would be needed to

decide the winner. Scheidel got off an attack late in the stanza and a takedown ended the match –

Perrotti would not be an All-American. He wouldn’t even make it to the second day.

“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.”

A pair of Rutgers wrestlers did advance to the second day alongside Ashnault. Heavyweight

Billy Smith and 149-pounder Kenny Theobold fell to the consolation bracket.

Theobold won his first bout 6-5 in upset fashion against 10th seeded Christian Pagdilao of

Arizona State before dropping his second match 11-6 against the 7-seed Sal Mastriani of

Virginia Tech.

Smith would start his bout with one of the toughest draws of the tournament against returning

NCAA Champion Nick Gwiazdowski of NC State. Smith would fall by an 8-2 decision and

would jump to the consolation bracket.

After the loss in the first bout, Smith followed it up with an impressive 8-0 win against George

Mason’s Jacob Kettler.

With three wrestlers set to advance, Goodale was pleased, but not as much as he could have

been. Goodale felt all five NCAA Qualifiers for the Knights had the ability to win matches at the

tournament.

“Well, it’s just three guys that are going – I’m happy for those guys. But, I’m disappointed the

other two guys didn’t go through – I thought they were certainly capable of winning matches

here,” Goodale said. “I think the three guys who made it through can win matches.”

Ashnault is the only one alive in the Championship Bracket and is tasked with having to face

second-seeded Mitchell Port of Edinboro – who is 36-1 on the season. But, Ashnault thinks he

has as good a chance as any to advance and become just the third Knight to make it to the semi-

finals at NCAAs and just the first since 1960.

“I feel like I’m in a really good position,” Ashnault said. “With this Edinboro kid, I feel like I

have a really good shot. I’m just going to take it one period at a time, and right now I’m focusing

on the first period and then I’ll take it from there.”


Tyler Karalewich

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