Rutgers prepares to take podium at Big Ten Championships
It’s just like Christmas morning for Anthony Perrotti, only it feels different. After all, when Christmas morning is over and the toy you’ve been wanting for months becomes boring, that’s it.
However, what awaits the Rutgers wrestling team is no Christmas morning — it’s the Big Ten Wrestling Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
This is something that Perrotti said he has been waiting his whole life and wrestling career for.
“It already feels like it’s been a long two weeks waiting for it,” Perrotti said. “I know the whole team is excited to get out there and show the whole country what we’ve been working for. My whole life — 17 years of wrestling — I’ve been ready for this. You train every day as a little kid for a chance like this. This is huge for me. This is what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.”
Redshirt-freshman 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault admitted to losing some focus on everyday life, unable to do anything else without the Big Ten Championships and NCAAs on his mind.
While he may find his mind wandering off, it ultimately settles in the podium.
“Every day it’s tough to just get it off my mind,” Ashnault said. “I don’t want to be thinking too much about the Big Ten, but it’s tough not to think about it. Sometimes I catch myself in class just daydreaming about it — winning the tournament and getting to Nationals and walking onto the podium.”
The Scarlet Knights and most of the country regard the Big Ten Conference as the best wrestling conference in the nation. With 10 teams from the conference in the top-25 rankings, according to the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll, it’s difficult to disagree with how competitive it will be in Columbus.
Head coach Scott Goodale knows how seasoned the field is, but said the staff and grapplers have prepared as well as any team.
“This is a mini-National Tournament,” Goodale said. “I’m not going to say that they will have an easier draw at NCAAs, but it’s not every day that you are ranked 10th in the country and then seeded 10th in the conference tournament. We have a chance to get through this tournament and be seeded at Nationals at a bunch of different weights.”
Both Perrotti and Ashnault only have one goal on their mind: make it to the top of the podium and enter the NCAAs with the highest possible seed. That may be easier said than done, but the two wrestlers have their reasoning for how it is possible.
Perrotti said that while some of the Knights may have dropped matches against Big Ten opponents during the regular season, it will be much more difficult to duplicate that on this stage. Moreover, with the tournament being double-elimination, losing twice is not an option for Perrotti and for Rutgers.
“It’s going to be hard to beat some of our guys twice. That’s our motto right now,” Perrotti said. “It’s going to be hard to beat me twice because I’ve been working so much harder. ... We’re not going there with an underdog attitude, we are going to fight and claw like the rest of them.”
For Ashnault, his training has brought him to a level he has not reached in his career. It’s now just all about using that to peak and make strides in the postseason.
“I think it’s important to get to the National Tournament first — you can’t do anything unless you get there and it starts with the Big Ten Tournament,” Ashnault said. “You’re going to be wrestling the top-10 and, for me, the top-5 guys in the nation in my weight class. ... Knocking some of those guys off, if not all of them, it will mean the world going into NCAAs. If I do that, now I’m a title contender, and in my mind I have the best shot I could put myself in to get the title. This is the best I’ve felt in my whole career, and I think I’m ready.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.