Sophomore shoots to remain undefeated for Rutgers
Anthony Ashnault is no stranger to perfection.
In his four varsity seasons at South Plainfield High School, Ashnault did not concede a single bout on his way to compiling a 170-0 career record and collecting four New Jersey State Championships at four different weight classes.
He became the first high school wrestler in the state to ever win four state championships while also having an unblemished record.
This season, in his second year on the Rutgers wrestling team’s starting lineup, the sophomore 141-pounder is flirting with perfection yet again.
Ashnualt is off to an impressive 9-0 start, averaging 10.66 points per match and collecting bonus points in two-thirds of his wins. The South Plainfield, New Jersey, native has risen to No. 3 in his weight class after beginning the year at No. 8, according to Intermat.
While the reigning All-American reeled off wins in his first 10 matches last season, this undefeated streak has a different feel to it. He has picked up five of his wins against top-25 programs, with two of them coming against wrestlers ranked in the top 10 within his weight class.
He has looked a level above the competition and, even though he’s not focusing on that, the possibility of him wrestling out a perfect season at the collegiate level doesn’t appear to be too far fetched.
“In high school, I got asked this a lot because it was happening and after three years, I got that question a lot,” Ashnault said about the prospect of him going undefeated this season. “For me, I learned how to just take it one match at a time and just think about the end goal.”
Ashnault’s two matches against top-10 opponents this season have been where he has been able to best showcase his dominance on the mat.
His first match of the season came against then-No. 9 Rick Durso of Franklin & Marshall at the Rutgers Duals. In a one-sided match, Ashnault cruised to a 7-1 major decision over Durso.
In the Scarlet Knights’ following meet at the Northeast Duals, Ashnault picked up a 7-4 decision win against then-No. 5, All-American Evan Henderson from North Carolina.
Although it is still early, with the way Ashnault has wrestled to open the season, his teammates wouldn’t put it past him to not lose a single match all the way through the NCAA Championships in March.
“No, it wouldn’t,” said junior 125-pounder Sean McCabe on whether he would be surprised if Ashnault ran the table through the National Championships. “He’s really improved and he’s just a beast. He’s really hungry for a national title and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he keeps it going.”
Last season, Ashnault piled up a 29-8 record in his first year in the starting lineup. Following a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, he went on to compete in the NCAA Championships. The 141-pounder won his first two matches of the championship tournament before losing to the No. 2 seed.
Now in the consolation bracket competing for the final spot on the podium, Ashnault suffered a leg injury in the middle of his quarterfinal match. He opted to fight through the pain, but ended up falling out of contention for third place by way of a 9-4-decision.
Unable to compete in the seventh-place match as a result of his injury, Ashnault had to settle for eighth place.
He had finished his first season of eligibility with All-American status, but that wasn’t enough for Ashnault. Feeling as if he hadn’t shown his true potential, he worked hard in the offseason with his sights set on getting back to NCAA Championships and capturing a National Championship title.
To this point in the season, Ashnault has showcased the improvements he’s made since the end of last year, and his head coach wouldn’t be surprised to see him improve even more.
“He’s wrestling a lot of good guys, he’s gotten a lot better from last year,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “From last March until now, he’s gotten a lot better. He’s jumped up a major level, (and) it’s cause of the way he trains, lives his life, studies the sport. He’s gotten a lot better and he’ll probably continue to get better.”
With the Knights scheduled to face eight more ranked opponents in the regular season followed by the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Championships, the road to perfection will not be an easy one for Ashnault. Of those eight ranked matches remaining on the schedule, Ashnualt will face an opponent who is currently ranked in half of those.
But for Ashnault, as long as he’s standing on the first-place podium for the 141-pound weight class at the end of the season, a perfect season would be a nice complement to the real goal of capturing a National Title.
“If something like that happens, it’s great and it’s something that is just extra to the end reward,” Ashnault said. “It’s really just to focus on the National Title and if that happens, it’s great, but I’m just focusing on one match at a time till I get to the end goal.”
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