Rutgers dominates in dual victories over Maryland, Princeton
As Billy Smith got set and went to his knees in the center of the mat, the entire Rutgers wrestling team was on their feet, urging the 2,047 fans in attendance at the Rutgers Athletic Center to do the same.
Just moments after the whistle blew to begin the second portion of the match's overtime period, Smith was able to escape the grasp of Maryland’s Dawson Peck, settling the 5-5 tie and sending those at the RAC into a frenzy.
The atmosphere was that of a dual meet that hung in the balance of the outcome of the heavyweight match.
But the reality was that Smith had just capped off a 30-3 rout over Maryland for the Scarlet Knights.
For a team that said it was itching to get back on the mat following a 12-day break, the Knights exhibited that eagerness with their energy and performance in two dominating dual-meet victories over the weekend.
After cruising to their third conference win of the season against Maryland (4-10, 1-6) on Friday night, the No. 12 Knights (13-3, 3-2) continued their recent dominance over Princeton (4-6) with a 28-6 win on Sunday.
“You get stagnant, and you want to compete and you want to put your hands on somebody else,” said head coach Scott Goodale after Rutgers' victory over Maryland. “I was worried about it. Every now and then it’s really good to have a break and get healthy ... But its tough to go down there ... and go through just practices (every day) ... I thought our guys really ... were rested and ready to go and fired up for the match.”
Coming off their first loss to an unranked opponent of the season in their previous match against Minnesota, Rutgers left no doubt on the mat against the Terrapins. Holding a 4-3 advantage after the first two individual matches, the Knights reeled off victories in the final eight bouts capped off by Smith’s thrilling overtime 8-5 decision win.
The atmosphere for Smith’s match was unusual for the final individual bout of a blowout, but it didn’t surprise the grapplers in scarlet and black, who take pride in competing in front of their fans at the RAC.
“Nothing beats Rutgers’ crowds, I’ve always said that,” Smith said. “It’s a shame that it took a little bit to get in some of those smaller guys, winning the tight matches. I’d like to see the fans get into it a little sooner. But the fans are the greatest, every time you hear that 'R-U' you take pride in it, and you’re glad to wear the ‘R’ on your chest.”
After just one day off, the Knights traveled about 20 minutes south to visit an old rival in Princeton, where they put on a similar display to Friday night.
Sophomore 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina began the day with an upset, 7-1 decision win over No. 19 Abram Ayala. After dropping the next decision, Rutgers blitzed the Tigers in taking the next seven bouts.
A pin fall from redshirt 133-pounder Anthony Giraldo and a major decision from sophomore 141-pounder Anthony Ashnualt were key contributors for the Knights in putting up 28 points on the scoreboard.
Rutgers' 28-6 win over Princeton marked their 20th consecutive win over their intrastate rival.
In total, the Knights took 17 of the 20 individual bouts and collected seven bonus points along the way in their dual meets against Maryland and Princeton.
With their win over Maryland, Rutgers surpassed their conference win total of two from their inaugural season last year.
While Rutgers had an impressive showing this weekend after a long break, they are aware that this past weekend was just the beginning of the toughest stretch of their schedule. In the following two weekends, the Knights will have two matches over the span of three days yet again. This Friday and Sunday, Rutgers will face Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively, at the RAC.
The following weekend, the Knights will face both Indiana and Purdue on the road with just one day separating the matches.
So while the Rutgers wrestling team has enjoyed a lot of success this year, they don’t plan on letting off the gas pedal anytime soon.
“It says something about how far we’ve come, but we still have a long way to go,” said junior 157-pounder Richie Lewis said after the Knights win over Maryland. “This is the first year that we’re really rolling hard and we just want to continue to do it year-in and year-out with new recruits and a great coaching staff. It’s this year and we’re focusing on this year, and when it’s next year we’re focusing on next year.”