COMMENTARY: Rutgers is a wrestling school
After an underwhelming fall and winter athletic season, Rutgers is not a football school yet and seems farther than ever from being a basketball school. No sport seems to give Rutgers any merit for being in the Big Ten Conference. That was until this past weekend.
The Rutgers wrestling team finished at the Big Ten Championships last weekend and sophomore Anthony Ashnault took home the gold medal at 141 pounds. Every wrestler for Rutgers placed on the podium. In the most competitive wrestling conference, that’s an impressive showing.
Rutgers is a wrestling school. That’s attributed to head coach Scott Goodale’s coaching staff and their vision for change.
Rutgers is used to change but not always for the best reasons. President Robert L. Barchi terminated head football coach Kyle Flood and Athletic Director Julie Hermann.With only one Big Ten win, and only seven wins total, Eddie Jordan of Rutgers men’s basketball has also been terminated. But for an Athletic Department finally righting itself, wrestling offers a breath of fresh air and a model for success.
This season, Rutgers wrestling (16-5, 5-4) accomplished as much as any athletic team in recent school history.
Rutgers wrestled to a winning record in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights also won their first NWCA National Dual — wrestling’s version of a bowl game — against No. 7 Lehigh. The Knights finished the season with seven-ranked wins, including three against top-10 opponents. They also ended the season ranked in the top 10 for just the second time ever.
While the season has been one of Rutgers best ever, the true challenge comes at the NCAA Championships March 17-19 at Madison Square Garden. But Rutgers is poised to finish in the top 10, which is something they have never done before.
Only three schools qualified all 10 of their wrestlers for the NCAAs. Along with perennial college wrestling powerhouses Oklahoma State and Nebraska, Rutgers makes the third. Nine grapplers earned automatic bids, and Sean McCabe received an at-large bid at 125 pounds.
Having all 10 wrestlers make it to NCAAs gives Rutgers the best chance to score team points and finish at the top. In other words, the Knights find themselves in the conversation at NCAAs.
The success this season is not a fluke. Rutgers changed to a winning atmosphere in the program. After back-to-back All-Americans, Rutgers is looking for more. For Goodale, he feels the change throughout the school.
“There’s excitement with this program. We wrestle in front of great crowds and we have people fired up about wrestling around here,” Goodale said. “The football team, baseball team and the whole Athletic Department are fired up. That’s the vision we had nine years ago. We wanted to get this place to love wrestling and here we are doing it. It’s all coming together.”
The wrestling program also has the support of new Athletic Director Pat Hobbs, Goodale said.
A school that loves wrestling helps immensely in recruiting, Goodale said. And this year’s recruiting class ranks up there for Rutgers.
Rutgers recruits accounted for six place-winners in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania state tournaments. Three incoming freshmen won it all and three finished as runner-ups. A seventh recruit finished in third only because another future Knight finished first in at the weight.
When the Knights take the bus to New York City next week for the NCAAs, they will have a chance to do something no program at Rutgers has done in a while. They will wrestle in New Jersey’s backyard with the chance to cement Rutgers place in the Big Ten and the NCAA.
National relevance in competition is no longer just a goal for Rutgers Athletics, it’s an actuality. And the wrestling team started the trend. Rutgers is a wrestling school now, and it’s exactly how Goodale envisioned it happening.
Tyler Karalewich School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and history. He is a former associate sports editor for The Daily Targum.
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