Rutgers sweeps 3 opponents in California in perfect start to season
It didn’t take much time for the Rutgers wrestling team to get into midseason form.
The Scarlet Knights (3-0) opened the 2016-2017 on a road trip to California where they defeated San Francisco State (0-4), CSU Bakersfield (2-1) and Cal Poly (3-3).
Friday night saw Rutgers dispose of San Francisco State and CSU Bakersfield handily, collecting 45-0 and 25-16 wins, respectively. And on Sunday, the Knights closed the weekend with a 38-4 victory over Cal Poly.
Starting Friday, the team embarked on a journey to rise to those expectations.
In the first match of the season, sophomore 184-pounder Jordan Pagano won by fall over San Francisco State’s Mitchell Owens in 2:32, bringing Rutgers to a 6-0 lead.
Following a 16-11 first season on the Banks, Pagano has garnered the trust of head coach Scott Goodale, who lauded Pagano’s ability to score falls.
“Pagano scored a pin, he’s a pinner, he’s a very good wrestler,” Goodale said. “He gives us a ton of depth. That’s exactly what you need in this sport, and Jordan does that. He’s trained super hard, he’s very intelligent, he’s very mat savvy.”
Freshman 197-pounder Matthew Correnti and sophomore heavyweight Marc McDonald bumped the Knights’ lead up to 16-0, scoring a major decision and a fall respectively.
Fifth-year senior Sean McCabe followed suit with a 16-2 major decision, which brought Rutgers to a 23-0 lead over San Francisco State.
Up next was Ashnault and after competing at multiple preseason tournaments, he was free of any rust that could have settled after last season’s Big Ten champion at 141 pounds.
Ashnault trounced Joshua Weinberg in a 17-0 technical fall, increasing the Knights’ edge over the northern California side to 28-0.
Ashnault has been vocal in the preseason about the talent surrounding him in New Brunswick and how this is one of the more exciting teams he has been a part of.
Even in the absence of Anthony Perrotti, he believes there are other wrestlers on the team deserving of national title statuses and looks to build upon last postseason’s shortcomings.
“Only two All-Americans out of 10 guys wasn’t enough for us,” Ashnault said. “That’s probably because we know the talent that all of us have, and we have a lot of individuals that should’ve broke through last year. We definitely have the talent to be putting four or five guys on the podium and to be national champs on the board.”
Fifth-year senior 149-pounder No. 13 Ken Theobold added five more points of his own soon after to bring the score to 33-0.
The dual was rounded out by sophomore Anthony Giraldo, redshirt freshman Willie Scott and fifth-year senior Phillip Bakuckas, who ramped the score up to 45-0 and secured the victory for Rutgers.
And just a few hours later, the Knights would meet the home side in CSU-Bakersfield, a team that had also defeated San Francisco earlier in the day.
From the opening match, it looked like the visitors had assumed control, as junior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina won by fall to snatch a 6-0 Rutgers lead.
But the Roadrunners responded, and the Knights had to play from behind early in the dual.
Matt Williams, Alex Encarnacion-Strand and Sean Nickell, all scored victories following the first match to take a 12-6 lead over Rutgers.
Junior 133-pounder Tyson Dippery and Ashnault scored a technical fall and major decision respectively, allowing the Knights to skip past to a 15-12 lead.
Tied soon after thanks to a Coleman Hammond decision, Theobold’s decision over Sean O’Rourke thrusted Rutgers back into the lead.
Bakuckas would once again seal the deal, as he closed matters with a technical fall to bring the Knights to a 26-15 victory.
Rounding out the weekend was a dual against Cal Poly, a side that had already beaten Big Ten competition this weekend in a 19-18 win over Indiana.
But Rutgers was determined to leave the West Coast with a spotless record and McCabe got them on the right track, scoring a major decision over Cal Poly’s Isaac Blackburn to put the Knights up 4-0.
The Mustangs ran into a trifecta of ranked wrestlers to follow, with Dippery, Ashnault and Theobold, who all collecting falls or technical falls to run the score up to 21-0.
Theobold, already 3-0 on the season after redshirting last year, was itching to get back on the mat after a whole year of training. He has two years of NCAA Championship play under his belt and is looking to add more with the upcoming campaign.
“This is my last year so I’m really going to have to go out there and compete at a level I’ve never competed at before,” Theobold said.
Only a week removed from putting nine points on the board against No. 14 Stanford, Cal Poly’s competitors were just unable to match up to Rutgers.
John Van Brill, Scott, Bakuckas, Gravina and Correnti lifted the Knights to a 38-0 lead.
In the final match of the evening, Spencer Empey of Cal Poly nabbed a major decision over junior heavyweight Razohnn Gross to salvage a few points for the home squad.
With most of his top guys leaving the weekend undefeated, there is little to complain about for Goodale. Thrusted headfirst into the season across the country, Goodale and company now return to New Brunswick, eyeing a win in the first ever Battle at the Birthplace against Princeton Saturday.
A lot of those guys, even beyond Saturday’s affair, have their eyes on one thing this season.
“Become a national champ,” Theobold said. “That’s my goal this year.”