Rutgers heads to West Coast to begin dual meet season
It’s been eight months since Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale and company have hit the mats, but the wait is finally over.
The No. 10 wrestling team christens the 2016-2017 campaign with a trip to the Golden State.
The Scarlet Knights open the season in a 7 p.m. tri-meet Friday night against CSU Bakersfield (1-0, 0-0) and San Francisco State (0-2, 0-0) before heading to the coast in a 3 p.m. dual against Cal Poly (2-1, 0-0) Sunday.
Rutgers sent a team-record 10 wrestlers to the NCAA qualifiers last season and two members — then-sophomore 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault and then-senior 165-pounder Anthony Perrotti — earned All-American status, competing in the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
In the absence of eighth-place Perrotti this season, the squad is buoyed by No. 3 Ashnault, who finished fourth in the competition.
“I feel like I’ve always tried to lead by example,” Ashnault said. “I always try to work as hard as I possibly can, try to help out the younger guys as much as I can. I’m still trying to create what I came here to do — become a national champion and get Rutgers wrestling on the map. I think those guys leaving, they did an excellent job, putting their hearts into it. Getting Rutgers to where we are now.”
And Ashnault certainly is not waiting for the regular season to kick off to get started, as he has already made waves in preseason bouts. Alongside senior 157-pounder No. 6 Richie Lewis, Ashnault represented Rutgers and the duo won their matches at the NWCA All Star Classic in Wyoming.
But with a taste of a national title already wafting around him, Ashnault wants more.
“In my mind, I’m training to be the most dominant,” Ashnault said. “I don’t want to just win. I want to beat my opponents by five, six points. If I focus on just scoring as many points as I can, doing things to the best of my ability, I think I’m the top guy.”
But before he and the rest of them set their sights on a national glory, they will have to go through sides like CSU-Bakersfield.
The Roadrunners kicked off their season with a 29-12 win over California Baptist.
The Pac-12 stalwarts had an impressive showing in the 2015-2016 season, finishing 11-4 overall with a 4-1 conference record. The team finished 36th overall in the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Following CSU Bakersfield is a dual against San Francisco State at 8:45 p.m.
The Northern California squad has been unable to find any sort of rhythm at the onset of the season, losing both of its matches in the opening weekend to Cal Poly, the Knights' Sunday opponent, and Indiana, a Big Ten rival.
But San Francisco State got off to the same rough start last season and turned it around to finish 6-7 overall with a 1-2 conference record.
Rounding out the weekend is a contest against the Cal Poly Mustangs, who at 2-1, have already faced off against tough competition.
The Mustangs kicked off their season with wins over San Francisco State and Indiana, showing already that they have what it takes to knock off a Big Ten team.
But last weekend, Cal Poly met No. 14 Stanford in what turned out to be a blowout win for the Cardinal, as they cruised to a 21-9 victory.
Goodale’s squad looks to sweep the weekend’s action en route to the Battle of the Birthplace, which takes place on Nov. 19 at High Point Solutions Stadium against Princeton.
Rutgers boasts five ranked individuals, according to Intermat. The aforementioned Ashnault and Lewis are joined by junior 184-pounder No. 15 Nicholas Gravina, senior 149-pounder No. 13 Ken Theobold and junior 133-pounder No. 15 Tyson Dippery.
In light of the new season, Dippery dipped a weight class, as he wrestled at 141 pounds last season. His teammate, junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, spoke of Dippery’s commitment to dropping his weight and the newfound competition between the two.
“He’s been dedicated,” DelVecchio said. “He’s got a good diet, and he’s bringing his weight down and everything. All of it is sport, no hard feelings, we’re both good friends so it’s best man wins.”
In-team competition never hurt anybody, especially when morale is so high among the players.
There is an undeniable excitement around the locker room, coupled with the expectations of Knights fans, especially with many other Rutgers teams not performing up to snuff.
To live up to and improve upon last year’s standards is a tall but very achievable task for this side. Returning nine national qualifiers, one All-American and a Big Ten champion, Goodale knows this team has a lot going for it, and he hopes they use those expectations as fuel for the upcoming season.
“Obviously there are a ton of expectations within this program,” Goodale said. “They’re extremely high and that’s the kind of way we want it.”
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