Rutgers defeats Princeton in historic Battle at the Birthplace outdoor dual meet
With 16,178 fans, friends and family in attendance, the Rutgers wrestling team defeated Princeton University 19-15 in the first ever Battle at the Birthplace.
The event, as part of a Saturday doubleheader at High Point Solutions Stadium with the football team hosting No. 8 Penn State at 8 p.m., saw the second-largest crowd in collegiate wrestling dual meet history, only trailing Iowa’s outdoor event with Oklahoma State this time last year.
Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale did not mince words when it came to the overall feel of the afternoon.
“It was an awesome atmosphere,” Goodale said. “A little bit different, obviously, than being at the (Rutgers Athletic Center), it’s hard to get that feel of the people right on top of the mat. But still, tremendous crowd. Good for New Jersey wrestling.”
The Scarlet Knights (4-0) picked up the victory over Princeton (0-1) in what was a contest of fluctuating momentum and energy, with both sides controlling different segments of the affair.
The afternoon commenced with the 125-pound bout between Rutgers redshirt senior Sean McCabe and Princeton freshman Ty Agaisse.
McCabe’s seniority seemed to have no effect on Agaisse, whose two points in the match only came through an escape and riding time. But the two points made the difference, as he grabbed a 2-0 decision over McCabe, launching Princeton to an early 3-0 meet lead.
Following the first fight was one between junior Tyson Dippery and sophomore Pat D’Arcy in the 133 weight class.
No. 13 Dippery opened the scoring for the Knights early, garnering a couple of takedowns to tack on some points. He finished his day with an escape to run the score up to 7-2, collecting the decision and bringing the score to a deadlock.
Up next was the first official match between junior Anthony Ashnault, the two-time All-American, against freshman Matthew Kolodzik, the highly-touted up-and-comer for the Tigers. At No. 3 and No. 10, respectively in the 141-pound division, Ashnault and Kolodzik had the most riding on their match.
Ashnault seemed to be ready to add to Rutgers’ tally, as he scored a quick takedown to keep himself distant from Kolodzik. The match proved relatively even throughout the first two periods, though the All-American had the slight lead.
As the final seconds of the third period wore down, Kolodzik, behind 3-2, scored a monumental takedown to take the lead and secure an upset victory over the No. 3 ranked 141-pounder in the nation, walking Princeton to a 6-3 advantage.
Though no "gimme" whatsoever, Ashnault was widely considered to be the favorite in this match, which left most in the Knights camp stunned.
“Arguably our best guy goes out, and that’s on Anthony,” Goodale said. “You’ve gotta score. You can’t hold the lead, and we talk about it all the time. You’re sitting on a lead, sitting on a lead and waiting, waiting and bad things happen when you do that. And you could feel the place deflate a little bit.”
After Kolodzik handed Ashnault only his fourth dual loss of his career, it was up for fifth-year senior Ken Theobold to knock some life back into Rutgers. No. 14 Theobold went up against No. 19 Jordan Laster for Princeton in the second nationally ranked match of the afternoon.
Theobold was able to outlast Laster throughout all three periods, peppering each with a takedown to nab the 6-4 victory. The score once again locked up at six.
Following that was the duo of 157-pounder John Van Brill and 165-pounder Richie Lewis, whose 13-3 and 17-6 major decisions over their opponents proved the difference at the end of the day for the Knights.
Van Brill and No. 6 Lewis, interchangeable at their weight classes, were dominant in their victories Saturday, and Lewis attributed this to his midweek preparation with Van Brill.
“I train with Van Brill a lot, and Van Brill is pretty much my main partner in the room during weight cuts, during those hard periods,” Lewis said.
In the 174-pound division, fifth-year Phillip Bakuckas was unable to keep the momentum flowing for Rutgers, as junior Jon Schleifer won a close 3-1 match. At No. 16, Schleifer was the heavy favorite, though Bakuckas proved more of a challenge than most thought, holding him to only a two-point edge.
With the Knights still in control at a 14-9 clip, junior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina took the mat to deliver the final blow to the visiting Princeton side. Up against No. 17 Ian Baker, No. 14 Gravina had a massive test ahead of him.
But Gravina had all the answers and ran up the early, eventually securing another major decision for Rutgers, winning 19-4, and moving the Knights up, 19-9.
“Going into the match, I kind of expected it to be closer,” Gravina said. “And then I just pushed the pace and felt him break, and when you feel someone break like that, it just gets easier to score points.”
The 197-pound bout saw junior Anthony Messner square off against senior Brett Harner, the No. 4 ranked wrestler in the division. Though Harner pulled off the decisive 7-2 victory, the decision was not enough to keep Princeton within reach of Rutgers, and from here the home side clinched the dual meet win.
But the heavyweights still had their go around, as Princeton’s No. 18 Ray O’Donnell disposed of sophomore Marc McDonald handily, winning 12-3.
Princeton’s late surge was not enough to keep the Knights from hoisting the trophy at the end of the day, presented by Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs.
Much of Goodale’s praises fell on the middle of the pack today — Theobold, Van Brill and Lewis. He said that their maturity is what kept Rutgers in the game and enabled them to claim victory at the first Battle of the Birthplace.
“They tried to get into it,” Goodale said. “That’s one thing our guys are good at — getting the crowd all pumped up and wrestling extremely hard ... I knew what we had coming. I’m proud of the way these guys responded after that.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.