Rutgers strolls into double dual meet weekend looking to erase Penn State rout
Since the inception of Big Ten play for Rutgers Athletics a few years ago, the Rutgers wrestling team has served as a beacon of hope and light among an otherwise dim setting.
The Scarlet Knights have constantly found themselves playing second, third and sometimes 14th fiddle to their conference rivals in other sports. But Rutgers wrestling has given the New Brunswick community something to cheer for, as the team competes with giants in the sport.
Just a week after No. 11 Rutgers’ 37-6 defeat to No. 2 Penn State, the Knights return to the Garden State for a pair of dual meets that should relieve the squad of the foul taste of defeat from the State College rout.
There are no daunting numbers in front of the schools this weekend, in fact, one doesn’t even hold the Big Ten moniker. On Friday, Rutgers (7-2, 2-1) welcomes Oregon State to the Louis Brown Athletic Center in what will be the first non-conference dual meet for the Knights since Grapple at the Garden almost two months ago and the last of the season.
On Sunday, the Purdue Boilermakers (7-2, 2-1) take the mat. Sharing an identical record with the hosts, Purdue rides into the weekend on the back of three consecutive dual meet wins, two of which coming against conference competition in Northwestern and Indiana.
Regarding the two sides on Friday and Sunday and the fact that his team will see a break in Big Ten action, head coach Scott Goodale maintains the same level of intensity and preparation, especially on the heels of an uncharacteristically poor performance against the Nittany Lions.
“Preparation’s the same,” Goodale said. “We’ve got to get back on the winning track. I think we learned a lot as a program and as a team from the Penn State loss and from the Penn State environment. So now it’s back at home where we love to be and excited for another really good program to come in here.”
Though Oregon State does not boast a collective national ranking, individually, a number of wrestlers on the roster could pose major threats to the Rutgers lineup.
Junior 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault, one of two who left Pennsylvania with a win last weekend, faces another tall task coming back to the RAC.
The sixth-ranked All-American is slated to square off with Jack Hathaway, who took No. 8 Bryce Meredith of Wyoming to the closing seconds in his last match, despite losing.
Ashnault, who has beaten Hathaway in the past, is less worried about Hathaway and is more focused on himself at this point in the season.
“I’m going to have respect for him, but at the same time, I feel like I’m wrestling really well right now,” Ashnault said. “I’m not really focusing on the name of the guy I’m wrestling. I’m just improving what I’m struggling at and getting better at what I’m already good at.”
A further point of interest is the roles 149-pounders Ken Theobold and Anthony Giraldo will play in either match.
Goodale has noticeably had a tough time in figuring out that part of the lineup, despite Theobold’s No. 14 spot in the national rankings. In Giraldo’s last match, he was unable to put away Eric Barone of No. 12 Illinois. As for Theobold, he was pinned handily by No. 1 Zain Retherford at Penn State.
To add, one of Oregon State’s two ranked competitors, No. 18 Joey Delgado, awaits either.
“Two good guys trying to figure it out, and that’s where we’re at right now,” Goodale said. “Kind of a holding pattern, so they’ll keep wrestling it out. They’re both ready to go.”
Purdue’s lineup, on the other hand, features no ranked wrestlers, and like the Knights have found trouble at the top of the Big Ten conference, falling to No. 3 Iowa in November, 37-3.
But as Rutgers will be making the jump from Pac-12 to Big Ten in the span of two days, the Boilermakers may be able to catch the Knights off guard and snatch a few much-needed wins Sunday.
Junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, who has seen his mat time increase exponentially with the absence of junior Tyson Dippery, holds that the jump will be a nonfactor as the team has done it in the past.
DelVecchio, the other victor in the Penn State loss, squares off against Luke Welch Sunday, who already has a decision over Rutgers’ 149-pounder Giraldo in the past. Welch has enjoyed a string of decisions during Purdue’s winning streak.
To DelVecchio though, the Purdue match and the one prior against Oregon State are lessons in leveled expectations. He expects to win and nothing less.
“I mean hopefully the same thing you always expect,” DelVecchio said. “Just to win. You don’t go out there expecting to lose, that’s for sure.”