Rutgers welcomes Hoosiers, meets No. 4 OSU in Columbus after slide down rankings
Mustering up only 11 individual match victories over two dual meets was not how head coach Scott Goodale and the rest of the Rutgers wrestling team envisioned last weekend.
Considering their performance, it comes as almost a shock that the Scarlet Knights (10-3, 4-2) left the Great Lake State with both a win and a loss — but the trip West didn’t go without consequences.
Sliding down two spots in the national rankings to its lowest point of the season thus far, No. 14 Rutgers faces just as daunting of a challenge in the upcoming double dual-meet weekend as it did in Michigan.
“We’ve traditionally done a really good job bouncing back,” Goodale said after the Knights’ 37-6 defeat to Penn State in the middle of January.
Though he had hoped it would be the last time he would have to utter that phrase, the premise presented itself further last weekend. Falling to then-No. 15 Michigan was a setback Rutgers already could not afford, but the visitors proved Goodale correct in that statement. They showed up in East Lansing and beat the Spartans to the tune of 24-12.
But wrestling is a sport of peaks and valleys, the highest and lowest often coming within the same weekend, and the Knights will look to hit the latter on Sunday and Monday.
It is an unconventional one for Rutgers, as it kicks off at the tail end of the weekend, hosting Indiana (8-6, 1-4) at noon on Sunday. Following immediately after is a trip to Columbus, Ohio to battle No. 4 Ohio State (8-1, 4-1) at 7 p.m. on Monday in a meet that was rescheduled from early January.
Despite the Knights’ less-than-stellar collective performance against Michigan and Michigan State, the stalwarts in the squad, No. 6 Anthony Ashnault, No. 13 Nicholas Gravina and No. 14 Ken Theobold posted flawless records, each going 2-0 on the weekend.
Highly regarded as “sure wins” in the lineup, the trio faces a massive task among both events this weekend.
Junior 141-pounder Ashnault walks into the weekend with a 20-3 record on the year, and his trip to Ohio will be marked by a match against No. 15 Luke Pletcher of the Buckeyes. It will be the first time Ashnault stands toe-to-toe with the freshman Pletcher.
Following Ashnault is senior 149-pounder Theobold, whose recent success has solidified his spot in the lineup for the remainder of the season.
Ashnault, a Toms River, New Jersey native, has outscored his opponents 48-1 in his last four matches, though he faces a different animal on Monday in No. 5 Micah Jordan.
Jordan, who moved up weights in the offseason, made it to the quarterfinals as a 141-pounder at last year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships before losing to the eventual runner-up, Bryce Meredith of Wyoming.
But perhaps no one awaits a more difficult weekend than the junior 184-pounder Gravina, who is slated to square off against two ranked opponents on consecutive days.
On Sunday, Gravina will take on No. 7 Nate Jackson of Indiana, and he follows that up on Monday with a bout against No. 10 Myles Martin, last year’s NCAA Champion in the 174-pound weight class.
Without performances consistent with last week’s from Ashnault, Theobold and Gravina, Rutgers could potentially slide further down the rankings. It is not unlikely for the Knights to follow the same path it did in Michigan, with the short transition time between meets.
To only feed on its unranked conference opponents is not enough for Rutgers. To bring results, banners and trophies back to the Rutgers Athletic Center, it’s going to need to punch above its weight, and no opportunity presents itself better than this weekend.