Rutgers unable to take advantage of missing stars, falls to No. 4 Ohio State
Monday could not have started any better for Anthony Ashnault and the Rutgers wrestling team.
Kicking off the second of two random draws this weekend, the junior 141-pounder silenced any doubters worried about his ability to bring his all in matches against other ranked opponents. After losses against Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton and Kevin Jack of NC State earlier in the season, Ashnault has seen a string of ranked matches to boost his record to a bloated 21-3.
But Monday, No. 6 Ashnault carried a match against No. 15 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State to a 10-1 major decision, propelling the Scarlet Knights to a 4-0 lead.
And sophomore 157-pounder John Van Brill continued Ashnault's good run of form with a 17-0 technical fall, dropping Buckeye Josh Powell at the second-period buzzer.
But that was about it for them.
What started as a potentially historic night for Rutgers at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio soon turned bleak, as the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2, 5-2) defeated the No. 14 Knights (11-4, 5-3), 23-18.
Though the score proved much closer than most anticipated, Ohio State always felt in control of the night.
It was a night that was bound to test head coach Scott Goodale and his Rutgers side, as the Buckeyes flaunted six nationally ranked wrestlers on Monday night, five of whom won their matches, the lone loser being Pletcher.
But the other five, two competing in ranked bouts, outmatched their opponents on the mat and took to the white line with an urgency and intensity lacking in the Knights camp.
Perhaps no one exemplified that urgency more than No. 5 Micah Jordan, who launched attack after attack on senior 149-pounder Ken Theobold. No. 14 Theobold could not muster up any answers for Jordan's offense, as Theobold gave away a major decision to the Buckeye at the final seconds.
It was one where an upset for Theobold could predict an upset for Rutgers, but the 22-1 sophomore Jordan had other ideas after a relatively strong start for the visiting Knights.
Despite a 12-7 advantage at intermission for Rutgers, a slew of mismatches at the latter half of the evening proved dismal for Goodale's squad, one that grew complacent after an impressive first half.
The second half capped off a night that served as a macrocosm for many of the Knights' bouts this season.
As with the Theobold match, Rutgers wrestlers have often found themselves relinquishing takedowns at the last second, many of those proving the difference in individual matches and playing major roles in the final scoring of dual meet events.
And after a strong start for the Knights, they relinquished a lead with the final five matches, only winning one match due to forfeit.
The slide all started with No. 13 Nicholas Gravina coming off of a 5-4 loss to No. 7 Nate Jackson of Indiana on Sunday. The junior 184-pounder faced a similar task Monday against No. 10 Myles Martin and saw an almost identical result, losing in a decision to the sophomore Buckeye.
What was touted as one of the marquee matches on the card and a potential steal for Rutgers ended up being the first step to an Ohio State comeback.
Soon following was 197-pounder Matthew Correnti, who has seen his stock rise after impressive lockups with top contenders.
Correnti, a true freshman, met No. 4 Kollin Moore, a redshirt freshman at the center of the mat in a high-scoring contest that was even until the final period. Correnti held his own against the championship contender but was unable to provide enough offense for himself to give his side the 3 points.
Only the second in a string of disappointing affairs, Correnti's loss marked a massive shift in momentum and the final lead change.
To make matters worse for the Knights, No. 1 Kyle Snyder emerged from the opposite bench and tore through junior heavyweight Razohnn Gross to the tune of a 24-9 technical fall.
A forfeit awarded to freshman 125-pounder Brandon Paetzell brought Ohio State's lead within 1 point, but No. 1 Nathan Tomasello at 133 pounds secured a dual meet that always felt like it was in the hands of the Buckeyes.
Tomasello put away junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio in another link on a rough chain of matches for the South Plainfield native. After placing sixth at the Midlands Championship at the tail end of 2016, DelVecchio has seen his record devolve to 15-9. DelVecchio has been a massive fixture in the lineup in junior Tyson Dippery's lineup, so DelVecchio's disappointing stretch comes at an inopportune time for the Rutgers coaching staff.
Even on a night in which two of Ohio State's ranked wrestlers — No. 1 Bo Jordan and No. 18 Jose Rodriguez — the home side still proved capable of putting down a Rutgers side coming off of a dominant performance at home versus Indiana.
With only one dual meet separating the Knights from tournament play, one wonders whether this Rutgers team will send as many of its wrestlers to a national stage as it did last year. The Ashnaults and Van Brills of the team are poised to make a run, but a monstrous question mark lies in wake for the rest of the squad.