Theobold, Ashnault earn All-American status at NCAA Championships
It seemed a season of familiarity.
Anthony Ashnault led the team out onto the mats in early November as he had done in years past.
Ken Theobold and Nicholas Gravina, never too far behind, provided lessons in stability and security. For the most part, it was theirs to lose, and they were the ones backing Ashnault into the season’s end.
For some, familiarity brings unmet expectations and stagnancy.
The NCAA Championships came to a close Saturday and the Rutgers wrestling team awarded two wrestlers All-American status in Ashnault and Theobold, the first time the Scarlet Knights have achieved that feat in back-to-back seasons.
But Rutgers walked into St. Louis with more on its plate, especially in the way of Ashnault, who had sights set on first place after doing the same at the Big Ten Championships.
The junior 141-pounder, fresh off of a string of wins in the opening few rounds, came up short against No. 1 Dean Heil and No. 2 Kevin Jack, falling all the way to sixth place on the weekend, two spots back from his finish at last year’s event.
But the topsy-turvy lifestyle of collegiate wrestling manifested itself when fifth-year senior 149-pounder Theobold clinched a seventh-place finish, capping off a five-year career on the Banks snatching the elusive All-American berth.
Theobold closed his career and the Knights’ season with his signature cradle pin, downing South Dakota State’s Alex Kocer Saturday afternoon to take his spot on the podium.
Speaking with ScarletKnights.com, Theobold reveled in the fact that he was able to end his time on the mat in a circular fashion.
“It’s something I’ve done throughout my whole career,” Theobold said. “I pin a lot of guys that way and I’m happy I can end my career that way with my signature pin. I’m really proud and excited, so I’m just going to enjoy this moment and embrace it.”
Aside from a sentimental finish, Theobold enjoyed a 4-2 weekend, which included a second-round upset over No. 2 Anthony Collica of Oklahoma State
Ashnault and Theobold were the fifth and sixth All-Americans under head coach Scott Goodale, with Ashnault achieving All-America status for the third time in three years of eligibility.
But the team does not stop with Ashnault and Theobold and if the weekend taught Rutgers wrestling fans anything, it is that there still a divide from the few at the top and the rest.
With the Knights only qualifying seven out of a possible 10 wrestlers for the NCAA Championships, falling short of its goal of a maximum 10, a “quality over quantity” dynamic proved the best scenario for the team.
If those on the fringes of All-America status could just finish off a few shots, they could join Ashnault and Theobold on the podium and have their hands raised on Saturday.
But of the five remaining, that wasn’t the narrative played out in St. Louis.
The first to take the mat over the weekend was junior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio, whose season had seen a resurgence in the weeks leading up to the national championships.
Though DelVecchio fell to No. 3 Kaid Brock in the first round, he bounced back with three consecutive consolation decisions, including a 4-3 win over No. 12 Josh Alber, before dropping his final match of the season to No. 7 Eric Montoya of Nebraska.
At 157 pounds, sophomore John Van Brill, coming in at No. 13, saw an uninspired performance not fitting with the rest of his season this weekend.
Van Brill, who burst into the starting spot at the 157-pound weight class with multiple wins over ranked opponents, was unable to fend off the unranked Ryan Langenderfer of Illinois in the first round before being eliminated completely in the consolation rounds.
Another of a similar mold this season was sophomore 174-pounder Jordan Pagano, who took the spot at his weight class through a string of extra-point wins in the latter half of the season.
But Pagano’s season was cut unceremoniously short, losing a season rematch to No. 6 Ryan Preisch of Lehigh.
Junior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina, whose end of the season was marred by shoulder complications, fought his way to a 3-2 record over the weekend.
After losing out to No. 3 Sammy Brooks, Gravina nabbed a fall over No. 13 Bryce Carr before dropping from the competition with a defeat to No. 7 Bryce Dudley.
And at 197 pounds, freshman Matthew Correnti received a less-than-warm introduction to national competition, as he fell to No. 2 Brett Pfarr in the first round, 11-3, before losing in the consolation bracket.
It was a common trend for Rutgers among the relative successes of Theobold and Ashnault, whose weekend performances proved historic and unprecedented for Rutgers wrestling.
With Theobold making way, Ashnault lays claim to the top spot among the Knights’ ranks. For now, it remains to be seen who will join him.