Ashnault, Suriano can move up rankings at Cliff Keen Invitational
The Rutgers wrestling team travels to Las Vegas, Nev. this weekend for the Cliff Keen Invitational, with 10 powerhouse teams making the trek to the West coast for the tournament.
This weekend, No. 2 graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault can prove to the nation why he's one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the country, and that he didn’t lose a step after sitting out last season.
No. 3 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano can also prove why he should be ranked higher in his weight class. He has the opportunity to move up at this weekend's Invitational.
“It's a mini national tournament. It has that feel to it,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “The brackets are going to be loaded, we’re going to have to really wrestle well. It’s a deep tournament, probably the best it’s ever been. We’re excited.”
The No. 14 Scarlet Knights (5-1) have traditionally participated in the Midlands Championships during this time of the season. In fact, it has been four years since Rutgers has participated in the Cliff Keen Invitational.
Last time the team participated in the Las Vegas Invitational in 2014, it was Ashnault’s freshman season. He finished 4-2 in the tournament, good enough for a fourth place finish. The Knights' only other podium finish was with alumnus Anthony Perrotti, who placed third. The team finished at 11th place with 54 points.
“I think from a staff standpoint, a top-10 finish would be a good finish,” Goodale said. “We really don’t know yet what our exact lineup is going to be, it’s not totally set yet. But I think that’s a pretty good goal, a top-10 finish. We want to put everyone on that podium, we want everyone to place in that tournament.”
Two of the top weight classes in the tournament are 133 and 149 pounds, exactly where Suriano and Ashnault are respectively.
Five of the top 10 wrestlers in the country of the 133 pound category, according to InterMat’s rankings, will be competing this weekend. Suriano is a No. 3 seed behind Michigan’s Stevan Micic, who, like Suriano, was a national runner up in last year's NCAA Tournament. Beating Micic in a potential showdown in the finals of this tournament would certainly boost Suriano to that No. 2 spot, behind South Dakota State’s Seth Gross, who was last year’s NCAA 133-pound champion.
“It’s going to be a huge test, and it’s not just one match either. He’s going to have to put together three or four good matches,” Goodale said. “I know he’s excited about it and so are we. We’ll get to see where he’s at, and I think the staff has a really good idea. But until you get tested this is pretty important to him, and he’s prepared well.”
Suriano is going to need to win at least three matches to make a run at the championship match.
“I’m here to show that Nick Suriano is ready to fight,” Suriano said. “I’m fired up. I’m in an environment that’s fired up to win and get better, and that’s all that’s important to me.”
Another difficult weight class is 149-pounds, where 7 of the top 10 wrestlers will be competing for a first-place finish.
“I expect (Ashnault) to wrestle really, really well. Like Nick, he’s trained very hard for this and I think this is something he’s circled on his calendar,” Goodale said. “There’s some really good top-10 guys in this weight. He’s really excited to wrestle in this tournament, and that has the staff excited to be able to see him compete at a really high level.”
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