No. 16 Rutgers preps to start season with Quad Meet
After a successful 2018 postseason campaign and a long offseason filled with workouts, the Rutgers wrestling team gears up for the 2018-2019 season this weekend
The No. 16 Scarlet Knights start their season this Saturday, as they host the Rutgers Quad Meet. They will welcome Centenary University, Fresno State and Johnson & Wales to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), with the event’s first meet slated at 10 a.m.
Rutgers will participate in the Journeymen Duals against Utah Valley and Appalachian State in Albany, N.Y. the next weekend. Its first Big Ten dual meet will be at No. 13 Minnesota in early January.
The Knights are in search of their first ever NCAA Championship this season. The two biggest contenders to deliver in 2019 are junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano and graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault.
“We felt we were a top-10 team last year,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “I don’t think there’s any pressure to be a top-10 program. I think there’s more pressure to win a trophy at the national tournament.”
After missing the 2017-2018 campaign as a result of an injury, there has been much anticipation for Ashnault to get back in the ring. He has a chance to cement his legacy in Rutgers’ history books, as the South Plainfield, N.J. native needs 27 victories this season to become the program’s all-time wins leader. Alumnus Mike McHugh currently holds the record spot.
Along with Ashnault, the Knights return five seniors including graduate student 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina, fifth-year senior 285-pounder Ralph Normandia and graduate student 157-pounder John van Brill. The wrestlers look to provide leadership roles and mentor the underclassmen as the season progresses.
Van Brill almost took home the All-American award in the NCAA Championships in Cleveland last season, but fell to Arizona State’s Josh Shields. Aside from the postseason loss, he still had a good season, where he dropped down from 165 to 157-pounds and tallied 22 wins.
“I see a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of talent that can turn into success,” van Brill said. “We’re excited to put that together.”
After mulling the decision for the past couple weeks, Suriano will be official transitioning from the 125-pound weight class to the 133-pound weight class for the upcoming season.
He will also be looking for his first fully healthy season as a collegiate athlete, after illness caused him to default out of the Big Ten Tournament last season and an ankle injury ended his freshman season at Penn State the year before.
Suriano had one of the program’s best results last season, as a runner-up in the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. He led Rutgers with an undefeated record in the regular season, ultimately finishing 25-1 at 125-pounds.
“I’m not here to please anyone but myself,” Suriano said. “You try to be perfect and hold on to something. But, now I’m looking to be healthy week-by-week.”
Suriano comes into the season with the pressure of ranking as the No. 2 overall 125-pound wrestler in the country, according to InterMat Rankings. Above him lies only Iowa sophomore Spencer Lee, who defeated Suriano in the championship round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore 197-pounder Matthew Correnti, who spent last season bulking up, had a phenomenal freshman season during the 2016-2017 season. Goodale mentioned that Correnti has a good stronghold on starting at the first heavyweight spot.
Suriano and Ashnault are joined by a handful of potential All-American contenders, including fifth-year senior 174-pounder Jordan Pagano, van Brill and Gravina. Each of those three come into the 2018-19 with NCAA Tournament experience.
In this season of high expectations for the Knights, it will also be a season of finality as the 2018-19 season will mark the program’s last time it will practice at the College Ave Gymnasium.
“We feel that this program needs to win a trophy at the national tournament,” Goodale said. “That’s our expectations. Internally, we know that’s expected.”
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