Rutgers wins 2 individual titles at Cliff Keen Invitational for 1st time in Goodale era

After a well-rested two-week break, the Rutgers wrestling team wasted no time returning to the mat this past weekend as it participated in the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev.

The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (5-1) came away with a ninth-place finish and 66.5 total team points at one of the nation’s toughest tournaments. 

Last weekend was one for the history books. For the first time in head coach Scott Goodale’s 11-year tenure, Rutgers earned two individual titles at the tournament. 

No. 2 graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault claimed the 149-pound title while No. 3 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano won the 133-pound bracket in Las Vegas. 

Overall, the Knights fielded nine wrestlers at the invitational. They had to forfeit the 165-pound bracket, as true freshman 165-pounder Stephan Glasgow did not compete due to an injury. 

In a tournament that featured eight ranked Big Ten teams, Rutgers’ wrestlers had the opportunity to face off against competition that they will face later in the season.

Here are several takeaways from a historical weekend on the West Coast. 

Ashnault writes name in program history books 

After Ashnault missed the entire 2017-18 season due to a knee injury, there was certainly questions about his health going into his sixth and final year on the Banks. Those expectations have been shattered this season, as he has remained one of the top 149-pound wrestlers in the nation with an undefeated record heading into last weekend’s tournament.

At the invitational, the South Plainfield, N.J. native was a No. 1 seed in his weight class and defeated four opponents before facing Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, in the championship round. Ashnault secured a 14-10 close win over Jordan to become the tournament’s 149-pound individual first-place winner.

Ashnault also earned his 100th victory in a 18-2 technical fall against Air Force’s Alec Opsal, becoming the 17th wrestler in the Knights’ history to achieve the feat. His 102 wins this season make him the program’s active leader in wins.

At the invitational, he outscored his opponents 52-21. He has accumulated 11 wins on the season. Expect that number and his ranking to keep climbing up as the season progresses.

Suriano’s impressive performance

Prior to Rutgers’ flight to Nevada for last weekend’s invitational, Suriano was asked about how he would handle a loaded 133-pound weight class. 

“Take everybody out,” he said. “That’s it.”

The Paramus, N.J. native did just that. He only allowed 21 total points to his five opponents at the invitational. 

The only real test for Suriano, the tournament's No. 1 seed in his weight class, was against No. 9-seeded John Erneste of Missouri in the semifinals round, which the Knight won 3-2. In that bout, Suriano saw himself down 2-0 in the first period but a fall with 20 seconds left secured him a championship berth.

Like Ashnault, Suriano has an 11-0 record on the season, in his first year as a 133-pounder. The two wrestlers have a combined 22-0 record. He will most likely rise in the rankings. 

Need for improvement

With Rutgers’ successes at the tournament, Goodale still noticed improvements and adjustments that can be made to propel the team further in the rankings. 

No. 16 graduate student 157-pounder John Van Brill went the farthest after Ashnault and Suriano. The tournament’s No. 6 seed at 157-pounds, he earned a round of 16 berth after landing two falls in his first two bouts of the tournament. Van Brill dropped an 11-4 decision to North Carolina’s Kennedy Monday, the No. 3 seed. 

Sophomore 174-pounder Joseph Grello fell in the round of 16 to Duke’s Matthew Finesilver, the tournament’s No. 8 seed at 174 pounds.

Van Brill would lose in the consolation round of 8 to Ohio State’s Ke-Shawn Hayes, finishing the tournament with a 3-2 record. His season record is at 6-4 on the season.

Sophomore 125-pounder Shane Metzler dropped two matches over the weekend, bringing his record to 4-4.

Junior 141-pounder Peter Lipari wrestled in his second and third bouts of the season. He lost 12-4 to Ohio State’s Joey McKenna in the championship pigtail round. There is definitely enough time for Lipari to grow, as he has only competed in three matches this season.

Overall, the Knights claimed one of the top-10 spots at the tournament. Although Ashnault and Suriano picked up podium finishes, there is still room for improvement for all the wrestlers. 

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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