Ashnault, Suriano claim 1st-place finishes at Cliff Keen Invitaitonal

For the first time since 2014, the Rutgers wrestling team made the trip to Las Vegas, Nev. for the Cliff Keen Invitational this past weekend. After two days of competition, head coach Scott Goodale and the No. 25 Scarlet Knights (5-1) ended the tournament with two champions in their weight classes and a combined team record of 16-14. 

Rutgers accomplished its goal of a top-10 finish by placing 9th out of 42 competing schools and finished the weekend with 66.5 total team points.

No. 3 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano and No. 2 graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault both went undefeated in the tournament en route to first place finishes in their respective weight classes. 

“It’s awesome to have them both go deep into tournaments,” Goodale said. “I’m not sure if they will admit it, but they’re kind of feeding off of each other. When one guy does something special, the other guy wants to do something special. It’s a good thing to have right now.”

Ashnault also picked up his 100th career win in the tournament to become the first Knight to claim that feat since alumnus 141-pounder Trevor Melde in 2012. Going a perfect 5-0 on the weekend, Ashnault is now the owner of 102 career wins, tied with Andy Roy for 14th on the program's all-time wins list.

In a weight class that saw participation by 14 of the top 20 133-pounders in the country, Suriano cruised to a first place finish and the top rank in the country in this weekend’s tournament. He soundly defeated all but one of his opponents with his only challenge of the day coming from Missouri’s John Erneste, in the semifinals round. The Paramus, N.J. native won that semifinal bout in a close 3-2 decision. 

“Their preparation was awesome. They were locked in with laser-beam focus the whole weekend with what they wanted to accomplish here," Goodale said. "They wrestled extremely well and they deserved to win. Now it’s about getting back home and getting some rest as we look at what we did right and what we can work on.” 

Despite two individual weight class first place finishes, four Rutgers wrestlers failed to advance past the first round of the tournament. Sophomore 125-pounder Shane Metzler, junior 141-pounder Peter Lipari, senior 184-pounder Jordan Pagano and sophomore 197-pounder Matthew Correnti all suffered defeats in the first round. 

Both Metzler and Pagano lost in the first round while sophomore 174-pounder Joseph Grello fell in the round of 16. All three fell in the consolation rounds with Grello advancing to the round of 8 in that bracket.

The best finish by a Knight not named Suriano or Ashnault was No. 16 graduate student 157-pounder John Van Brill, who reached the 157-pound quarterfinals before falling to North Carolina's Kennedy Monday. He also tallied two pins in the tournament, tied for the team high.

“We had two really good guys wrestle really well. Johnny Van Brill got back to being Johnny Van Brill. It was exciting, and that’s good,” Goodale said to NJ Advance Media. “Joe Grello had a couple of big wins in there. But other than that, we had a bunch of guys not win any matches. And that hurts. That stings right now … we have to get better.”

Grello matched Van Brill with two pins in the tournament. Grello was the only Rutgers wrestler to finish with a .500 record with wins by fall in the first round against Citadel’s Kyle Kretzer and in the first consolation round against Hofstra’s Sage Heller.

The Knights were forced to forfeit the entire 165-pound weight class bracket after true freshman Stephan Glasgow was scratched from the lineup due to injury. Glasgow was originally projected to get a rematch with Utah Valley’s Demetrius Romero after losing to Romero in his only defeat earlier in the season. 

Junior heavyweight Christian Colucci earned a first-round victory over Citadel’s Michael McAleavey, his lone win, before being defeated by Utah Valley’s Tate Orndorff in the round of 16 and Nebraska’s Patrick Grayson in the first consolation round. 

“We’ve got to get a lot better,” Goodale said. “Maybe we have to make some changes, do some things differently, switch up the lineup. Things have to happen, and it starts in our room.”

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