Rutgers falters in last home match against Michigan
The Rutgers wrestling team saw its three dual winning streak snapped at home yesterday by Michigan, 28-7. The 5,364 in attendance bid farewell to graduate students No. 1 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault, No. 14 157-pounder John Van Brill, 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina and heavyweight Ralph Normandia.
The No. 18 Scarlet Knights (11-6, 4-4) dropped their third dual at the Rutgers Athletics Center (RAC) this year as they finish their home schedule 7-3. The only two wrestlers to earn wins for Rutgers in this dual was Ashnault and sophomore 174-pounder Joseph Grello.
“It’s a tough schedule,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “It’s an incredible conference. We’re tested every single night, I said we’re close and I believe we’re close. We just have to get over the hump of those 1-point overtime matches.”
Two Knights came very close to claiming victories in the dual as junior 141-pounder Peter Lipari and No. 4 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano dropped 1-point decisions.
Against the Wolverines' No. 1 Stevan Micic, Suriano wrestled against his toughest opponent of the season. Suriano was featured in a similarly hyped match back in January against Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, and dropped an overtime decision on a controversial call by the judges.
Now, in his first meeting against Micic, Suriano would fall by a score of 3-2 and dropped Rutgers into a 7-0 hole.
“I thought he was aggressive overall and made some good attacks and just didn’t finish on him,” Goodale said. “It was a much different than the Fix match just because he was aggressive. He got a little overzealous and that’s what allowed Micic to get to his leg."
The Knights fell into a 10-point hole off another close match in the 141-pound bout. Against Michigan's No. 6 Kanen Storr, Lipari wrestled to a 1-1 stalemate after three periods, but ultimately fell in double overtime after Storr made a 1-point escape and a 4-point takedown.
“I know he has the ability to do it, but it was a good match against the sixth kid in the country," Goodale said. "But in order to win those big matches you got to get to the kids' legs.”
Rutgers’ first victory in this dual was a bittersweet one at that. In his last match at the RAC, Ashnault earned a 16-4 major decision over the Wolverines' Malik Amine, which gave the Knights their first points of the dual match.
Ashnault exited to a standing ovation by the home crowd as a final home sendoff after a six-year wrestling career at the RAC.
With the win, Ashnault improved to a perfect 22-0 on the season and tallied 113 career wins. He is now tied for second place on the program’s all-time wins list, and is only five wins shy of overtaking Mike McHugh for the top spot.
“It was hard to put it in the back of my mind today. I was getting a little emotional thinking about it, too, but really I was just in a blur until I had to wrestle," Ashnault said.
Ashnault was able to finish his career at the RAC undefeated. In his six-year career, he has never suffered a defeat at the RAC, with his only career home loss coming at HighPoint.com Stadium against Princeton back in 2016.
Out of the intermission, the Knights would be down 6 points further after they had to forfeit the 165-pound matchup. True freshman 165-pounder Stephan Glasgow, who had filled that slot for Rutgers this season, was inactive due to injury.
Despite being listed as a 149-pounder, true freshman Jake Benner has filled the 165-pound slot for the Knights lately, but Goodale opted to sit Benner out in this dual.
“Benner is a 149-pounder, the match was out-of-reach from a points' standpoint and I don’t want him getting discouraged. He can be a very good wrestler down the line,” Goodale said.
Grello would get the only other victory for Rutgers in this dual, earning a 4-1 decision over Michigan's Justin Hughes.
Ashnault still has one more dual as Rutgers heads to Maryland next weekend before his final farewell tour in collegiate wrestling in Minneapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, and in Pittsburgh for the NCAA Tournament in March.
“There’s a month left and we’re going to really sit back and reflect on it. And today was a great day, but we’re gonna really sit back and reflect on it. We’re gonna be together for a long time,” Goodale said.
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