NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - On Saturday at 11 a.m., Princeton and Rutgers will meet once again on the football field. But unlike the two New Jersey universities did in the first ever college football game (which Rutgers won 6-4) back on November, 6, 1869 near where the College Avenue Gym stands in New Brunswick, the wrestling programs will lock horns inside High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.
The “Battle at the Birthplace”, presented by Autoland, will be an historic outdoor wrestling event, which Rutgers announced that close to 14,000 tickets have already been sold. With nice weather projected, they expect many walk-ups as well. The goal of 20,000 might fall short, but in comparison, the Scarlet Knights total attendance for the 2015-16 season was 17,464.
As Princeton head coach Chris Ayers and wrestlers Jordan Laster (149 pounds) and Brett Harner (197 pounds) sat next to Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale and wrestlers Nicholas Gravina (184 pounds) and South Plainfield’s own Anthony Ashnault (141 pounds) with only a podium in between them, it looked like an old-school boxing or UFC hype-up with trash talk about to go down in a joint press conference Monday afternoon.
While little to none harsh words were said, mostly about how the event came about, thanking sponsors, lineups, the weather, and how everyone is pumped to be apart of it, Goodale talked about how his team trained for the event. Contrary to the belief, it wasn’t just something they started.
“We’ve had a couple outdoor practices to prepare for it,” Goodale said. “Fridays, traditionally since I’ve been here for 10 years, we train in the football stadium. I think three weeks ago it was 38 degrees on a Friday morning and our shirts came off and we started wrestling to prepare for that cold. But, there’s no sun out at 7 a.m., so it’s going to be nicer (at 11 a.m.).
“I’ve never done (an event like this), but I’d like to think when the lights come on and two guys put their foot on the line, it’s going to be about forget the weather and what it feels like. It’s going to be about scoring points for your team, winning matches, and ultimately getting your hand raised.”
Ashnault, a redshirt junior, echoed the sentiments of his head coach and won’t be bothered by the elements. Ashnault is all business and will look to help No. 10 Rutgers get a big win over the in-state rivals.
“It’s nothing new that we did, but was definitely a little testing our minds when we have to take our shirts off in 40 degree weather at seven o’clock in the morning,” Ashnault said. “I remember some of the guys that starting to come down for certifications were complaining about it, but that’s going to be the kind of circumstances we have to overcome when it’s time to go.
“I know when I step on the line I’m probably not going to even notice it (the weather). I’m just going to be looking to win the match and put up points for my team.”
The 2016 Big Ten Champion in his weight class, Ashnault spoke with TAPinto South Plainfield after the presser was over regarding his emotions heading into this weekend’s war.
“I’m really excited,” Ashnault said. “If we can get 20,000 people (which was the goal), that would be awesome for wrestling. We don’t get to do that too much. It’ll be an awesome experience for all of us and them.”
When the “Battle at the Birthplace” was first announced in May, Ashnault was a bit skeptical, but seeing the efforts of getting the word out and how many people can’t wait to go, Ashnault is encouraged by the expected crowd and possible increase of fans in the remaining home games at the Rutgers Athletic Center this season.
“My first thought was probably just nervous like are we going to get that many people. And then once forming together and the coaches started advertising and marketing and doing everything they possibly could, then it was like this is going to be really exciting,” he said. “Even walking around campus, and this is the most exciting part for me because I’ve got students saying it’s going to be too cold, are you nervous. That’s awesome because for wrestling we never really had a huge student fan base.
Maybe they come out to this match and maybe they get hooked and now we get a great student section at all our home games at the RAC and we get a better home crowd from this event.”
With his hometown located about 15 minutes away, the two-time NCAA All-American expects a huge crowd cheering him on.
“Oh yeah. I think the whole high school team is coming out,” said Ashnault, who was the first-ever four-time and undefeated (170-0) New Jersey State Champion for the Tigers. “I usually have 25-50 family members anyway at the matches.
Twenty of them have season tickets. Actually, in California, there was about seven of them that traveled all the way to California. My family is very supportive and it only makes it easier for me knowing that no matter happens my family will be there for me and they’ll love me no matter. It’s cool and makes it easier along the way.”
So far, the No. 3-ranked Ashnault according to InterMat is 3-0 this season, with a technical fall over Josh Weinberg of San Francisco State, with a major decision over CSU Bakersfield’s Russel Rohlfing, and by pin over Yoshi Funakoshi of Cal Poly. Ashnault also participated in the preseason 51st Annual All-Star Classic, where he topped last year’s runner-up at 141-pounds Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, 8-6, in overtime. In comparison Ashnault finished fourth.
On the turf on Saturday, Ashnault will face Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik, after the two split two meetings last year. Kolodzik beat the South Plainfield native 11-4 at Midland Championships, but Ashnault responded with a 302 victory in the consolation round.
But before they square off, expect Ashnault to soak up the atmosphere in front of the large, wrestling-crazed fans.
“For sure. There’s not many moments you get to live in college sports where sometimes you go through the motion a little and you forget why you’re there,” Ashnault said. “These are the kinds of moments I really want to take in and want to remember. So, I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can. When it’s time to wrestle, its business. I kind of have to block everything else out, but I’m definitely going to take a look around at first and see the environment and take it in because I know in 10 to 20 years I’m going to look back back and be like this is something really special.”
Former South Plainfield great Zachary DelVecchio could wrestle at 133 pounds as well for Rutgers after taking a redshirt year last winter.
“Battle at the Birthplace”
Rutgers Wrestling vs. Princeton
DATE: Nov. 19, 2016
TIME: 11 a.m.
LOCATION: High Point Solutions Stadium
TICKETS: $10 adults, $8 children, $6 groups (20+)
PURCHASE: 1-866-445-GORU (4678) | ScarletKnights.com