PISCATAWAY, NJ - No matter what happened in today’s Rutgers University’s wrestling match, it was sure to be something that was truly unique in the world of NCAA wrestling.
The 10th ranked Scarlet Knights (3-0) took part in some inter-state action earlier today when they matched up against their rival Princeton (0-1) in what was billed as the “Battle at the Birthplace”.
The bragging rights that would come with a win for either team wasn’t the only thing that made this match special, though. The dual took place outdoors, right in the middle of High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, and was promoted as a doubleheader event alongside Rutgers football’s home game against Penn State that took place later in the evening.
The event set quite the stage for the two New Jersey teams -- the 16,178 fans in attendance were the second largest crowd in NCAA dual wrestling history--, and for a while it looked like the underdogs Princeton would make the most out of their opportunity. Some wins in swing matches, and one big upset from the Tigers kept the outcome of the dual in question up until last two matches. Despite those setbacks, the Scarlet Knights were able to come up strong when they absolutely needed it, and managed to walk away with a 19-16 home win.
Although the Tigers got a win in the first match of the dual after Ty Agaisse (5-3) won a decision over Sean McCabe (2-2) at 125 pounds, things didn’t seem troubling for Rutgers until they suffered a huge upset at 141 pounds.
#4 ranked redshirt junior Anthony Ashnault (3-1) seemed to have the upper hand against #10 Matt Kolodzik (5-0) at first, as a takedown and an escape gave the former South Plainfield standout a 3-1 lead heading into the third period. An escape from Kolodzik cut the lead to one early in the third, and prevented riding time from being a factor.
Ashnault looked like he could still get a close win as the match was ending, but a takedown in the closing seconds gave Kolodzik the win, and Princeton a 6-3 team advantage. After the duel, Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale said giving up a lead like that is inexcusable for a two time All-American like Ashnault.
“(Ashnault) trains way too hard to be sitting on 3-2. He’s got to make that 5-2,” Goodale said.
“Obviously, he’s going to learn from that and get better from it and he’ll be ready as we move forward., but we have to get that match back somewhere down the line, whether it’s Midlands or whatever it may be, but you can’t do that and win a national title. That’ll be my message to him.”
After that 141 pound upset, everyone in the stadium knew multiple Scarlet Knights would have to step up to get the win, and thankfully for the fans, that’s exactly what happened.
#14 149 pounder Ken Theobold (6-0) rebounded his team immediately, when he scored a 6-4 decision win over #19 Jordan Laster (6-2). At 157 pounds, John Van Bril (6-1) connected on two takedowns, pulled off a reversal, and got eight points on near falls to get a huge 14-3 major decision over Princeton’s Mike D’Angelo (3-3), which gave Rutgers their first team lead of the dual.
#6 Richie Lewis (1-0) continued the trend, when he got Rutgers bonus points in his 14-6 major decision over Joe Tavoso (0-3).
Those string of wins lead to a possibly duel-deciding swing match at 184 pounds where #14 ranked Nicholas Gravina (5-0) matched up against Princeton’s #17 Ian Baker (4-1). Baker, a junior, came into the match undefeated and off a title win in the Southeast Open tournament where he recorded pins against two ranked opponents.
Gravina ignored Baker’s impressive resume and came out aggressive from the get go. A single-leg takedown and a back take off a sprawl and whizzer gave Gravina a 4-1 lead in the first period. The senior Scarlet Knight continued to connect on takedowns in the second and third periods, and with additional bonus points on the line, Gravina went for the kill with a cradle that gave him near fall points, and a 23-4 technical fall win.
“It was huge,” said Goodale. “(Baker) gets a national ranking, and our guy tech falls him. That was a swing match, and I was very confident in it, but you don’t expect a tech fall at this level.”
Gravina said getting that performance over a cross-state rival made it a little more special.
“You really want to show them why you came to Rutgers,” the senior NCAA qualifier said.
The Scarlet Knights will take on the Ivy League in their next outing as well. Their “Grapple at the Garden” meet against Cornell and Columbia next takes place next Sunday, in Madison Square Garden.