PISCATAWAY< NJ -- Anthony Ashnault is used to winning.
In fact, the now Rutgers University wrestler was the first-ever four-time and undefeated New Jersey State Champion, winning the state crown at 103, 112, 126, and 138 pounds in a 170-0 career at South Plainfield High School in South Plainfield, N.J.
At Rutgers, Ashnault sports an official 84-15 overall record up to this point, is a two-time All-American at 141 pounds, and is the 2016 Big Ten Champion.
But, the former Tiger may be wrestling the best he ever has. This winter as a redshirt junior, Ashnault is 23-3, and is currently in the midst of an 11-match winning-streak. Seventeen of his 23 wins this season have come by bonus points, the most of anybody on the team.
The No. 5-ranked grappler at 141 pounds has topped No. 15 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), No. 12 Jimmy Guilbon (Penn State), and defeated 2016 NCAA runner-up Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, 8-6, in sudden victory at the 51st Annual NWCA All-Star Classic back in November. Ashnault also earned a 6-1 record with three technical falls at the 54th Annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in December. This past weekend in the No. 12 Scarlet Knights’ 28-6 victory over Northwestern at the Rutgers Athletic Center, the former baseball player back in the day beat Alec McKenna by way of a tech fall.
“He’s wrestling great,” Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale said of Ashnault. “Right now he’s wrestling really, really good. I know some people get upset when it’s not a major decision or a tech fall, but this is a hard thing to do and there is a lot of pressure there and he’s just wrestling really, really good right now. He gets in a couple of those zones, man, and he’s starting to feel it.”
Rutgers (12-4) will meet long-time foe, No. 11 Lehigh (9-4) this Friday at the Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall in Bethlehem, Pa. at 7 p.m. in the NWCA National Duals Championship Series. Lehigh owns a 42-3 record over the Scarlet Knights in the series, but Rutgers has taken two of the last three matches.
Last year, Rutgers edged Lehigh 18-15 at the RAC in the thriller NWCA National Duals that went down to the wire where Billy Smith pulled out the win in the final heavyweight bout. In that dual, Ashnault bested Randy Cruz 9-2. In the 2014-15 season at the NCAA Championships, Ashnault beat Cruz in the round of 12 to secure All-America status.
Ashnault and No. 16 Cruz will lock horns once again on the mat on Friday night. The Big Ten Championships will then take place March 4-5 in Bloomington, Ind.
“He always (gets in a zone) at this time of the year he’ll be prepared and he’ll have a big one Friday and he’ll prepare for the Big Ten’s and try to defend (his title),” Goodale said. “But it’s more about you can’t think that way of defending, it’s about going out and getting another one.
“That’s the way he’s been practicing. You can see the way he’s wrestling now and you can see the way he wrestled against Ohio State. He’s going out scoring a lot of points against really good guys. So, he’s starting to hit his stride and hopefully that continues.”