PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Anthony Ashnault was looking up to the rafters. His face was lit up by a gigantic smile as he clapped his hands.
Friday, prior to its match with Cornell, Rutgers wrestling unveiled championship banners at the Rutgers Athletic Center for Ashnault and Nick Suriano, who won NCAA titles during the 2018-19 season. The titles were the first in program history and the pair helped the Scarlet Knights finish in the Top 10 at the national tournament.
“I was excited to have a banner up next to other people who are legends,” Ashnault told TAPinto South Plainfield. “If you retire someone’s number in basketball they’re historic people, so it’s kind of a similar situation. It was cool to see the banner get revealed. I was just thinking it’s crazy that my name will be up there forever. It’s a surreal feeling. It’s surreal because I’m still competing and in the middle of everything, but at the same time I’m very appreciative. It’s hard to take those kinds of things in. It was awesome.
“It was a great night, and I’m extremely honored. I’m hoping I can do everything I can to continue Rutgers wrestling’s success in the future. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it for a long time.”
Ashnault won the gold at 149-pounds to cap his perfect 32-0 campaign a year ago as he defeated Ohio State’s Micah Jordan in the final, 9-4. Before the banner’s cover was taken off, a highlight video played on the video board from the tournament.
“The highlight video was cool. I haven't seen the match in a while,” Ashnault said. “Last season was an awesome season to compete in. I competed the way I wanted to and did everything I wanted to do the way I wanted to do it. I like to think about the good times.”
The South Plainfield could have gone anywhere to grapple after graduating from South Plainfield High School, but opted to stay home and chose the Big Ten university a mere 15 minutes away in Piscataway and rising coach, Scott Goodale, the 2019 NCAA Tournament Coach of the Year. Ashnault is Rutgers’ only four-time All-American (2015-17, 2019), three-time Big Ten champ (2016-17, 2019) and the all-time career wins leader with 123 to only 18 losses.
Ashnault took eighth at the NCAA Tournament in 2015, fourth in 2016, and sixth in 2017, each at 141 pounds, and first at 149 in 2019 after he was awarded a sixth year of eligibility after missing the entire 2018 season due to shoulder and knee issues and surgeries.
Before arriving to Rutgers, Ashnault was New Jersey’s first four-time and undefeated champion as he went a perfect 170-0.
Since exhausting his time at Rutgers, Ashnault began training to potentially make Team USA for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. He won first place at 70kg at the Pan American Championships last April in Argentina which qualified him for May’s World Team Trials in North Carolina in May. In between, he