NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There’s a reason why wrestling matches are played out on the mat, instead of on paper. No matter how much the statistics and record tell one story, the actual competition is always capable of telling a different one. Tonight, the Rutgers University wrestling team found that in one of the worst ways you can.
In front of a home crowd, the 15-3 Scarlet Knights were matched up with a 1-5 University of Wisconsin team. Despite the difference in records, the dual, and most of the matches were as competitive as they were exciting. Wisconsin got the better of most of the opening matches, but a spirited effort from Rutgers' lower weight class wrestlers eventually made it so that the final bout would be deciding one. In the end the Badgers hung on though, and they walked away from the Rutgers Athletic Center with an upset 18-15 win. Wisconsin picked up their first conference win of the season while and Rutgers' was dealt their first home loss of the season.
A deeper look at Wisconsin's record makes it a bit easier to understand how they pulled of the big upset. Even though the Badgers were winless in the Big Ten conference, all of their losses came to teams in the top 20. The Badgers also had two highly ranked wrestlers on their team, who were each matched up against ranked Scarlet Knights. Both Badgers ended up coming through for their team.
In the opening bout, Wisconsin’s No. 7 Ryan Taylor locked horns with Rutgers’ No. 17 Anthony Giraldo. The match started off well for Rutgers as Giraldo scored the first takedown near the one minute mark of the first period. A pair of escapes from Taylor tied the match going into the third period. In the match’s closing seconds, the score was still knotted with Giraldo having more than a minute in riding time. With the match seemingly in Rutgers’ hands, Taylor got Giraldo’s back to mat and got a pin with about 4 ticks left on the clock. Rutgers coach Scott Goodale said after the match that Giraldo’s match was a microcosm for the team’s performance on the night.
“We didn’t close out a match,” said Goodale. “We’re winning these matches and then losing late. That’s usually us winning those…. when you’re in an opportunity to win a big match, close it out, and we didn’t do that. And that’s something we've got to go back to the drawing board and get better at.
In the other ranked action, Rutgers’ No.8 Anthony Perrotti was shutout 4-0 when he took on last year Big Ten champ No. 3 Isaac Jordan at 165 pounds.
Rutgers’ ranked wrestlers went 3-4 on the night. 141 pounder and sixth ranked Anthony Ashnault was the first to get the Scarlet Knights on the scoreboard when he took out Gabe Grahek 7-2. Two takedowns a near fall and an escape gave Ashnault, a sophomore, his 50th career victory.
The Badger led 15-6 with four matches left, but some gritty wins from an injured Nicholas Gravina, Hayden Hrymack, and heavyweight Billy Smith got the match tied going into the last bout.
No. 20 Sean McCabe and Wisconsin’s Johnny Jimenez matched up in the last bout at 125 pounds. Despite some early threatening from McCabe, Jimenez took control of the match and took the dual deciding match 7-4.
Goodale said that his team anticipated being at the spot with one match left, and had made preparations for it.
“It was exactly where we wanted to be,” said Goodale. “We knew we had to split there and needed to win at 125. We had it written up for a long time and that’s the match we had to win, and we just didn’t do it tonight.”
Next up for the Scarlet Knights is a Sunday match against No. 8 Michigan in the RAC. Although the team hasn’t lost at home before, they have bounced back from away losses to win big in their next appearance. Gravina says his team is capable of doing it again.
“I think we’re one of the best teams at putting losses behind us and coming back and wrestling strong,” said Gravina. When we lost against Iowa, we had our best match against Nebraska, so I think we’re just going to do it again.”