Mother Nature is a wrestling fan. She must be.
What. A. Day.
With a crowd of 16,178 on hand, the second largest in NCAA dual meet history, Rutgers scored a gritty 19-16 victory over in-state rival Princeton in the Battle at the Birthplace (brought to you by Autoland).
For Rutgers and Princeton wrestling, it was a special day, a unique experience. For Rutgers, there were special uniforms, with BATB on the back. There was a special mat, with BATB on the side mats.
And for wrestling, who ever thought you’d see the referees shading their eyes from the sun’s glare as temperatures hovered around 62 degrees. What. A. Day.
The match opened at 125, with Sean McCabe dropping a close match to PU’s Ty Agaisse. But the Knights came back at 133 with No. 13 Tyson Dippery topping Pat D'Arcy, a NJ state champion, 7-2. Early in the match Dippery was aggressive and got in deep on a leg but a potentially dangerous call shut it down. Dippery, starting down, scored first in the second period and at the :07 second mark got a takedown off a scramble plus two near fall points for a 6-0 lead at the end of two, finishing with a 7-2 win.
The 141 match was the much anticipated rematch of RU’s two-time All American and No. 3 Anthony Ashnault facing No. 10 Matt Kolodzik. The two split two bouts in 2015. In a nip and tuck bout that Ashnault appeared to have control of, Kolodzik scored a takedown at the end of the third to earn the 4-3 win. And to many in the stands, that looked like a critical loss for Rutgers in a match that had 11 ranked wrestlers, six of whom would go head-to-head.
Down 6-3, Rutgers put out No. 14 Ken Theobold to face Princeton’s No. 19 Jordan Laster. It was the start of a three bout win streak for the Knights. Theobold, with some nice work on scrambles, took his bout 6-4. And then came some maneuvering by Scott Goodale that may have changed the momentum of the contest.
With the match tied 6-6, Goodale sent John Van Brill out at 157, pushing Richie Lewis to 165. Opening with a takedown on the edge at 1:25 of the first, Van Brill extended his lead with two sets of back points plus riding time to earn the first of two consecutive major decisions, winning 13-3.
Lewis, moving up to 165, took a quick two-point lead and then started looking for the bonus points. And he got them en route to a 17-6 win and a 14-6 Rutgers lead.
East Brunswick, NJ grad and No. 16 Jonathan Schleiffer faced unranked Phil Bakuckas, with the match going into sudden victory overtime. In OT, Bakuckas made a great shot, but Schleiffer countered, leading to a stalemate. Following a scramble, Schleiffer hooked a leg for a trip and the victory. It was a tough loss in a hard fought bout.
The match was still up for grabs going into 184. Princeton had ranked wrestlers at the top four weights. And with a lead of 14-9, Rutgers needed a big kick. Now.
And Nicholas Gravina, ranked No. 14, would give it to them with a stirring and dominating victory over No. 17 Ian Baker. Reminiscent of his stunning win over Nebraska’s then-No. 4 T.J. Dudley last season, Gravina was relentless as he scored multiple takedowns and scoring a huge tech fall, 23-4. The win put Ru up 19-9.
But it wasn’t over. At 197, Anthony Messner needed to force a match in which he did not give up any bonus points. He was facing No. 4 Brett Harner. And he did his job, losing, but only by an 8-2 margin. Without bonus points, Princeton could not overtake Rutgers in team score. To wrap it up, sophomore Marc McDonald faced off with the Tigers No. 15 Ray O’Donnell, losing by major decision. But it was the only bout where Princeton would score bonus points all day.
Scott Goodale was his usual down to earth self, but excited about what the Knights had just accomplished.
“I thought it was an awesome atmosphere,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “It was a little bit different obviously than being in the RAC, it’s hard to get that feel of the fans right on the mat, but still, tremendous crowd, and good for New Jersey wrestling. I want to thank Princeton and their administration for all their help through this, about seven, eight months in the making.”
Great for wrestling, great for New Jersey, great for both programs.
And Rutgers won. That’s a great day!
125: Ty Agaisse (PU) dec. over Sean McCabe (RU), 2-0; Princeton leads, 3-0
133: No. 13/13/19 Tyson Dippery (RU) dec. over Pat D’Arcy (PU), 7-2; Dual tied, 3-3
141: No. 10//10/10 Matthew Kolodzik (PU) dec. over No. 3/3/4 Anthony Ashnault (RU), 4-3; Princeton leads, 6-3
149: No. 14/11/NR Ken Theobold (RU) dec. over No. 19/NR/13 Jordan Laster (PU), 6-4; Dual tied, 6-6
157: John Van Brill (RU) major dec. over Mike D’Angelo (PU), 14-3; Rutgers leads, 10-6
165: No. 6/7/7/ Richie Lewis (RU) major dec. over Joe Tavoso (PU), 17-6; Rutgers leads, 14-6
174: No. 16/19/17 Jonathan Schleifer (PU) dec. over Phillip Bakuckas (RU), 3-1 (SV); Rutgers leads, 14-9
184: No. 14/14/14 Nicholas Gravina (RU) tech fall over No. 17/15/11 Ian Baker (PU), 24-3; Rutgers leads, 19-9
197: No. 4/4/4 Brett Harner (PU) dec. over Anthony Messner (RU), 8-2; Rutgers leads, 19-12
HWT: No. 18/18/14 Ray O’Donnell (PU) major dec. over Marc McDonald (RU), 12-4; Rutgers wins, 19-16
Rankings (-/-/-): InterMat / FloWrestling/The Open MatNR denotes not ranked