It's a little like Rutgers-Princeton used to be in football. Over all those years, Princeton built up an overwhelming advantage in wins, in fact a 53-17 lead, with one tie. For Lehigh, it's even bigger, percentage wise. Lehigh has won over 90% of the matches against the Scarlet going back to 1941. But on Saturday night....one glorious night in February....the Knights fought back in major fashion.
Tied at 15-all in the NWCA National Duals Series, the match came down to heavyweight Billy Smith. With the opportunity to beat a top ten team, Smith reached deep in recording a 3-2 tiebreaker win in front of 1,855 fans.
After falling behind 8-0, the Knights reeled off five straight wins to take a 15-8 lead. Anthony Ashnault and Anthony Perrotti each topped ranked wrestlers. At 184, Nick Gravina fought tooth-and-nail with No. 3 Nate Brown, dropping a 3-2 bout. And then, after nine bouts, with the score tied, it was No. 13 Billy Smith and No. 14 Max Wessell.
Smith, the redshirt senior (23-6), reversed Wessell to begin tiebreakers, held the Mountain Hawk off in the next 30 second stanza, and sent Rutgers wrestling home with an 18-15 win over the Mountain Hawks (13-3, 7-0 EIWA).
"That's as big a spot as you're going to get, against a really good kid who's having a great year," said head coach Scott Goodale. "For both of these guys [Smith and Anthony Perrotti] there's just a bunch of confidence we're going to win those matches. Looking at the dual meet on paper, there's eight toss-ups in that match. So every single point was contested all the way through."
The Knights finish the dual season at 16-5, 5-4 Big Ten. They next wrestle in Iowa City at the Big Ten Championships on March 5 and 6.
Revisiting my prediction
In my preview, I said Rutgers would win. By 11 points (22-13), winning six bouts. They did win six, but I did not expect the multiple bonus point losses. RU gave up three majors, and didn't record any bonus points. I'll still take that as a win for my crystal ball.
Big Ten in the NWCA Duals
There were eight Big Ten schools hosting the Duals, with the conference going. 500 over the weekend. Rutgers, Minnesota, and Penn State opened the weekend with wins, while Michigan, Indiana, and Nebraska lost their matches. The Duals wrapped up last night with Iowa losing to North Carolina State (at home on an injury default!) and Ohio State topping Edinboro.
Rutgers 18 Lehigh 15
Minnesota 30 Iowa State 10
Penn State 29 Oklahoma State 18
Ohio State 26 Edinboro 23
Virginia Tech 24 Michigan 11
Appalachian State 21 Indiana 13
Missouri 19 Nebraska 14
NC State 21. Iowa 17
It was an unfortunate situation that Rutgers' match against Lehigh ended up being scheduled on the same day as the state's high school district tournaments. While not every district wrestled at night in direct competition with RU, it did take away some fans, especially those who might need to drive a distance after watching local high schools. Such is the wrestling community: passionate, but loyal to their teams. And while the 1,855 at the match was a season low at the RAC, Rutgers still drew an average of 2,743 to the Athletic Center. and 2,528 overall. Last year, the Knights had the sixth highest attendance nationally with 2,697.
When you beat seven ranked teams, you're pretty well. When three of those ranked wins are against top ten teams, you're doing really well. Yeah, that's us.
Rutgers moved to No. 10 in the Intermat dual rankings with Lehigh dropping to No. 11. Intermat has six Big Ten squads in the top ten, including No. 1 Penn State. Illinois is No. 12. FloWrestling also peggedthe Knights at No. 10 in the nation.
Individually, FloWrestling had six Knights in the rankings, while the other rankings had five.
Ranked by @FloWrestling:— Rutgers Wrestling (@RUWrestling) February 23, 2016
The highest individual ranking was for Anthony Ashnault at No. 5 at 141-pounds by Intermat.
After the Purdue win, Goodale's post-match interview expressed his disappointment at the three individual losses at the end of the match by Pafumi, Hrymack, and McCabe, although he didn't specify them by name. When you're leading 21-3 as they were against the Boilermakers, you want to close out then and there, and make a statement. It didn't happen. The result against Lehigh was a win but doing it while giving up three major decisions. Team rankings don't always, or necessarily, look at how you got it done. Coaches do. Goodale will be looking to change that and looking to get as many NCAA qualifiers as possible out of the Big Ten Championships. Last year, Rutgers sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships after having two Big Ten placewinners (Ashnault -5th, Perrotti - 7th).
Final Big Ten Standings and Records
2015-16 Wrestling Standings