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Rutgers Wrestling at the NCAA Championships: It’s all about the All Americans

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Penn State is the gold standard, but Rutgers making its mark

Roy DeBoer with permission

Yeah, it’s all about the All Americans.

Okay, and the hardware. And Rutgers is bringing a couple of those babies home.

The Rutgers Finish & All Americans

It’s only happened twice before at Rutgers.

Two All Americans in the same year.

And now it’s happened two years in a row.

Anthony Ashnault became the first three-time All-American in Scarlet Knight history. Rutgers has produced at least one All-American in each of the past four seasons and six overall under head coach Scott Goodale. With Ashnault and Ken Theobold advancing to the podium at the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships, it marked just the third time in program history that it has had two placewinners.

Rutgers finished the tournament in 19th place, scoring 24.5 points, one point behind Northern Iowa. That’s less than 2016’s 55 points and 15th place finish, but certainly a very respectable showing. And it is a positive sign of what could be down the line.

Rutgers in Saturday’s Wrestlebacks

141 Anthony Ashnault

At 141, Anthony Ashnault was going for third as he faced NC State’s No. 2 seed Kevin Jack. Jack got the opening takedown almost immediately as the match started. As it turned out, those points were all Jack needed. He rode out AA in the first and each wrestler scored a point later, Jack taking the bout, 3-1.

Jaydin Eireman of Missouri would be the one thing standing between Ashnault and a fifth place finish. Eireman came into the tournament 28-6 and seeded eighth and the MAC champion at 141. Like Ashnault, he lost to No. 1 Dean Heil, 6-5, in the quarterfinals. Eireman, also like Ashnault, was a four-time high school state champion in Missouri.

Eireman got the early lead and built up over two minutes of riding time. Putting in legs and locking up AA in the second period, Eireman was able to take and extend the lead in the third. Unable to keep him down, Ashnault cut Eireman but could not convert a takedown, losing the 5th-6th place bout, 4-2.

Anthony Ashnault, All American, 6th place, finished the tournament at 3-3.

149 Ken Theobold

Looking for a win and a seventh place finish, Theobold faced off against South Dakota State’s Alex Kocer (unseeded). Kocer upset both the eighth and ninth seeds, Edinboro’s Patricio Lugo and Central Michigan’s Justin Oliver respectively, in the first two bouts. Then he met PSU’s Zain Retherford.

So, let’s cut to the chase on this bout:

A takedown by Theobold just about a minute into the bout and then, just like I’m sure coach told him, you put the other guy on his back and pin him. Done.

Ken Theobold, All American, 7th place, 4-2 in the tournament.

The NCAA Champions

On the team side of the ledger, Penn State won its second straight title and sixth in seven years, with five champions. PSU is only the fourth team to have five champions in a single tournament. A Big Ten team has won the title the last eleven years. Since 1991, Oklahoma State has won the team title five times, the only non-Big Ten team to do so.

The Big Ten had seven individual champions. It went into the finals with eleven wrestlers, including six who would go head-to-head; for convenience, they’re marked with double asterisks ** in the list below. Across the brackets, seven top seeds made it to the finals and there were only three bouts where it was a 1 vs. 2 matchup.

125: No. 4 Darian Cruz, Lehigh decision over No. 6 Ethan Lizak, Minnesota, 6-3

133: No. 4 Cory Clark, Iowa decision over No. 2 Seth Gross, SDSU, 4-3

141: No. 1 Dean Heil, Oklahoma State decision over No. 6 George DiCamillo, UVA, 6-3

149: No. 1 Zain Retherford, PSU tech fall over No. 3 Lavion Mayes, Missouri, 18-2, 6:40

157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU major decision over No. 3 Joey Lavallee, Missouri, 14-6

165: No. 3 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU fall over No. 1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois **, 5:24

174: No. 5 Mark Hall, PSU decision over No. 3 Bo Jordan, Ohio State **, 5-2

184: No. 1 Gabe Dean, Cornell vs No. 2 Bo Nickal, PSU

197: No. 1 J'Den Cox, Missouri decision over No. 2 Brett Pfarr, Minnesota, 8-2

285: No. 1 Kyle Snyder, Ohio State decision over No. 2 Connor Medbery, Wisconsin **, 6-3

And just because coaches don’t always get taken down by their wrestlers, and because it’s just cool to watch, here’s Iowa’s Cory Clark dumping one of his coaches, Terry Brands, after his title win.

Big Ten Team Scores and Place

There were three all Big Ten finals: 165, 174, and Hwt; two of them involved a Penn State wrestler, two involved an Ohio State wrestler. Champions are italicized.

1 Penn State 146.5 - five in finals: Zain Retherford 149, Jason Nolf 157, Vincenzo Joseph 165, Mark Hall 174, Bo Nickal 184

2. Ohio State 110 - two in finals: Bo Jordan 174, Kyle Snyder Hwt

4. Iowa 97 - one in finals: Cory Clark 133

7. Minnesota 62.5 - two in finals: Ethan Lizak 125, Brett Pfarr 197

9. Nebraska 59.5

10. Michigan 47.5

11. Illinois 43.5 - one in finals: Isaiah Martinez 165

14. Wisconsin 37 - one in finals: Connor Medbery (Hwt)

19. Rutgers 24.5

35T. Indiana 8.5

35T. Maryland 8.5

41. Michigan State 4.5

48. Northwestern 3.5

51T. Purdue 2.5

New Jersey Schools

Princeton: 25th place, 15.5 points

Rider: 21st place, 20 points

Final Thoughts

Two All Americans is a great finish; let’s not diminish that fact at all. There might have been an opportunity here and there to sneak through another, but don’t downplay the two that took the podium last night.

Rutgers, under Scott Goodale, has positioned itself to be a winner, to move upward both in the Big Ten and on the national stage. For two years running, RU has had two All Americans - something it only did twice before in its 87 year history. The team now gets interest from and attracts the best of New Jersey’s wrestlers, something it wasn’t able to, or couldn’t do, before. It is wrestling in the best and toughest conference in the nation, and with that comes the pressure of performing consistently against the best every weekend.

Goodale is bringing in his type of wrestler; tough, blue-collar, dedicated. He knows what it takes to win. And he has brought together a staff that is getting the most from each athlete on the squad.

The future is bright and next year could be another year of growth. This season there were two true freshmen - Brandon Paetzell and Matt Correnti - in the lineup, the latter of whom made it to the NCAA tournament. Richie Lewis took a medical redshirt and will be back next year, as will Anthony Ashnault. And while the team graduates Ken Theobold, it brings back starters Scott DelVecchio, Nick Gravina, John Van Brill, and Jordan Pagano. And then there is last year’s top ten recruiting class - the freshmen who didn’t wrestle - along with the incoming class.

Rutgers Wrestling is here. It’s a contender. It is the new star on the Rutgers stage.

#RelentlessPursuit

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly indicated that Scott DelVecchio was graduating. He is currently a redshirt junior and will return.