by: Bob Piermattei
The Rutgers Wrestling team, led by BIG Ten Champion 141 lb Anthony Ashnault will send a total of 7 wrestlers to St. Louis for the NCAA National Championships, March 16th-18th after an 8th place finish at BIG Tens. The following is a look at each wrestler, how they qualified for “Nationals” and how they’re predicted to perform:
133 – Scott DelVecchio. Scott placed 7th at BIG Tens, earning an auto-qualifier slot (and exceeding his 9th seed). Unfortunately for Scott, that performance gets him a preliminary round match with #3 seed Kaid Brock of Ok St. DelVecchio can hang with Brock, but will be dropped to the consolation wrestlebacks early.
141 Anthony Ashnault. Ash won his second BIG Ten championship in dominating fashion, defeating MSU’s Javier Gasca by a 15-2 major decision. AA (very appropriate initials!) is seeded 5th at Nationals and is looking to improve upon his 4th place finish of last season. He should have no difficulty making the quarterfinals (“Elite 8” for you hoops types), but things get much tougher from there. A semifinal bout with defending national champ Dean Heil of Ok St. looms. Heil defeated Ashnault in the national semifinals last season.
149 Ken Theobold. Theo placed 5th at Big Tens, and thus was an auto-qualifier for Nationals. He goes into the tournament as the 15th seed, and will likely meet #2 seed Anthony Collica of Ok St. in the pre-qtrs., should he defeat Sam Krivus of UVA in the prelims. Sorry to say, unless Ken pulls off a huge upset, he’ll have to make his way through wrestlebacks to gain All-American status (top 8 placers in each weight class).
157 John Van Brill. Van B wrestled to a 7th place finish at BIG Tens, and earned an auto-qualifying slot in St. Louis. He is currently seeded 13th in the tournament, and, assuming he defeats his preliminary round opponent (K. Langenderfer, ILL), will have a match-up with #4 seed Berger of Nebraska in the pre-qtrs. The fate of most 13 seeds when wrestling a 4th seed is to be bounced to the wrestlebacks, and that is the likely outcome for John.
174 Jordan Pagano. Jordan had a disappointing BIG Ten tournament, failing to place in the top 8. However, his body of work for the season (26-9) was enough to be awarded an at-large spot at Nationals. Pagano is unseeded, and just look who is awaiting him in the prelims – Ryan Preisch of Lehigh, the tourney’s 6th seed. Jordan’s at-large slot is largely due to his upset of…Ryan Preisch of Lehigh! Can lightning strike twice for Jordan?
184 Nick Gravina. Due to a shoulder injury, Nick essentially wrestled with one arm at BIG Tens and fell to 9th place, just enough to earn the last auto-qualifying spot for Nationals. He is unseeded, and drew tournament #3 seed and BIG Ten champion Sam Brooks of Iowa. Nick will give Brooks a tough bout, but will have to compete for AA honors the hard way – through the wrestlebacks.
197 Matt Correnti. Matt locked-up his spot at Nationals by placing 6th at BIG Tens, far exceeding his 12th seed. He had a terrific tournament, winning 3 bouts. His reward for that performance? A bout with tournament #2 seed Brett Pfarr of Minnesota. Though once again the odds are against Correnti, he certainly is talented enough to make some noise in the wrestlebacks.
Overall for RU – there is no realistic chance for a team trophy, which is only awarded to the top 4 teams. The Scarlet Knights are hoping for a top-15 finish. It’s certainly possible, but they will have to rack up some wins in the wrestlebacks/consolation rounds. RU will have an All-American though – 141 Anthony Ashnault will finish in the top 4 at his weight class (my prediction is 3rd), bettering his 4th place finish of last season and making A.A. a 3-time AA. It will be a tough slog for the other Scarlet Knights, with Theobold and Correnti having an outside chance at the 7th/8th place bout.
As for the team championship battle, it will go down to the wire for Penn State, Oklahoma St. and Ohio St. Iowa, Missouri, and Virginia Tech will battle for 4th place and the last team trophy.