IOWA CITY, IA–Rutgers wrestling added another feather to its cap on March 6 when Anthony Ashnault won the conference title in the 141-pound weight class, making him the first Big Ten champion in program history.
Ashnault, a hometown hero from South Plainfield, enjoyed a fantastic season that saw him win 24 of his 26 bouts, and was named the #3 seed in the highly competitive Big Ten field.
Ashnault put on a clinic in his first round bout against unranked George Fisher from Michigan, pinning the Wolverine in 3:40.
In the quarterfinals, Ashnault faced the sixth seed, Anthony Abidin from Nebraska. It was a tight match, but Ashnault prevailed with a 5-2 minor decision to move on to the final four.
Ashnault faced a tough task in the semifinals, as he did battle with #7 seed Danny Sabatello from Purdue, who had already scored a huge upset major decision over second seeded Tommy Thorn from Minnesota.
However, the Scarlet Knight prevailed, holding on for an 8-4 decision.
Another underdog awaited Ashnault in the finals in the form of #8 seed Jimmy Gulibon from Penn State.
Gulibon had picked up a shocking 3-2 tiebreaker win over top-seeded Micah Jordan from Ohio State in the quarterfinals, and won a 6-5 decision over Michigan State’s Javier Gasca III to advance to the finals.
The Nittany Lion was no match for Ashnault, however, as the latter enjoyed a dominant 9-0 major decision over Gulibon to clinch his first-ever Big Ten championship.
While Ashnault’s performance may have been the highlight for Rutgers at the Big Ten Championships, the Scarlet Knights as a whole had a very impressive weekend, finishing with 106.5 team points.
That was good enough for fifth place in the 14-team field, behind Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska.
Anthony Perrotti reached the semifinals in the 165-pound weight class, but an apparent injury forced him into a medical forfeit. Rutgers’ Nicholas Gravina and Billy Smith finished fourth in the 184-pound class and heavyweight class, respectively.
Perhaps most impressively, all ten Scarlet Knights who competed finished in the top eight at their respective weight classes, meaning all of them have qualified for the NCAA Championships later this month.
One year has made quite a difference for Rutgers after the Scarlet Knights finished with just 20.5 team points at least year’s Big Ten Championships, placing 11th out of 14 teams.
In 2015, Ashnault and Perrotti were Rutgers’ only automatic qualifiers for the NCAA’s. This year, they will send ten.
Rutgers was one of just three Big Ten teams to send ten or more wrestlers to the nationals, along with Ohio State and Nebraska.
At the 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships, Ashnault enjoyed the most success among Scarlet Knights, placing eighth nationally.
This year, Rutgers will look to get closer to a national title as they enjoy a home-field advantage of sorts, with the national showcase taking place at Madison Square Garden, less than 40 miles away from the Scarlet Knights’ home base.
The NCAA Championships begin on Thursday, March 17 and continue until Saturday, March 19.