When you step foot in the Rutgers wrestling room, there are no breaks and no easy matchups. That is the reality of NCAA Division I wrestling, and for the Scarlet Knights’ 12 incoming freshmen, that reality has become crystal clear.
“From high school to college it’s definitely a new pace and just a different work ethic,” said freshman 184-pounder Anthony Messner (Somerset, N.J.). It’s a different style of wrestling – it’s harder and much faster than what you see in high school.”
But that reality has done little to hold back any of RU’s rookie grapplers. With freshmen hoping to battle at seven different weights, and with a little more than two weeks until wrestle-offs, the significance of each practice increases each day.
The Youth Movement
Both Scott DelVecchio (South Plainfield, N.J.) and Josh Patrick (Ligonier Valley, Pa.) will compete for a spot at 125 pounds, while Corey Stasenko (South Plainfield, N.J.) looks to compete at 133 pounds.
The 141-pound class features four-time N.J. State Champions Anthony Ashnault (South Plainfield, N.J.) and top-recruits Tyson Dippery (Harrisburg, Pa.) and Gregory McCrystal (Edison, N.J.).
Mike Underwood (Cary, Ill.) will attempt to break through at 149 pounds, Dylan Painton (South Plainfield, N.J.) will fight for the 157-pound spot and Nicholas Gravina (Allendale, N.J.) will push for the 174-pound position.
The 184-pound class is one of RU’s deepest, with freshmen Taylor Jackson (Lady Lake, Fla.) and Messner both looking to make noise. Last but not least is Garret Connor (Kettering, Ohio) who joins RU with an eye on the 197-pound slot.
Between their own classmates and the rest of RU’s seasoned squad, breaking into a starting role will not come easy for any of the rookies.
“Wrestling-wise it’s a big step up,” Dippery said. “There’s not anyone bad in the room, you’re wrestling someone good every single go. You just have to go all out all the time.”
That challenge, though, is embraced by the newcomers, and Dippery is no exception.
“I never reached my ultimate goal of being a high school state champ. I took second twice and third once so I’m still hungry to get on top,” he said. “A national champ is what I wanted to be.”
Aside from the intense and upbeat practices, adjusting to new teammates and coaches came easily for most of the rookies. Nine of the 12 wrestlers hail from either Pennsylvania or the Garden State, with the sentiment remaining the same no matter who you talked to – they want to build something big.
“I always wanted to go to a big college, especially since it’s going into the Big Ten [next year].” Patrick said. “We’re building a big program here, it’s a good program and I liked what was happening here. I really, really liked the coaching staff and they seem like they were motivated to build a good team so that’s what I wanted.”
Stasenko, who is one of four South Plainfield, N.J. natives joining the squad, has loved every second of training under his new coaching staff.
“Wrestling for Coach Goodale is awesome,” he said. “He’s so funny and he’s a great coach and I‘m glad I can be a part of building the program.”
Seven of the 12 newcomers did not have to travel far to find the perfect fit of a program. Ashnault, DelVecchio, Gravina, McCrystal, Messner, Painton and Stasenko all hail from New Jersey and all are more than satisfied with their decision to stay home.
The decision was likely easiest for Ashnault, whose family ties to Rutgers are stronger than most.
“Overall it doesn’t get much better than being home,” Ashnault said. “I’m 15 minutes away, my mom can come do my laundry, I can go see my family whenever I want. My sister goes to school here, my brother [Billy] is director of operations here. I just thought it fit what I wanted out of academics, athletics and a social life. Everything that’s going on a Rutgers right now, we’re on the rise. It’s good to be a part of it.”
For Ashnault’s longtime teammate, Painton, Rutgers wrestling was always a program he looked up to.
“Just growing up around the program, going to South Plainfield and being 10 minutes away, I looked up to these guys wrestling and wanted to be a part of the team.”
Rutgers begins its season on Oct. 26 at the College Ave. Gym, where the team will hold its annual wrestle-offs. The squad will return to “The Barn” on Nov. 17 for its first home match of the season against Boston University.
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