Rutgers wrestler Anthony Ashnault wanted to be the first with his foot in the door but in two weeks, he plans to knock the house down at Madison Square Garden.
Ashnault made Rutgers history Sunday when he took the first Big Ten title in program history, winning in a dominant 9-0 final at 141 pounds. A Big Ten title is great, but Ashnault and Rutgers have higher aspirations.
“The goal is to win and this is a stepping stone to get to the national tournament,” Ashnault said. “I really want to win the national title this year and I’m confident going in. It’s created a lot of momentum and a lot of things are going right for me right now.
When nine, potentially 10, Rutgers wrestlers travel to New York for nationals, Ashnault sees an F-5 tornado coming across from New Jersey.
“Right now, it’s just a great feeling,” Ashnault said. “We took fifth, that’s better than we’ve ever done. The team camaraderie is great and I love being a part of Rutgers wrestling. There’s no other wrestling program I’d rather be at. Looking at the teams at the tournament, some of them were recruiting me, and I just couldn’t imagine myself in a different place. I wouldn’t be able to compete at the same level I’m competing at [with Rutgers], I don’t believe. Being around my teammates makes me wrestle better. I get more confidence. It’s just a family atmosphere here.”
In the eyes of head coach Scott Goodale, a Big Ten title is simply another step in Ashnault’s journey.
“There’s been some great wrestlers that come through this tournament and not be able to win one,” Goodale said. “For him, I’m just super happy. Obviously it’s really good for our program. It’s the first. Maybe it opens up another door for guys to shoot for because it’s a big accomplishment but there’s so more for him to do. That’s really what we’re concentrated on.
“ …You don’t win nine-nothing in the Big Ten final. That’s rare. It’s rare and he did it. He did a great job on top. He was relentless up there. He worked really hard in that position and it opens matches up for him. When he builds leads, he’s really difficult to beat.”