Illinois will open Big Ten competition against conference newcomer Rutgers on Friday in Huff Hall. It will be the first ever meeting between the two programs. Bob Cancro of On the Banks talked Rutgers wrestling and how the Scarlet Knights will fair in their first conference road dual.
1. What was the biggest take away from the dual meet loss to No. 1 Iowa at home?
Personally, I'd say it gave everyone - fan and athlete alike - a sense of what the Big Ten grind is going to be like. Over the last 3-4 years, Scott Goodale has built a very solid club, but it never won the conference (EIWA) that it was in over that span. The B1G is such a big jump in quality. But I also think it showed we can compete and that there are quality wrestlers at Rutgers. And people want to see that kind of wrestling; Rutgers set a wrestling attendance record with 5,420 at the Iowa match.
2. Now-ranked No. 11 Anthony Ashnault has only lost to No. 1 Logan Stieber (Ohio State) and No. 4 Nick Dardanes (Minnesota) this season. How high is his ceiling for this season?
It's enormous. He's a 4-time state champion in New Jersey and his work ethic is phenomenal. At the pre-season media day, Goodale said one of the toughest things the staff has to do is get him to slow down, to get him to rest.
3. Among the lower weights (125-141), what's the match that you're most looking forward to seeing? How do you think it plays out?
At 133, Scott DelVecchio, who was a high school teammate of Ashnault, won the first Big Ten bout ever for Rutgers. He's expected to do well, but he also faces your Zane Richards. That will be a major test for him. And then Ashnault against Stephen Rodrigues will see whether Ashnault can keep it going night after night. For those three bouts, I'm going to say we take 2 of 3, and go to the middle weights up 6-4.
4. Similarly, among the middle weights (149-165), what's the match that you're most excited about? How do you think it plays out?
At 157, Anthony Perrotti is a returning All American for RU. But Goodale was not happy with him going into and after the Iowa match. From the coach's comments at the post-match press conference, it sounded as if Perrotti had not prepped very well. And he'll be facing No. 4 Isaiah Martinez. That's a challenge. If Perrotti bounces back he's in it, and Ken Theobold at 149 is better than his major loss against Iowa. But I'll say you take 2 of 3 here, and you're up 10-9.
5. What about the upper weights (174-285), what's the match you can't wait to see? How does it play out?
We're going to split these. You win at 174 and 184, but I think they're very competitive. At 197, the pressure is on a bit on Andrew Campolattano. He started at Ohio State, so he knows the grind. He's another 4-time NJ state champion and I think he comes through, possibly with bonus points. Billy Smith at heavyweight was another wrestler that Coach Goodale was unhappy with after the Iowa match. I think he comes back big. And I think (surprise) we win, 19-16. Sorry, Brandon.
6. What upsets, if any, do you see Rutgers taking over Illinois' seven ranked wrestlers?
Honestly, I don't think you get "upsets" in the true sense of the word. At this level, everybody is good. If there are "upsets", I think it's more in the line of wrestling well and not giving up bonus points, and I think for the most part, we will. To quote Goodale, after the Iowa match regarding wrestling number one: "That's a high level. I think that'll be good going forward. You've got to match it. Illinois is just as good. Minnesota can be number one. Let's get ready to go again."
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