EVANSTON, Ill. - No. 11 Rutgers wrestling muscled its way into third place (64.5 points) after the opening day of the 54th Annual Midlands Championships Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Scarlet Knights tallied 16 bonus point wins - seven falls, five tech falls, and four major decisions - and temporarily held the team score lead early on. Ahead of RU after the first day is Iowa (1st - 85.5) and Nebraska (2nd - 78.5). Just behind the Scarlet Knights is fourth-place Arizona State with 62.5 points and fifth-place Illinois with 58.5.
"It was a good day because of all the bonus points. Then you look for guys to fight back in those consolation rounds, so for guys to do that and come through was good. It was important for us to bounce back," said head coach Scott Goodale. "We had a 15-minute span there where we lost two guys at 149, lost at 157, and we were kind of in a little bit of a rut. Then Gravina gets us out with a huge win, and then all those guys start coming back - DelVecchio, Dippery, Pagano. That shows a lot of character."
Eight Scarlet Knights are still standing, with Anthony Ashnault (141) and Nicholas Gravina (184) punching tickets to the semifinals. Ashnault, seeded third, gets a rematch against No. 2-seeded Kevin Jack (NC State) tomorrow in the third session of the tournament. Gravina, the sixth-seed, will battle No. 7-seeded Jack Dechow (Old Dominion) for a spot in the championship finals.
"Wrestle the same way. Wrestle your style," Goodale said. "Ashnault goes pin, tech, major, tech. Wrestle that style - relentless pursuit on top and get after it. Gravina, same way. Continue to push pace and it doesn't matter who you're wrestling. Wrestle your match."
It marks the second-straight year Rutgers has two Midlands semifinalists. The program seeks its first finalist since Mario Mason finished as runner-up at 149 pounds in 2011. RU also closed the first day of Midlands in third place for the second consecutive year, and with eight more team points than 2015.
Ashnault's track to the semis was nothing short of dominant. The South Plainfield, New Jersey, native and two-time All-American racked up two tech falls, a fall, and major decision. Ashnault earned his first Midlands semifinal berth after finishing fourth at the tournament last year.
Gravina, an eighth-place Midlands finisher last season, collected one of the more impressive wins of the day in the quarterfinals with a decision over 2016 All-American Pete Renda (NC State). The turning point in the match came at the conclusion of the first period, when Gravina worked through a reversal and put Renda on his back for a four-count. The sequence ballooned Gravina's lead to 8-2, where the match concluded.
Gravina matches up with Dechow for the first time of his career in his first Midlands semifinal appearance. The two were set to wrestle last year at Midlands, but Gravina earned a medical forfeit win instead.
Ken Theobold (149), Anthony Giraldo (149) and John Van Brill (157) all had their championship ambitions cut short in the quarterfinals, with all three barely missing out on a semifinal appearance.
Theobold led his match against No. 2-seeded Justin Oliver (Central Michigan), 2-1, in the third period, but was pinned at the 6:00 minute mark to drop him into consolations. Giraldo went to sudden victory and then to tiebreakers versus No. 6 Joey Delgado (Oregon State), where he fell, 3-2.
Giraldo was whistled for a stall on top to end the first tiebreaker period, and was a half second too late on an escape in the second stanza. RU challenged the escape to end the match, but the call stood. Despite the loss, Giraldo defeated No. 3-seeded and No. 12-ranked Alfred Bannister (Maryland) in tiebreakers a match earlier.
Van Brill was held off late by No. 5 Colin Heffernan of Central Michigan in his quarterfinal match. Van Brill trailed, 4-2, with the third period winding down and forced pressure, eventually earning a stall point. The drive was not enough, as Heffernan secured the 4-3 decision.
Before that loss, Van Brill was mowing down the competition. The Mullica Hill, New Jersey, native opened with a tech fall and a fall before earning a come-from-behind pin against No. 4-seeded and No. 7-ranked Clay Ream (North Dakota State). The fall is Van Brill's second over a top-10 opponent this season.
Scott DelVecchio (133), Tyson Dippery (133), and Jordan Pagano (174) battled back in their respective consolation brackets and will wrestle into tomorrow's third session. DelVecchio went 3-1 Thursday and defeated Hawkeye Phillip Laux, 8-7, to move on into Friday.
Dippery pounced on John Muldoon (SIU-Edwardsville) in his final match of the day, scoring the fastest fall of the tournament thus far in 14 seconds. Dippery went 4-1 with two pins and a tech fall on day one of the tourney.
Pagano responded with two decisions after a 4-2 sudden victory loss to No. 10 Josef Johnson (Harvard) in his second match. He opens with No. 5-seeded David Kocer (South Dakota State) Friday.
Brandon Paetzell (125), Eleazar DeLuca (157), Anthony Pafumi (165), Willie Scott (165), Anthony Messner (197) and Kevin Mulligan (197) were eliminated on day one. Paetzell, DeLuca, Scott, and Mulligan all picked up at least one win.
Day two of the Midlands Championships will begin at 1 p.m. ET Friday. The third session will feature a four-mat setup for the semifinals, consolation matches, and seventh place matches. The final session is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET and will include the first, third, and fifth place matches. The championship finals will be aired live on Big Ten Network.
"Tomorrow is a huge day. We're getting the best guys in the country," Goodale said. "We get a really good idea of where we're at, so it's exciting. It's great that we're in this spot. We've got to hold off Arizona State and Illinois, and of course we're in those semifinals so we've got to get a couple champs. That's the mindset right now."
Brandon Paetzell | Freshman | 125 Pounds | 1-2
Dalton Duffield (Oklahoma) W-F, 3:54
No. 3 Shakur Laney (Ohio) L-D, 5-3 (SV)
No. 9 Anthony Rubinetti (Northwestern)L-MD, 19-10
No. 11 Scott DelVecchio | Redshirt Junior | 133 Pounds | 3-1
Dylan Duncan (Illinois) W-D, 9-7
Billy Rappo (Maryland ) L-D, 8-3
No. 15 Ian Parker (Iowa State) W-D, 12-6
Phillip Laux (Iowa) W-D, 8-6
Luke Karam (Lehigh) TBD
No. 6 Tyson Dippery | Redshirt Junior | 133 Pounds | 4-1
Billy Rappo (Maryland) L-F, 4:17
No. 5 Emilio Saavedra (Old Dominion) W-F, 6:18
Dylan Duncan (Illinois) W-D, 12-8
No. 16 Jacob Colon (Grand View) W-TF, 16-0
John Muldoon (SIU-Edwardsville) W-F, 0:13
No. 7 Cameron Kelly (Ohio) TBD
No. 3 Anthony Ashnault | Redshirt Junior | 141 Pounds | 4-0
Jordan Reich (Princeton) W-F, 4:33
John Meeks (Iowa State) W-TF, 17-0
Nick Zanetta (Pittsburgh) W-MD, 14-5
No. 6 Russell Rohlfing (CSU Bakersfield) W-TF, 18-1
No. 2 Kevin Jack (NC State) TBD
No. 7 Ken Theobold | Redshirt Senior | 149 Pounds | 3-1
Jerren Glosser (Iowa) W-D, 4-0
Chase Straw (Iowa State) W-D, 8-2
John Fahy (SIU-Edwardsville) W-D, 9-2
No. 2 Justin Oliver (Central Michigan) L-F, 6:00
No. 16 Davion Jeffries (Oklahoma) TBD
No. 14 Anthony Giraldo | Redshirt Sophomore | 149 Pounds | 3-1
Gene Oliver Pierce (Arizona State) W-D, 6-2
Eric Yang (Northwestern) W-MD, 17-4
No. 3 Alfred Bannister (Maryland) W-D, 2-1 (TB-1)
No. 6 Joey Delgado (Oregon State) L-D, 3-2 (TB-1)
Joshua Maruca (Arizona State) TBD
Eleazar DeLuca | Senior | 157 Pounds | 1-2
Fred Green (Boise State) W-D, 7-3
No. 3 Jason Tsirtsis (Arizona State) L-D, 7-4
Jared Scharenbrock (Wisconsin) L-Inj. Def.
No. 13 John Van Brill | Redshirt Sophomore | 157 Pounds | 3-1
Andrew Fierro (Boise State) W-TF, 19-4
Tyler Ponte (Columbia) W-F, 3:54
No. 4 Clayton Ream (North Dakota St.) W-F, 5:34
No. 5 Colin Heffernan (Central Michigan) L-D, 4-3
No. 6 Dawaylon Barnes (Oklahoma) TBD
Anthony Pafumi | Redshirt Senior | 165 Pounds | 1-2
No. 16 Luke Zilverberg (South Dakota St.) L-D, 4-0
Daniel Bullard (NC State) W-D, 3-0
Abner Romero (Old Dominion) L-D, 7-5
Willie Scott | Redshirt Freshman | 165 Pounds | 1-2
Devan Marry (Eastern Michigan) W-MD, 9-0
No. 10 Grant Henderson (Grand View) L-D, 7-6
No. 7 Joseph Gunther (Iowa) L-MD, 10-0
Jordan Pagano | Redshirt Sophomore | 174 Pounds | 3-1
No. 7 Ryan Christensen (Wisconsin) W-D, 4-0
No. 10 Josef Johnson (Harvard) L-D, 4-2 (SV)
Garrett Sutton (Michigan) W-D, 3-1
Jacob Morrrissey (Purdue) W-D, 10-3
No. 5 David Kocer (South Dakota St.) TBD
No. 6 Nicholas Gravina | Redshirt Junior | 184 Pounds | 4-0
Michael Aldrich (Northern Illinois) W-TF, 19-2
Jake Godinez (SIU Edwardsville) W-F, 3:28
No. 11 Ian Baker (Princeton) W-MD, 12-2
No. 3 Pete Renda (NC State) W-D, 8-2
No. 7 Jack Dechow (Old Dominion) TBD
Kevin Mulligian | Freshman | 197 Pounds | 2-2
Lance Dixon (Oklahoma) L-D, 9-2
Anthony Messner (Rutgers) W-D, 9-2
Devin King (Ohio) W-D, 4-1
No. 15 Cash Wilcke (Iowa)
Anthony Messner | Redshirt junior | 197 Pounds | 0-2
No. 5 Kevin Beazley (Old Dominion) L-TF, 16-0
Kevin Mulligan (Rutgers) L-D, 9-2