GREAT WEEKEND for NJ WRESTLING!
The setting may have been the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, but at the rate New Jersey wrestlers were collecting championship hardware on Saturday night at the NCAA championships, it could just as easily have been the winners podium at the NJSIAA state finals at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
There were 10 individual winners crowned at the NCAA Div. 1 championships in Pittsburgh, and incredibly four of them were former New Jersey high school champions. It was an unprecedented accomplishment that will stamp March 23, 2019 as the greatest in the history of New Jersey wrestling.
To make the night even more special, two of the champions, Anthony Ashnault (South Plainfield) and Nick Suriano (Bergen Catholic) hailed from a Rutgers program led by Scott Goodale, a former Garden State coaching legend at Jackson Memorial, and another of the winners, Mekhi Lewis (Bound Brook) of Virginia Tech, also went home with the Most Outstanding Wrestler award for the entire tournament. The other New Jersey champion was Anthony Cassar (Montgomery) of Penn State.
Here’s a rundown of the New Jersey champions, including a look back at what they accomplished during their high school days.
Anthony Ashnault: The sixth-year senior from South Plainfield and Rutgers capped his astounding career with a 9-4 win over Micah Jordan of Ohio State in the 149 pound final. After redshirting early in his career and being granted an extra season of eligibility following knee and shoulder surgeries last year, he was undefeated this winter and was also a four-time All-American.
While at South Plainfield, he was nothing short of a legend. He went 170-0 for his career and became the first-ever four time and undefeated NJSIAA state champion. He stood atop the podium in Atlantic City after winning state titles in the 103, 112, 126 and 138 pound weight classes.
Nick Suriano: The 133-pound junior out of Bergen Catholic became the first-ever national champion from Rutgers, since he won his match roughly 45 minutes before Ashnault’s triumph. Suriano avenged an early-season loss by gaining a 4-2 sudden victory win over Daton Fix of Oklahoma State.
At Bergen Catholic, he went 159-0 to join Ashnault as the only undefeated four-year state champ. He is also the only wrestler in state history to match four individual state championships with four team state titles.
Mekhi Lewis: The youngest New Jersey champion also pulled off the most impressive victory. The redshirt freshman was the eighth seed, but became Virginia Tech’s first national champion by scoring a 7-1 victory over two-time national champ Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State in the 165-pound final.
During his career at Bound Brook, Lewis was a four-time district champ, four time region champ, and a two-time state champion, once at 145 pounds and the other at 160.
Anthony Cassar: The Montgomery graduate and Penn State senior won the heavyweight championship by defeating top-seed Derek White of Oklahoma State, 10-1.
Cassar’s career was different than the other New Jersey winners, yet ended the same way.
He didn’t qualify for the NJSIAA finals in Atlantic City until his senior year, at which point he won the 195-pound championship in 2014.
At Penn State, he didn’t reach the Big Ten Championships until this year, and won his weight class to commence his run that was capped off by the NCAA title.
In addition to the four champions, eight others from New Jersey earned All-America status. That group included Sebastian Rivera, a Northwestern sophomore and Christian Brothers Academy graduate, who placed third in the 125-pound division.
All-Americans by State:
#1 PA with 16
#2 NJ with 10
#3 IL, MI, OH with 6 each
National Finalists by State:
#1 NJ (5)
#2 PA (3)
#3 OH, OK, TX (2)
National Champs by State:
#1 NJ (4)
#2 PA (2)
#3 CA, IA, NY, TX (1)