ATLANTIC CITY — South Plainfield High School senior Anthony Ashnault made history at Boardwalk Hall Sunday.
An announced sellout crowd of 11,149 saw him earn a 4-2 decision over Hunterdon Central’s Gary Dinmore in the 138-pound final of the state individual wrestling championships.
As a result, he became the first wrestler in New Jersey’s illustrious history to win four state titles without suffering even a single loss.
“This has been my goal ever since I was in eighth grade,” Ashnault said. “But it’s really hard to be perfect. I just took each match one at a time and did whatever it took to get the win in each one. To actually accomplish this feels great.”
Ashnault finished his career with a 170-0 record while winning state championships at 103, 112, 126 and 138 pounds, respectively. His win total ranks second in state history behind Bound Brook graduate Andrew Campolattano’s 175 victories.
Ashnault joined former Delbarton standout Mike Grey and Campolattano as the state’s only four-time champions. Three-time champion Scott Winston (137-0) was the only one to earn at least 100 wins without a loss, but he missed the state tournament as a freshman because of an injury. Campolattano went 175-1 with his only defeat coming to Blair Academy’s Mike Evans.
Grey, who is the only wrestler in Boardwalk Hall’s Hall of Fame, served as the grand marshal of the tournament this weekend and presented Ashnault with a plaque commemorating his achievement. Ashnault also won the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler award.
“This was a tremendous accomplishment for Anthony,” South Plainfield coach Kevin McCann said. “To not only win four state championships, but to keep grinding and never lose a match is amazing. But I was even more impressed with the way he handled everything. He was under a lot of pressure, especially this year, with everybody in his face about going undefeated. But he handled it great.”
Ashnault’s final win was one of his toughest to earn.
Dinmore (38-1), who also lost to Ashnault in last year’s finals, came close to pulling off the upset. Ashnault, who is headed to Rutgers University in the fall, took a 2-0 lead on a first-period takedown, but Dinmore closed the gap to 2-1 with an escape, rode Ashnault out for the entire second period, then tied the match at 2-2 with another escape early in the third.
“Gary’s a good wrestler,” Ashnault said. “But I was so focused that I didn’t worry about who I was wrestling. This entire year I just pictured myself getting to the finals, but there was just this blank face at the other end of the mat.”
Down the stretch, at least half of the roaring crowd was rooting for Dinmore, but Ashnault wasn’t fazed by the fans.
He secured the victory with a takedown with 14 seconds left in regulation to set off a wild celebration among the South Plainfield supporters, all of whom were wearing T-shirts sold by the team.
“I heard the boos (during the match), but I just tried to shrug them off,” Ashnault said. “You’re going to go through adversity on the mat and in life. I didn’t worry about it. I just knew I was going to do whatever it took to have my hand raised at the end.
After the buzzer sounded, Ashnault thrust his arms toward Boardwalk Hall’s famous arched ceiling, hugged his coaches, then ran up into the stands and shared a tearful embrace with his parents, Bill and Sue.
Minutes afterward, he stood atop the awards podium for the final time.
“My parents were both crying when I got there, so we didn’t say much,” Ashnault said. “I thanked them for their support and told them I loved them. I’m really grateful for my parents and everybody else who has supported me through my journey. It’s been a great run.”
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