Looking to get the season back on track, the ASU wrestling team will compete in the 32nd Virginia Duals this Friday and Saturday in Hampton, Va.
ASU is wrestling in the National College Division of the tournament, which consists of 14 Division I teams, four of which are currently ranked in the NWCA/USA Today Coaches’ Top 25. The Sun Devils will have to earn their swagger back on the mat against some of the best wrestlers in the country.
As team captain and All-American heavyweight redshirt junior Levi Cooper emphasized, ASU hasn’t given up on itself just yet. The young Sun Devils realize that it’s going to take some time and perhaps even a few beat downs, for them to become acclimated to the atmosphere of collegiate wrestling.
“I like working with these young guys,” Cooper said. “They take their lumps and I took my lumps when I was a freshman, too. That’s what happens in this sport. Very rarely do you come in as a freshman and make noise.”
In the practice room leading up to the tournament this weekend, it was business as usual for coach Shawn Charles’ squad. ASU believes as long as the program’s athletes keep investing in what the coaching staff is selling, the Sun Devils will eventually be in a position to hang with — and beat — the top teams in the nation.
“We’ve been working on our setups on our feet into our leg attacks, finishing our leg attacks and wrestling hard in all positions, especially on bottom,” Charles said. “For us, nothing has really changed. We’re sticking to the process.”
ASU faces off against Old Dominion on Friday at 11 a.m. EST for their first match of the tournament. Should the Sun Devils win, they will face No. 20 Rutgers, who has a first-round bye.
With another round of stiff competition coming up for a team composed of 21 freshmen or redshirt freshmen, even Charles admits every meet is a sort of baptism by fire.
“Starting this year out, we knew that we have a young team,” Charles said. “It’s going to take us time to get familiarized with the D-1 level.”
The third-year ASU coach also stressed the Sun Devils must work on competing with more toughness out on the mat this weekend.
“It’s an individual sport, but it’s a team score,” Charles said. “We’re really stressing the importance of wrestling hard the whole time when they’re out there. Sometimes, guys get frustrated when they can’t win, and they don’t care what happens. I’ve been really stressing to them that we can win these duels if we don’t give up falls.”
Cooper agreed, saying the Sun Devils need to be the ones controlling the momentum of the match and not vice versa, as has been the case for ASU over the past several weeks.
“For us to wrestle (the best we can), it’s going to take us having a high energy input out there and focusing on wrestling our pace,” Cooper said. “We need to push the tempo on other people.”
The Sun Devils must continue to hone their technical skills this weekend, too, as progress is the name of the game for a team that expects to be competing for spots at the year-end national meet.
“Yeah, we’re not exactly where we want to be,” Cooper said. “If we can keep improving at the rate we’ve been improving at, we’re going to have a really good weekend.”
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