The last time the ASU wrestling team hit the mat, the opponent was Division II No. 5 Grand Canyon.
This weekend, competition stiffens, as the Sun Devils (5-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will face off against Division I No. 5 Ohio State, No. 7 Missouri, No. 15 Oregon State and four other ranked teams in the 32-team field at the 31st Annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational.
The Las Vegas Invitational will mark the first time the Sun Devils have wrestled since Nov. 17, a break that coach Shawn Charles thinks is an advantage.
“I think having a little break and being able to train and address some areas of concern was good for the guys,” Charles said.
Senior heavyweight Levi Cooper lost his last match and agreed the break was helpful for not only the team, but for himself as well.
“I’m fine,” Cooper said. “I’m just going to go out and wrestle the way I know how to and see what happens in Vegas.”
Redshirt freshman Blake Stauffer, who is one of three undefeated Sun Devils, echoed the same sentiments as Cooper, but noted preparations leading up to the Las Vegas tournament haven’t changed.
“Really, nothing has changed,” Stauffer said. “We try to take every week the same.”
Charles was quick to note the importance and quality of the tournament, though, compared to the Sun Devils’ tests thus far.
“It’s one of the toughest tournaments this early in the season, and historically, guys who do well in this tournament do well in the NCAA tournament,” Charles said. “We put a lot of time and effort in to make sure these guys train well and perform well in this tournament.”
Eighty-five wrestlers who will be competing in the tournament are currently ranked in the top 20 nationally of their respective weight classes, so Charles is ready to see where his team matches up against the best in the country.
“This will be the best test so far to see where we are at and what we need to improve on,” Charles said.
Another factor Charles believes is that an advantage for the Sun Devils is their road toughness.
ASU opened the season in the Carolinas competing in four duals in three days.
“I think we are familiar with traveling and making weights and things like that, so we are ready for that,” Charles said.
Cooper also believes the Sun Devils’ high competition level early in the season will benefit them against the higher-ranked opponents.
“I think some of the better teams in the country schedule easier competition earlier in the year, so they can get their guys in the flow of things and get some easy wins early in the year,” Cooper said. “I think there are going to be some teams that this is going to be their first big step up in competition for the year, unlike us.”
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