The ASU’s men’s basketball team did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, but four Sun Devil wrestlers qualified for a national tournament of their own.
Redshirt sophomore Kevin Radford, redshirt freshman Blake Stauffer, redshirt senior Jake Meredith and senior Levi Cooper head to Des Moines, Iowa, for the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships starting Thursday.
The tournament isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Sun Devils.
Cooper is making his third straight appearance in the tournament. Radford and Meredith are making their second trips.
Stauffer is the only rookie in the big dance.
Cooper won All-American honors in 2011, finishing in eighth place. In 2012, Cooper finished one match short of a second All-American award, something he aims to rectify.
“It hurt losing in the round-of-12 last year, especially since I’ve been there and won once before,” he said. “I want to redeem myself, and I want to finish my last wrestling tournament out the way I feel I deserve to finish it out.”
Meredith would be making his third straight appearance in the tournament if it weren’t for a broken leg he suffered last season.
“It’s very important for me to come out and give it 110 percent,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to this for two years, a year and a half really,”
Cooper, Meredith and Radford are NCAA tournament veterans and are using their experience to help tournament newcomer Stauffer.
Stauffer grabbed an 11 seed in the tournament after posting a 22-3 record for the year.
“The other guys are pretty seasoned,” coach Shawn Charles said. “They’ve been here once before, so they know about the nerves, the environment and the atmosphere and what’s going to happen once you start competing. They’re roommates, and they’ve been talking to Stauffer, just making sure that he’s taking it all in, but he also understands that it’s just another tournament.”
Just like any other tournament, the NCAA championships has its draw determining who wrestles who.
None of ASU’s wrestlers received an easy match-up.
If Stauffer wins his first match, he will likely wrestle Minnesota sophomore Logan Storley, who finished sixth in last year’s NCAA championships.
With a couple of wins, Meredith will likely find himself wrestling Kent State redshirt senior Dustin Kilgore, who touts a 39-0 record as well as a 2011 NCAA championship at 197 pounds.
Radford probably has the toughest draw of all.
With a win, Radford will — barring a monumental upset — face Penn State junior Ed Ruth.
Ruth pinned two of his five opponents and dominated the other three by a combined score of 41-7 on his way to the 2012 NCAA 174-pound championship.
Nobody has it easy, and that’s just how coach Charles wants it.
“I look forward to my guys wrestling against the best competition they possibly can,” he said. “The draws are the draws, and any time you get the chance to wrestle someone that’s good, that’s just going to benefit you in the long run.”
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