Wells Fargo Arena was graced by the presence of Sun Devil wrestling legend and national champion Anthony Robles in the first home meet of the season and the new year.
Robles embraced coach Shawn Charles, and the two enjoyed a pre-match chat, with Charles’ son Shawn Jr. looking on in admiration.
“Anthony is a great guy, he’s always around the program and a part of Sun Devil wrestling,” Charles said. “We love to see him out here supporting us. He’s a Sun Devil wrestler at heart and he spent four hours at the gym today cheering us on. I really do appreciate that, and it’s my job that when he comes out here to watch we have a good program.”
The first match against Utah Valley got off to a rough start, as the UVU lightweight tandem of sophomore Chasen Tolbert (133) and senior Avery Gardner (141) put the Wolverines ahead early after defeating redshirt sophomore Kalin Goodsite and sophomore Matt Krause in 6-4 and 9-2 decisions, respectively. The Sun Devils edged the Wolverines 18-16, avenging last year’s loss.
ASU rallied behind the the strong outing of sophomore 174-pounder Ray Waters, who defeated UVU senior Monte Schmalhaus in an 8-4 decision and later pinned Northern Colorado junior Josh Van Tine at 2:31.
Charles was eager to commend Waters’ performance.
“Ray is in the right weight class, he’s in the right spot now after switching to 174 and we like him there,” Waters said. “He’ll continue to do well for us.”
Redshirt sophomore Blake Stauffer topped UVU junior Ethan Smith in a 4-0 decision and defeated UNC junior Nick Bayer in a 10-1 major decision. Stauffer and Waters both went 2-0 against UVU and the UNC Bears.
ASU and UNC alternated wins in the first half of their match, as lightweight sophomore Cord Coronado won 6-4 at 133 in his first appearance of the season and sophomore Matt Kraus won at 141 in a 10-6 decision.
However, the hole was too big for the heavweights to dig themselves out of, and despite the efforts of Waters and Stauffer, UNC juniors Charlie McMartin and Henry Chirino simply outmuscled ASU graduate student James Brundage (165) and redshirt junior Chase Eskam (285).
Perhaps the most controversial match and, the definite turning point, occurred in the 197-pound match with ASU clinging to a 16-15 edge over UNC. ASU sophomore Wesley Moore was disqualified for flagrant misconduct against UNC redshirt freshman Cole Breigel. Breigel appeared, to the dismay of the Sun Devil coaching staff, to bend back Moore’s finger in an effort to cause pain, which caused Moore to punch Briegel with his freehand to separate Briegel’s grip.
Regardless, Moore was assessed the misconduct, and ASU was penalized a point, giving the Bears a 21-15 advantage with just the heavyweight match remaining.
Redshirt junior Joel Smith was the only Sun Devil to lose by pinfall on the afternoon, dropping the 157-pound match to UNC junior Mitchell Polkowske at 2:36. The average margin of victory from the series of matches between UVU and ASU was 3.1 points, while the nightcap against UNC was decided by an average of just 2.6 points. Also, ASU suffered just one major decision, a 10-2 loss by Kraus against UVU’s Gardner at 141.
Charles acknowledged that there is room to grow for his team.
“We probably left four or five points on the mat, that if we tighten up our game a little bit, we will be able to get those in the future,” Charles said. “We know (the Pac-12) is a tough conference and we feel that we match up well with the schools in our own conference, we have similar strengths and weaknesses.”
ASU opens the Pac-12 portion of the season Friday, Jan. 24 at 5 p.m., this time with a new twist: the “Beauty and the Beast” wrestling-gymnastics combo, with gymnastics taking on Cal, and wrestling squaring off against Boise State.
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