ASU wrestling wins first Pac-12 Championship under Zeke Jones

Zahid Valencia stays undefeated, as five ASU underclassmen win individual titles

ASU captured its first Pac-12 Championship since 2006, which was a first under head coach Zeke Jones, as five of their wrestlers capped individual titles at the Maples Pavilion in Stanford, California on Sunday evening.

"This is a great place to start," ASU's athletic director Ray Anderson said after ASU's win. "But we have a long, illustrious road ahead."

The day began with prelims to determine who will compete in the championship session, which included seven of ASU’s wrestlers. The last time the Sun Devils had that many wrestlers competing in the championship round was in 2003.

Pac-12 Championship Semi-Finals Recap

ASU’s freshman Josh Kramer (125 lbs.) pulled off the first upset of the day by defeating Stanford’s No. 12 Gabe Townsell in a 5-2 decision win to book him a spot in the finals. Kramer was seeking redemption against Townsell after he lost to him earlier this season – it was Kramer’s first win against a ranked opponent.

ASU’s Jacen Petersen (184 lbs.) also joined the upset train as he piled on two consecutive wins over opponents Kadyn Del Toro (3rd seed) of Boise State and Seth McLeod (2nd seed) of Stanford to earn him a spot in the finals.

ASU’s No. 1 redshirt freshman Zahid Valencia (174 lbs.) began his day with a 16-second pin on Cal Poly’s Travis Berridge – the fastest pin of the Pac-12 championships. He improved to 32-0 on the season.

ASU redshirt freshmen Josh Maruca (149 lbs.), No. 10 Josh Shields (157 lbs.) and No. 6 Anthony Valencia (165 lbs.) all came out victorious to secure spots in the finals as well.

ASU's sophomore No. 8 Tanner Hall concluded the semi-finals for the Sun Devils with a 6-2 decision win over Cal Poly’s Spencer Empey in the heavyweight division, giving ASU its seventh and final wrestler a spot in the finals.

Pac-12 Championships Finals Recap

Kramer’s cinderella story was cut short by CSUB’s Sean Nickell as he fell to a 7-5 decision. Kramer’s two-point reversal kept it close with over a minute left in the 3rd period, cutting the lead to 6-5 but Nickell’s one-point escape sealed it for the Roadrunner. Nickell punched his ticket to the NCAA championships with the win.

Maruca dominated his way to ASU’s first individual title by defeating CSUB’s Coleman Hammond. Maruca took a 4-0 lead into the third period and increased his lead throughout, resulting in ASU's first individual champion. 

Following Maruca’s win, Shields held off Cal Poly’s Colt Shorts, 10-5, to win the 157 lbs. title. Maruca and Shields have been wrestling together since their high school years in Pennsylvania and now are headed to the NCAA championships in March.

At the 165 lbs. weight class, No. 6 Anthony faced off against CSUB’s Lorenzo De La Riva – a rematch from earlier this month. Anthony scored eight points in the first period to give him an early 8-3 lead over De La Riva, as that set the tempo for the remainder of the match. He scored eight more points in the following two periods and succeeded 16-7 to earn ASU’s third consecutive individual title.

The word “pin” summarized No. 1 Zahid's performance at the Pac-12 championships this evening. Zahid defeated Boise State’s Austin Dewey under two minutes via pin-fall to win the 174 lb. title and remain undefeated. He now looks to be the third freshman in NCAA history to finish a season without a loss as he heads to the NCAA championships in St. Louis.

After being down 6-5 with 30 seconds left, Stanford’s Zach Nevills scored a two-point reversal and was crowned the 184 lb. champion over ASU’s Petersen. He came into the match with only three wins on the season as injuries plagued his season, but managed to pull off the upset. The win drew Stanford closer to ASU in overall points heading into the last two matches of the night.

The heavyweight bout was the last match of the night and did not disappoint, as it took Hall and Oregon State’s Cody Crawford two OT’s to find a winner. After three periods, the score was tied at one, as neither wrestler’s offensive strategy seemed to be working. The first OT was a reflection of regulation, the first and second tie breaker periods just earned each wrestler a one-point escape and tied the match at two, but in the second OT, Hall drew a tie-breaking takedown to win the match 3-2.

Hall became ASU’s fifth individual champion and helped secure ASU first Pac-12 championship since 2006. The Sun Devils scored 127 overall points, followed by Stanford’s 122.5 points and CSU Bakersfield’s 92 points.

"We have a very young team, and we're not done yet, but it's a good start," Jones said. "These guys are going to be a part of the leadership of our team for a very long time."

Next up for the Sun Devils is the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Missouri, a three-day event from March 16-18. 

Reach the reporter at fcorral1@asu.edu or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.

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