ASU wrestling finishes strong at 2017 NCAA Championships

While redshirt freshman Zahid Valencia was unable to complete an undefeated season, the Sun Devils improved their postseason performance

ASU wrestling capped a strong performance at the 2017 NCAA Championships on Saturday thanks to victories by two Sun Devil All-Americans.  

Redshirt freshman No. 1 Zahid Valencia (174 lbs.) and sophomore No. 7 Tanner Hall (HWT) each placed third in their respective weight classes with wins on the final day of the competition, marking the first time since 2011 ASU had multiple All-Americans finish third or higher.

"Overall, a good team effort this weekend, it's always great to finish undefeated on the third day of the tournament," ASU head coach Zeke Jones said. "I have tremendous amount of respect for Tanner and Zahid, as well as everyone on our team."

At the conclusion of ASU’s appearance in the NCAA wrestling championships, here is an analysis of how each wrestler faired.

Zahid Valencia (174 lbs. division)

A controversial semi-final match gave Valencia his first loss of the season, ending his pursuit to become only the third freshman to finish a season undefeated.

He faced Penn State freshman No. 5 Mark Hall in the semis, who is also his junior Olympics teammate, and it was nothing short of a nail biter. Heading into the third-and-final period, Valencia was down 1-0 and aggressively looking to score points.

The third period began with a one-point escape for Valencia, but he was later penalized for locking hands — awarding Hall with a point for the violation. With under a minute left, the freshman Sun Devil appeared to take down Hall to give him two points, but Penn State challenged the call, accusing Valencia of pulling on Hall’s chinstrap.

The referees agreed and awarded Hall a point for yet another violation.

Soon after, Hall took down Valencia to increase his lead to 4-1. After escaping Hall’s hold, Valencia was awarded a point for Hall stalling, but it was too little, too late. Valencia had won 36 straight matches before the loss.

"Zahid may be the best wrestler in the tournament, and I say that knowing he took third," Jones said. "Yesterday's loss already has made him better."

Valencia followed his loss by dominating his two consolation matches via bonus points, and giving ASU its first third place finish of the tournament. He finished the season 38-1 and earned his first All-American honor.

Tanner Hall (Heavyweight Division)

The veteran Hall secured ASU’s pair of third place finishes by upsetting Virginia Tech’s redshirt senior No. 3 Ty Walz in the consolation final.

After his first and second round victories on Thursday, Hall looked to avenge an early season loss to Wisconsin redshirt senior No. 2 Connor Medberry in the quarterfinals on Friday. After a 0-0 finish in the first period, Medberry took down Hall twice (four points) during period number two. Hall answered with a triplet of escapes, keeping the score close at 4-3 going into the final period. Medberry eventually pulled out a 5-3 decision. 

Hall then moved on to compete in the consolation bracket on Friday evening and Saturday morning, winning his first two matches to advance to the third place final.

It was a thriller between Hall and Walz, as a takedown by Walz in the last 22 seconds of the third period forced the bout into overtime. During the first overtime tiebreaker, Hall was able to gain an escape point, which gave him the 5-4 lead. Walz tried to secure an escape himself in the second overtime tiebreaker, but Hall held on for the entire 30 seconds to earn the 5-4 decision and third place finish in the tournament.

"Tanner taking third was huge," Jones said. "He's never beat the Virginia Tech guy and he is very good, I call that improvement."

The veteran Hall finished his second tournament appearance as an All-American and a regular season record of 35-6.

Anthony Valencia (165 lbs. division)

A dominant performance in the first two rounds on Thursday earned redshirt freshman No. 7 Anthony Valencia a spot in the quarterfinals, where he would lose to Michigan redshirt freshman No. 2 Logan Massa.

Anthony’s first match of the tournament showcased a takedown, near fall of four points and a two-point reversal. He defeated Ohio State redshirt sophomore Cody Burcher for the third time this season — a 12-0 major decision. 

Valencia faced the second seed Massa in the quarterfinals, who proved too much. Valencia was held scoreless while Massa scored three takedowns, a pair of escapes and five minutes of riding time — giving him the 9-0 major decision.

Anthony’s first tournament appearance ended on Friday evening after losing to Cornell sophomore No. 13 Brandon Womack in the fourth round of wrestlebacks. He tried making a comeback in the final period, scoring a two-point near fall and takedown to shrink the lead to 7-8, but Womack held on in the last 31 seconds for an 8-7 decision.

Josh Shields (157 lbs. division)

ASU redshirt freshman No. 9 Josh Shields fell to Pittsburgh redshirt freshman Taleb Rahmani during wrestlebacks to end his season, finishing 33-9 overall.

On Thursday, Shields advanced past the first round by defeating Duke redshirt junior Jake Faust by a 12-1 major decision, However, he was unable to keep the momentum going in the second round, losing to Rider University redshirt junior Bryant Clagon in a close 6-5 decision.

Shields was leading 5-4 after he scored a reversal with 1:34 left in the third period, but Clagon countered with a takedown with under a minute left to give him the 6-5 lead. Shields then tried to lock a reversal himself right after, although time ran out. ASU tried challenging the no-call, but the match was awarded to Clagon.

After his second round loss on Thursday, Shields competed in the wrestlebacks on Friday morning for the chance to wrestle for third place. He faced Rahmani in his first match, but fell short and ended his season. 

Josh Maruca (149 lbs. division)

Riding time played against ASU redshirt freshman Josh Maruca, as he lost a 3-2 decision to Lehigh senior No. 10 Laike Gardner in wrestlebacks on Friday morning. The loss concluded his season in his first NCAA wrestling appearance.

Maruca came into the tournament as ASU’s notable underdog when he faced Penn State junior No. 1 Zain Retherford in the first round, which he lost by technical fall 19-2. He won his first bout in wrestlebacks on Thursday evening, but unable to advance on Friday. 


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

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