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Wrestling gears up for Pac-10 tourney

Freshman Jake Meredith struggles to bring down his Minnesota opponent during a match earlier in the season at Wells Fargo Arena.(Erik hilburn/The State Press)

The talking is almost over, and the anticipation is nearing its end.

For the ASU wrestling team (5-8, 3-4 Pac-10), Sunday is a day to perform or go home.

That’s because the Sun Devils have finished their 2008-09 regular season campaign, leaving only the Pac-10 Championships and the possibility of the NCAA Championships in their crosshairs.

“It’s the fun part now,” ASU coach Thom Ortiz said. “We represent the Arizona school, and we’ll see what happens now.”

For the Sun Devil freshmen, Sunday will be their first taste of do-or-die wrestling.

As many as six ASU freshmen could hit the mats for their postseason debut, as well as sophomore heavyweight Imanibom Etukeren, who will get his first taste of March wrestling on Sunday.

Ortiz said experience gained against tough competition early in the season has helped the team prepare for the postseason.

“We’ve already been to Iowa and Iowa State. "I don’t think you can get much harder than that,” the coach said. “Harder than that would probably be the NCAA tournament itself.”

Ortiz said the team’s participation in its three tournaments, namely the Midlands Tournament in December, was like participating in “mini NCAA tournaments.”

“That’s why we do it during the season,” he said. “They went through a lot.”

For nationally ranked Sun Devil sophomores No. 12 Anthony Robles (125) and No. 6 Chris Drouin (141), the Pac-10 is not just a shot at glory but also a chance at an NCAA birth.

“Their goal is to take first,” Ortiz said of Robles and Drouin.

Winners of their respective weight class are automatically placed in the NCAA Championships, while the remaining wrestlers have to wait to be selected by a committee at the end of the season.

The format for the Pac-10 Championships is double elimination.

The tournament may also serve as a reunion for former Sun Devil sophomore Brent Chriswell, who transferred to Boise State during ASU’s temporary suspension of its wrestling program last summer.

Chriswell is currently ranked first in the Pac-10 and fifth in the nation at 197 pounds.

“I wish him the best of luck,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz and his team plan to rest a bit this week after an intense session on the mats in practice last week.

Sun Devil wrestlers have been studying tapes of potential matchups, while taking in some last minute tips in what for some will be the final week of the season.

“The only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourselves,” a smiling Ortiz said. “This is the best part, and they should manage it. We’re going to go in there and do the best we can.”

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