ASU wrestling poised for success with young incoming talent

The Sun Devils have the No. 1 ranked recruiting class and are eager to prove why they belong

ASU wrestling's season starts Sunday against West Virginia at the West Virginia Duals with a lot of optimism generated by its No. 1 incoming recruiting class and second-year head coach Zeke Jones. 

The team was in the middle of the pack last year in most tournaments and was average at meets with a 6-5 record.

The team bolsters a freshman class that has over 20 wrestlers, including Zahid Valencia. The team is expecting some of the fresh blood to sit out for the first season and build up their craft, something Valcencia expects to have a big payoff in the immediate future.

“This year we’ll be good but I think in the next few years, next year especially, we’ll be really good,” Valencia said.

The team still has some familiar faces, with 14 juniors or seniors returning, and Jones, who won an NCAA championship on the 1988 ASU team. He feels like this team has a lot of potential to be great but he knows that they’re young and will need to get them adjusted to their new lives as Sun Devil wrestlers.

“I think we're learning, we're improving, we're getting better,"Jones said. "We know where we got to get better at and we’ll keep working hard." 

Fans were first exposed to the 2015-16 Sun Devils at Riches Wrestling Complex at the intrasquad meet on Oct. 30. Those in attendance saw a team with a good mixture of youth and experience.

That was a bit of shock for someone like 285-pound heavyweight Tanner Hall, who hasn’t wrestled since 2012 due to a mission in Uganda and issues with the NCAA.

“It’s been a while but it’s a lot of fun to get back out there in front of a crowd and wrestle and have some fun,” Hall said.

Hall is expected to be one of the main contributors for the new-look Sun Devils. Jones envisions a group of men that are improving on all levels of the college experience and beginning to bond together as teammates.

“I think they’re improving on the wrestling mat, they’re doing well in the classroom and they’re bonding,” Jones said. “They’re becoming a unit, they like each other, they get along and they have high goals and ultimately that’s what they want to be, they want to be best in the country, best in the world.”

Among the most physically demanding of sports, wrestling is a grind for four months — but to Valencia, it’s something that he thinks is worthwhile.

“Just thinking about the goal that we set for ourselves,” Valencia said. “We have high goals, we want to win an NCAA championship, so just pushing each other, keeping our motivation just keeps the drive in us.”

For these athletes, the goal is simple – win a national title. But they also understand that it does take a lot to build up to that championship level.

“There are other goals that go along with that,” Hall said. “Just can’t stick that on the totem pole and not have little sub-goals along the way, but the end-goal is that, is to go and win four NCAA titles and have some fun.”

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