No. 14 ASU wrestling hosts No. 13 Illinois, Anthony Valencia still thriving

Three top-20 matchups are set to take place Sunday at 165 lbs., 174 lbs. and heavyweight

No. 14 ASU wrestling will return home Sunday to host No. 13 Illinois and improve its record against ranked opponents.

Illinois (4-2) will conclude its three-game home stand against Michigan State on Friday and then travel to Tempe to battle the Sun Devils (7-3). They combined for 59 points in their two matches at home, allowing only 18 points.

The Fighting Illini squad is anchored by No.1 redshirt junior Isaiah Martinez, who is 17-0 this season, followed by No. 6 redshirt senior Zane Richards, who is 16-2. The team is 1-2 versus ranked opponents, but are coming off a signature 34-6 win over No. 12 Michigan at home – they look to continue building on that momentum when they face ASU on the road.

ASU suffered a tough 24-11 road loss to No. 17 Stanford last Sunday, giving up its third loss of the season. All three losses have come to ranked opponents, where they only scored a combined 40 points.

The team has only accounted for three major decisions – all three by brothers Zahid and Anthony Valencia. After Sunday’s loss, head coach Zeke Jones acknowledged how his team cannot lose focus during pivotal matches.

“We need to wrestle on the edge of the mat and at the end of the period," Jones said. “We just weren’t stingy enough.”

Assistant coach Chris Pendleton believes the recent loss and return to Tempe have added “fuel and intensity” to ASU’s training this week.

“We have had a great week of training,” Pendleton said. “After concluding a grueling travel schedule, it has been really nice to stay home and get solid training in.”

The Sun Devils will look for redemption against a hard-nosed Illinois team and getting back on the win column.

The match will be held at Wells Fargo Arena Jan. 29 at 4:00 p.m. MT.

Takedown of the Week: No. 9 Anthony Valencia continues to improve

Since his loss to Iowa State’s redshirt sophomore Logan Breitenbach, Valencia (24-4) has gone on a seven-match win streak and racked up Pac-12 player of the week honors along the way.

In an email, Valencia said he was nervous and had little confidence at the beginning of the season, but he revamped his poise as the season progressed.

“Now I’m wrestling with fun instead of fear,” Valencia said. “Throughout the matches I have won, I begun blocking out the thought of ‘losing’ and simply wrestling with joy, comfort and the love of the sport.”

The 165 lbs. phenom began his weekend with a remarkable win via pin-fall in less than two minutes over North Carolina’s redshirt sophomore Jack Clark. He followed this performance with an impressive 6-2 decision over Stanford’s No. 20 redshirt junior Keaton Subjeck on Sunday.

Below is a list of his last seven opponents:

• Def. Cal Poly’s Luke Wilson (Jr.), pin :43

• Def. Bucknell’s DJ Hollingshead (So.), tech-fall 20-5

• Def. Campbell’s John Weiss (R-Fr.), pin 5:47

• Def. Oklahoma’s No. 13 Yoanse Mejias (Jr.), major decision 13-3

• Def. North Dakota State’s Andrew Fogarty (R-Fr.), tech-fall 18-3

• Def. North Carolina’s Jack Clark, pin 1:57

• Def. Stanford’s No. 20 Keaton Subjeck, Dec 6-2

Despite exhibiting tremendous consistency the past couple of weeks, Valencia’s streak will be on the line this Sunday. He faces No. 1 redshirt junior Martinez, in what should be a thriller between two top-10 wrestlers at the 165 lbs. division.

“I have to wrestle my own style and be aware of the things he does,” Valencia said. “I’m excited for this match, and I’m pumped to get some points for my team.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.

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