No. 9 ASU wrestling prepares to peak in postseason

The Sun Devils head to Oregon to defend their Pac-12 title on Feb. 25

The No. 9 Sun Devil wrestling team is preparing to peak for the Pac-12 tournament this weekend and eventually the NCAA championships. 

Wrestling is as much a strategic sport as it is physical, and any head coach that has accomplished anything in his career will refer to peaking.

Peaking means reaching top physical shape just in time for the most important time of the year: the post season.

“We’ve been a very good team in January and February,” assistant coach Chris Pendleton said. “This is where people don’t realize that the season is long.”

With ASU gearing up to defend its title at the Pac-12 Championships, it is up to head coach Zeke Jones and his staff to make sure his team peaks at the right time.

Senior Ali Naser (133) a wrestler who has made strides of improvement all season long, said after ASU’s dual meet against Stanford the team's mentality changed.

“Ever since we came back from Midlands, we changed our training and everyone’s been working hard,” Naser said.

No. 9 ASU wrestling will be in top shape physically and mentally when they journey to Oregon for the Pac-12 championships.

Heading into his third season as head coach, Jones wanted to find the right balance of a tough schedule and consistent improvement.

After the Sun Devils took a tough loss at the hand of Lehigh, the Sun Devils realized they had weaknesses that needed improvement, such as scoring off the bottom.

Going against tougher opponents like Lehigh toward the end of the season gave the team a chance to address some of these issues.

“Having tough competition at the end of the year is important," Jones said. "That's something that we didn't have last year."

Last season, ASU wrapped up its three final regular season matches facing off against three straight teams with losing records. However, the Sun Devils still went on to win their first Pac-12 championship since 2006.

Jones wants to build a culture of winning national championships, but described the Pac-12 tournament as a stepping stone towards the NCAA tournament.

Jones said he isn't satisfied with conference titles and said that Pac-12 titles should be "automatic in our book.”

“I know that our coaches are pretty good at getting everyone prepared,” redshirt sophomore Josh Maruca (149) said. “We should be good going into the Pac-12’s and NCAA’s.”

Pendleton believes that the leadership of the veterans contributes largely to the team’s consistent improvement.

“I think for our team, when they get to see our big dogs have that (leadership) attitude it’s contagious,” Pendleton said. 

As the team attempts to repeat as the Pac-12 champion, five wrestlers are preparing to win a second consecutive Pac-12 individual title.

Redshirt sophomores Josh Shields (157), Zahid Valencia (174), Anthony Valencia (165), Tanner Hall (285) and Maruca all brought home the gold in 2017 and will be expecting to do the same in 2018.

All of the wrestlers on the current roster have made clear strides in improving their game, and Shields believes he is a different wrestler than last year’s conference title season.

“The thing that I believe if you want to have success in the post season is that you have to continue to attack and adapt,” Shields said.

ASU has five more days to prepare before it enters battle with five other teams all with the same goal in mind.

Jones wants his team to give full effort in the last month of the 2017-18 season, no matter the result.

“When the season is over, it’s over,” Jones said.

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