Undefeated ASU wrestling set to host No. 1 Penn State in Tempe

The Sun Devils will welcome the nine time NCAA champions in Friday's must-see matchup

In the midst of an undefeated 2019-20 season, the ASU wrestling team is set to face its biggest challenge of the year on Friday night.

No. 1 Penn State will be making its way to Desert Financial Arena as part of the second year of home-and-home matchups between the two programs.

“We’ve marked this on our calendar as an important date (in) the history of wrestling for our program and our University,” head coach Zeke Jones said. “I’m excited about our team competing — it’s a big one.”

The reigning NCAA champion Penn State team has a strong reputation as one of the most dominant wrestling programs in NCAA Division I history.

As a team, the Nittany Lions have won nine national championships. Eight of those wins have come in the last nine years under head coach Cael Sanderson, including four straight since 2016.

In addition, the program has garnered a total of 44 individual medals across 30 athletes and holds the NCAA record for most individual champions in a season with five, set in 2017.

“Penn State is what UCLA Basketball was. Penn State is what the (New England) Patriots are now,” Jones said. “If you want to see the best college team in wrestling come to the arena, this would be the one to come to.”

The Sun Devils have enjoyed plenty of success this season and have yet to lose a team meet this fall.

Coming off back to back wins against Augustana and McKendree last weekend, ASU is on a hot streak that has deemed the team a formidable opponent for Penn State.

“Everyone in our wrestling room believes we can win,” Jones said. “On paper, it’s possible.”

Redshirt senior Zahid Valencia and his brother redshirt junior Anthony Valencia, who compete in 184 and 174 lb. weight classes respectively, are centerpieces to the team and will play a big role in ASU’s performance Friday.

Zahid is ranked No.1 in the nation and defeated both of his opponents last weekend, one by way of a pin decision.

Anthony is ranked in the top 10 for his weight class and has notched several extra-point victories already this season.

While definitive matchups are yet to be determined, it has been speculated that Anthony may face off against Penn State’s Mark Hall, who is widely regarded as one of the most fierce competitors in the NCAA this year and in years past.

Hall has numerous accolades to his credit, including a 2017 NCAA individual championship, three NCAA finals appearances and three separate All-American honors.

In years past, Zahid has created a gripping rivalry with the Penn State senior. Most recently, they faced off in the 2019 NCAA title match for the 174 lb. weight class.

Now Zahid, who has since joined a different class, will pass the torch to his brother for what could be Friday’s most action-packed duel of the night.

“I believe (Anthony) could be the best in the world — I’m just making sure he believes in that,” Zahid said. “If he gets off to a fast start, keep the pressure and just continue to score points.”

Anthony has faced Hall in the past dating all the way back to high school and is confident and prepared to take him on for the home crowd.

“I just have to make sure I keep my mind right and stay confident,” Anthony said. “Don’t expect to lose or hope to win … whatever happens happens, but I really believe I’m going to be victorious in this one.”

In last year’s matchup at Penn State’s Rec Hall, the Sun Devils lost by a final score of 3-41 due largely in part to an injured roster.

This year, the team is at full strength and ready to put its best foot forward.

“It was a rough year,” Jones said. “All I kept doing was putting my head down, kept working hard and saying ‘I can’t wait to see all of you guys next year when we put our animals in.’”

Friday’s must-see event will begin at 7:00 p.m. MST in Tempe. The team will then have a few weeks off before heading to Las Vegas to compete in the Cliff Keen Invitational starting Dec. 6.

Reach the reporter at hcroton@asu.edu or follow @thecrote on Twitter. 

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