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ASU wrestling looks to reaffirm status among nation’s elite

Sun Devil wrestlers mix experience with youth as they begin pursuit of NCAA title

Wrestling vs Missouri

ASU redshirt freshman Brandon Courtney takes down his opponent as ASU faces off against University of Missouri in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.

ASU wrestling kicked off its 2019-20 season Friday with an intrasquad scrimmage, highlighting a number of the team’s top contenders along with a host of fresh faces. 

The scrimmage gave Sun Devil faithful their first look at the bevy of national title contenders lining ASU’s roster as the team boasts what should be one of their strongest top-to-bottom rosters in recent memory. 

With a challenging schedule on the horizon punctuated by a late November matchup with a loaded Penn State squad, ASU is looking to hit the ground running as they begin their pursuit of a national title. 

“I think that it showed that we’re a better team than we were last year at this point,” head coach Zeke Jones said of Friday’s scrimmage. “I like our conditioning level, I like our strength level. I think technically we’re ahead of where we were last year at this point. So I think overall I liked what I saw, but we definitely have some improvement to make.”

The team will be led by brothers Zahid and Anthony Valencia, two dynamic wrestlers with legit championship aspirations. 

Redshirt senior Zahid is already one of the country’s best, finishing last season with a decisive takedown of Penn State’s Mark Hall to claim the NCAA title in the 174-pound weight class. He comes into this season as one of the most decorated athletes in ASU history, last year becoming only the tenth Sun Devil to earn All-American honors three years in a row.

Expectations could not be higher for Zahid as he enters the year as the consensus number one wrestler in his weight class in the country according to Trackwrestling, WIN magazine, FloWrestling and TheOpenMat.

Junior Anthony does not enter the season with the same lofty expectations as his brother but has his eyes on a similar prize.

Hampered by injuries that forced him to redshirt last season, Anthony looks to return with a vengeance as one of the team’s top options in the 165-pound weight class. One of the top recruits in his weight class coming out of high school in 2015, he has worked tirelessly with his brother to regain his form and join Zahid atop the NCAA standings.

“No one competes in the room like they do,” Jones said. “You wouldn’t think they’re brothers, you would think they’re enemies.”

The duo’s determination is personified by their work in practice, where the two wrestle against each other despite their difference in weight class. Anthony specifically has placed a high priority on these training sessions as he continues to work his way back to health, vowing to improve his conditioning to previously unseen levels. 

“My goal throughout the season and during preseason is to train hard in my conditioning where I can go the full seven minutes without getting tired at full speed,” Anthony said. “I should be able to go my hardest from the beginning all the way to the end, so that’s what I’ve been training for.”

Despite an imposing number of upperclassmen populating their roster, ASU will still rely heavily on a talented crop of freshman wrestlers. The team boasts an astounding 11 true freshman, headlined by Cohlton Schultz who was named the pound for pound top recruit in the nation after a dominant high school career that saw him lose only two matches and win four straight Colorado state championships.

“I feel like we have a great upper class right now that is helping the lower class,” Anthony said. “All the freshmen that are coming in, they’re starting to understand how we run this program. We’re like the role models right now, we’re teaching them how this team works and so far, they’re doing a great job, being respectful and trying to get better just like all of us.”

As Jones works to integrate the underclassmen into his rotation, he is well aware of the areas in which the team needs the most help. Anchored by Zahid, Anthony and graduate student Tanner Hall, Jones is confident in the abilities of his upper and middleweight classes. 

It’s the lightweights, a group disproportionately occupied by underclassmen, that in Jones’s opinion will dictate how this season plays out for the Sun Devils. 

“I feel confident the upper weights are doing their job,” Jones said. “They’re seasoned veterans, very well established and they’re comfortable in our arena. However, that freshman group hasn’t ever felt the cool air of our arena … they’re used to wrestling in small little high school gyms. Now you’re in Desert Financial Arena, where it’s big time.”

ASU’s season kicks off on Nov. 9, when they travel to Troy, New York, to face off against the Purdue University Boilermakers and the University of Virginia Cavaliers before taking part in the Journeyman Collegiate Classic. 

Their first home match will not take place until almost a week later, when the Sun Devils host the Augustana University Vikings on Nov. 15.  

Reach the reporter at or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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