Wrestle mania: Sun Devil wrestling has own version of March Madness

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Zeke Jones #9 Sun Devils head to the NCAA Championships on March 15th in Cleveland. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Zeke Jones #9 Sun Devils head to the NCAA Championships on March 15th in Cleveland. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

March Madness might not happen for the Sun Devils basketball team but inside the ASU wrestling room it’s full speed ahead.

The Sun Devils are coming off winning back to back Pac 12 championships on Feb. 25 and are loading up for a run at a national title May 15-17 in Cleveland at the NCAA Tournament.

“The best way to get them ready is to make it harder in the wrestling room than it is when you compete,” said Zeke Jones, ASU’s Head Coach. “Everything they will see, feel, touch, smell, they will have done before they get to Cleveland.”

Jones had six wrestlers win Pac 12 individual championships, Senior Ali Naser (133), redshirt senior Jason Tsirtsis (149),  redshirt sophomores Josh Shields (157), Anthony Valencia (165) and Zahid Valencia (174), and freshman Kordell Norfleet (184). ASU is currently ranked 9th in the country and hopes to add another championship banner to the wrestling room campus. 

“We’re friends outside of the wrestling mat but on the wrestling mat we’re warriors and we’re going to battle against each other,” said Josh Shields, who wrestled for third place at the 2016 NCAA Championships. 

“I have the mind set that no one is going to stop me, no one is going to beat me.  And I know that Anthony, Zahid, Jason Tsirtsis, Maruca, guys like that, they also have the same mind set.”

Shields addressed the Sun Devils wrestling team when AZ Family visited with the team. The Pennsylvania native started wrestling when he was four.  The redshirt sophomore already sounds like a coach.

“Whenever you’re out here in the wrestling room, you have to give everything that you have,” said Sheilds. “You cant be worried about getting tired.  I like to say that you fail forward.  When you fail it’s just an opportunity to grown and however you respond to that failure is how good you’re going to be.”

Jason Tsirtisis could provide the story of the tournament.  He won the national title as a freshman at Northwestern and finished third as a sophomore.  The redshirt senior has had to overcome a series of tragedies.

“His sister was killed in a car accident his junior year. His best friend died his junior year and then a month later his college wrestling coach was let go,” said Jones. 

“Went through a rough patch, struggled physically and mentally and didn’t place that year. Needed a new start, Arizona State became his new home… last tournament of his college career and wants to repeat as an NCAA champ like he was as a freshman.

Then there’s the case of Zahid Valencia. He was on pace to complete the an undefeated season before being stopped by Penn State’s Mark Hall in the national semifinals. Valencia had a takedown waved off when video review showed Hall’s chin strap over his mouth.  A point was taken off the board and Hall added a late takedown to win 4-3.

“Obviously it hurt,” said Valencia, who beat Hall in a November rematch. 

“I think it gave me more drive. It just fueled me more, try to become more dominant in my style of wrestling. It is what it is. There’s not anything I can do about that match.  The only thing I can do is look to the future and try to get three more titles.

Zahid and his brother Anthony will spend the next week working together in the ASU wrestling room. They’ll take the mat in Cleveland next week in front of 17,000 fans and try to claim ASU's first team title since 1988.

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