The 2022 Arizona State wrestling team celebrates after finishing forth at the 2022 Division I Wrestling Championships in Detroit, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Wrestling (@ASUWrestling).
A lot has changed over the past five seasons at Arizona State University, but Zeke Jones and Lee Pritts have remained at the helm of its steadily-improving wrestling team. Highlights of the last five years have included:
- Zahid Valencia’s back-to-back NCAA titles in 2017 and 2018.
- The rise of Brandon Courtney.
- The introduction of Cohlton Schultz.
- A steady flow of All-American honors for numerous Sun Devil grapplers.
Now let’s examine how ASU has faired at the NCAA Championships since 2018:
In 2018, the program was starting to build notoriety. It had wrestlers like Anthony and Zahid Valencia, Josh Shields, Jason Tsirtsis, and Tanner Hall on its roster. ASU had eight out of ten competing at nationals in Cleveland. A trio of ASU wrestlers (Z. Valencia, Shields, and Tsirtsis) walked away All-Americans. The Maroon and Gold finished in 10th place, but Zahid Valencia was a bright spot. He claimed the national title at 174 over Penn State’s Mark Hall and was only a redshirt sophomore.
Zahid Valencia was back and looking for more in Pittsburgh. He was joined by three other ASU wrestlers, including former All-American Joshua Shields (165), redshirt-junior Josh Maruca (149), and graduate student Christian Padilago (157). Against No.1-seeded Mark Hall, (Zahid) Valencia was able to get it done once again and pick up his second crown. Adding onto Valencia’s title, the Sun Devils were able to pick up two a pair of All-Americans (Christian Pagdilao at 157 and Josh Shields at 165). As a team, the Sun Devils finished in twelfth place.
The 2020 postseason marked a rough year for the Sun Devils and the rest of the wrestling world, as the 2020 Division I National Championships never got underway due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six Sun Devils were set to wrestle that year at the NCAAs in Minnesota, but never got their chances to scrap. Still, ASU won the PAC-12 Championships, crowning five individual champions.
With an inexperienced but ready-to-go roster, the Sun Devils traveled to St. Louis hungry for a chance win it all. Eight ASU wrestlers competed at NCAAs while five walked away All-Americans – Brandon Courtney (125), Michael McGee (133), Jacori Teemer (157), Anthony Valencia (165), and Cohlton Schultz (285). These five would become the new generation of ASU wrestling and would lead the team heading into 2022. Courtney became a wrestler on many radars as he picked up a second-place finish in the 125, losing narrowly to now three-time NCAA champ Spencer Lee of Iowa. The program finished with 74 total team points, which landed ASU in fourth and sent them to Tempe with a team trophy.
Five All-Americans, a repeat fourth-place finish, and 66.5 team points is what the Sun Devils accomplished earlier this month in Detroit. Seven Sun Devils took the trip up north, and Cohlton Schultz was the standout, finishing as a runner-up to Minnesota’s Gable Steveson. Schultz did, however, pick up the Gorrian Trophy, too, for his two pins in 2:17. Behind Schultz, Courtney and Teemer picked up their third All-American honors. Fresno State transfer Kyle Parco and Old Dominion transfer Michael McGee picked up their second top-eight national finish. Norfleet and Anthony Valencia also competed but were knocked out before the medal round.
Back-to-back podium finishes at NCAAs are where Sun Devils have remained for the past two years. With Gable Steveson moving onto the WWE, Cohlton Schultz might become the favorite in the 285. Additionally, Brandon Courtney, Michael McGee, Kyle Parco, Jacori Teemer, and Kordell Norfleet are still set to compete for the Maroon and Gold in 2023.
With the last five seasons as evidence, it’s safe to say that things are trending upward for Zeke Jones and the rest of his Sun Devils squad. And, in 2023, it’s safe to expect more of the same.