When I received a text about a Division I versus Division II dual taking place in early November, I immediately went to the internet to find proof. There it was, the McKendree University Bearcats were headed to Tempe, Arizona, to wrestle the Arizona State Sun Devils. I was excited; frankly, I always am when I get a chance to break news. But I was excited because as I watch more and more Division II wrestling, I find myself cheering for the potential upsets when they compete against Division I athletes. In a week filled with strong Division II matchups, though, I had to pick this as TheOpenMat Division II Dual of the Week.
In a week, Arizona State will be welcoming Penn State on campus, looking for redemption after taking an absolute shellacking a season ago in Happy Valley. With all eyes on the wrestling world looking at that monster match-up, could the Sun Devils be overlooking a very good McKendree team? It was less than a week ago that the basketball world was turned on its head when Evansville beat Kentucky, could this be another Cinderella in the making? Probably not, but what it will be is a good test for both teams.
When you click on the “History” link on the ASU wrestling schedule page, it goes nowhere. That is because these two programs have never met in a dual format.
When I spoke with McKendree head coach James Kisgen in October, he emphasized how he welcomes competition for his wrestlers. It is rare to see a medical forfeit on the record of a Bearcat; if they enter a tournament, they nearly always wrestle it to completion. Nowadays, that is more the exception for college wrestlers than the rule. He understands that testing his wrestlers early makes them better prepared for the postseason, and that is what it is all about. Preserving your record in November is not going to make you a better wrestler in March. Losing in a tournament early and having to battle back to place does. This will truly be a test for his wrestling program, they are taking a plane three and a half hours West traveling more than 1,400 miles. Then they are taking on a team that should probably finish in the top-10 of the NCAA Division I national tournament this year. If iron sharpens iron, the Bearcats are going to be one of the sharpest teams when it counts this March. I was able to speak with Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones last year at the Midlands tournament and he emphasized: “going fast.” His team has to be comfortable going fast in matches. He likened it to the training that the United States Secret Service goes through driving the Presidential limousine. If you have never had to complete a “J” turn while driving a three-ton vehicle 60 miles per hour in reverse, how will you be comfortable doing it when you have to. This will be one of those times that the Sun Devils can work on going fast. They have a chance to put themselves in uncomfortable wrestling positions. This is their first dual against a non-Division I foe since wrestling NAIA Embry-Riddle in 2010 and it is prep work for the big one next week.
Follow along as we break down the matches, make some predictions, and point at some deeper storylines.