Before the season, Arizona State wrestling looked to march its way through the schedule.
Retaining most of the core from the team that finished fourth at the 2022 NCAA Wrestling Championships, ASU was in great shape.
But then season-ending injuries came, taking out Jesse Vasquez (141), Jacori Teemer (157), and Kordell Norfleet (197) from the lineup.
ASU felt banged up in parts of the season, but regardless of the injuries, the Sun Devils hold a legitimate chance for capturing its fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. The wrestling program already holds 21 Pac-12 titles and leads all ASU programs in conference titles.
Here are key things to know before ASU takes the mat at Stanford for the Pac-12 Championships at 7 p.m., Arizona time, on Sunday.
Strength of schedule prepared team for postseason
With the team’s limits tested, it was up to veterans and newcomers to uphold the program’s legacy and carry on through the intense regular season against the top teams in the nation. The Sun Devils suffered its first conference loss in six seasons against Cal Poly but defeated non-conference powerhouses in Missouri and Lehigh.
“This is the hardest schedule I’ve had since being in college,” redshirt sophomore Cohlton Schultz said. “It’s the first time I’ve even taken a loss before the national tournament this year, so having a difficult schedule is really good for all these guys. Now there’s no mystery whenever we see that stiff competition, nothing is going to surprise us.”
Finding new faces
Without Vasquez, Teemer, and Norfleet, ASU has looked within its depth to fill the vacancies. The constant adversity opened the door for true freshman Emilio Ysaguirre (141) to take the stage and pull off a stunning 10-4 upset over No. 4 Brock Hardy of Nebraska on Feb. 19.
“The thing throughout the year is finding a way to win throughout those injuries. I think being banged up and hurt is part of it and making the decision to not have that as a reason to lose is important for us,” redshirt sophomore Kyle Parco said. “We have a reputation of being good, we have to uphold that reputation. We don’t let pressure get to us, but we treat it as a privilege to be one of the best teams on campus and we take it seriously.”
What also helps is ASU still has a bevy of experienced wrestlers competing on Sunday. Of the 10 competing, four have Pac-12 individual titles and three have won multiple. Brandon Courtney (125), Michael McGee (133), Parco (149), and Schultz (HWT) have all earned first round byes in their bids to repeat.
“A lot of the guys, this isn’t their first rodeo. We know what it takes to win and we know how to get there,” Schultz said. “We know what it feels like to be at our best and compete at the highest level. It’s nice having that experience and hopefully it rubs off on the younger guys so we have a great tournament and make a run this year.”
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz.