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ASU wrestling head to Pac-12s to defend title

Arizona State's Josh Maruca looks to finish off a takedown against Pitt's Robert Lee at Gammage Audutorium. (Courtesy Arizona State sports media relations)

The Arizona State wrestling program is back in the national consciousness as the Sun Devils have been ranked in the top 10 nearly all-season long.

There was a time where Arizona State was the power of the West and were always a top 10 program heading into the conference tournament and national tournament.

Then the Arizona State athletic department made the decision to cut the program in 2008.

The wrestling community in Arizona, and the strong Sun Devil program stepped up to make sure that the elimination of the program never came to fruition after funding an $8 million endowment.

While the program was saved it hurt the national reputation, and recruiting, and the program started to slide until four years ago when former Sun Devil and Olympic coach Zeke Jones was brought in to revitalize the program.

It seems eons ago as the Sun Devils head into the Pac-12 Tournament at Oregon State this weekend with the expectation of defending their league title and qualifying as many individuals as possible to the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland from March 15-17.

The last time Arizona State, which has 17 Pac-12 titles, won back-to-back league titles was 2005 and 2006.

The Sun Devils hope to surpass last year’s five league champions and finish with more than last year’s two All-Americans in Zahid Valencia and Tanner Hall, both of whom are still part of the powerful ASU lineup.

They enter the Pac-12s with seven of their 10 wrestlers ranked in the top 15 with Valencia (first at 174), Josh Shields (fourth at 157), Hall (sixth at HVY) and Jason Tsirtsis (ninth at 149) ranked in the top 10.

Tsirtsis was a two-time Big 10 champion and NCAA champion (2014) for Northwestern before transferring while 125-pounder Ryan Millhof was an All-American for Oklahoma in 2015-16.

The Pac-12 was allotted 22 automatic bids out of 283 slots given to the eight conferences with 47 more at-large bids.

Only two of the seven other conferences have less qualifiers in the Eastern Wrestling League (18) and the Southern Conference (12).

The Big 10 has far and away the most automatic qualifiers at 80 with Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association second at 47.

The Pac-12s have four weight classes (141, 149, 165, 184) where only the champion qualifies for the NCAAs with the runner-up hope for one of the at-large bids.

The top four at 125 and 197 earned automatic bids for the most out of the Pac-12, while 157 and heavyweight will take three to Cleveland with 133 and 174 will take the top two qualifiers.

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

Pac-12 qualifiers for NCAA by weight class

125 – 4

133 – 2

141 – 1

149 – 1

157 – 3

165 – 1

174 – 2

184 – 1

197 – 4

HVY – 3

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