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ASU wrestling progressing but Jones’ expectations higher

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Arizona State won its second straight Pac-12 title behind six champions and eight total NCAA qualifiers. (TheSunDevils.com)

The transformation is still in progress but a big hunk of it has been restored.

When Zeke Jones took over the Arizona State wrestling program, he wanted to bring the Sun Devils back to prominence.

It had to start with the Pac-12 level first.

Once the conference power, when the Sun Devils won 11 conference titles from 1985 to 1998, Arizona State stayed a top team but lost its total dominance of the west.

That appears to be changing as the Sun Devils won its second straight Pac-12 title to give the program its 20th overall and 18th in the Pac-10/12.

“It takes a community to build a program and our support system is fantastic,” Jones said after Sunday’s conclusion. “We need to continue to surround our athletes with people who care about them.”

That’s why the transformation is still continuing as the Sun Devils head to Cleveland for the NCAA wrestling championships March 15-17 at Quicken Loans Arena.

Jones has spoken about getting back to national prominence since the day he left the U.S. Olympic team to take over the Sun Devils.

They’ll head to Ohio with competitors in eight of the 10 weight classes as they finished with six Pac-12 champions, a runner-up and a third-place finisher with the idea of cracking the top five at the NCAAs with mostly underclassmen.

The champions were Ali Naser (133), Jason Tsirtsis (149), Josh Shields (157), Anthony Valencia (165), Zahid Valencia (174) and Kordell Norfleet (184) while Ryan Millhof (125) finished second and heavyweight Tanner Hall, a champion last year, finished third.

Only Naser and Tsirtsis are the only seniors of the eight NCAA qualifiers as Arizona State looks to better last year’s 14th place finish at the NCAAs and break in to the top five for the first time since 2002-03.

This is probably the program’s best since the late 1980s, including the national championship team Jones was apart of 30 years ago in 1988.

“You never really know, but we got a great jumpstart on that recruiting class that was No. 1, which is all these sophomores that you see like Shields, Anthony, Zahid, and Tanner was in the group as well,” Jones said. “That group really propelled us right out of the gate. Like with anything, I don’t think even Penn State is satisfied. We’re are not satisfied until we can get on top of that podium.

“Until then we are going to keep striving.”

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

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