ASU wrestling hopes talent leads to first NCAA title since 1988

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All-American comeback Anthony Valencia (right) grapples with Kendall Norfleet (left) in the Maroon & Gold melee. Valencia enter the season as one of the leaders of the squad trying to retain their Pac-12 championship title. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

All-American Kyle Parco (left) grabs Mykey Ramos (right) leg. Parco transferred to ASU from Fresno State, joining a loaded Sun Devil roster. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

TEMPE – As members of the Arizona State wrestling program stretched out on the floor of the Desert Financial Arena, they were relieved to be greeted by the roar of a crowd – not the silence of the cutouts cardboard-based.

The Sun Devils hosted their annual Maroon & Gold intra-team scrum last Friday, giving the program the opportunity to assess each wrestler before embarking on a season filled with championship aspirations.

Last season, when fan presence in arenas was limited due to the pandemic, ASU won its fourth Pac-12 championship in five years and placed fourth at the Division I wrestling championships.

The program has six returning All-Americans – Brandon Courtney, Michael McGee, Kordell Norfleet, Cohlton Schultz, Jacori Teemer and Anthony Valencia – five of whom are looking to retain their individual Pac-12 championship titles.

In addition to a strong return group, the program brought in another All-American transfer to Fresno State Kyle Parco.

If they are to pass the milestone and win a national title, the Sun Devils will need to draw on their experience and talent.

“The reality is it takes about seven or eight All-Americans, about two or three finalists and about one or two champions to win the tournament on average,” said assistant coach Frank Molinaro. “When I look at our roster I think we can have eight All-Americans, I think we can have two or three finalists and I think it’s possible to have multiple champions.”

Molinaro knows what it takes to achieve the goal of the program.

During his wrestling career at Penn State, Molinaro was on two NCAA championship teams and won the national title at 149 pounds in 2012. He went on to help the Nittany Lions win another NCAA title in 2016 as an assistant coach.

With a loaded top-down roster, the Sun Devils could hoist a national championship trophy at the end of the season.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be aiming for the national championship or the bust,” Molinaro said. “If we don’t win that’s good, but with the squad we have I can realistically see six guys who can advance to the final right now. If half of those guys make it to the final and half of them win, we would be in contention for a title.

All-American return Kordell Norfleet (right) in action during the Maroon & Gold melee. Norfleet believes he and the team have unfinished business after finishing fourth in last season’s NCAA tournament. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

While last season’s performance at the NCAA tournament was the best result on the program since 1995, the Sun Devils feel like they are only scratching the surface.

Norfleet, a junior redshirt from Chicago, entered the NCAA tournament last year with an unbeaten record, but fell to Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi in the quarterfinals. Norfleet is now heading into the season motivated by unfinished business.

“I hit the mental reset button,” Norfleet said. “Last year, as a team, we finished close to where we wanted to end, but for me it was far from the case. This sport is a sport of humility. It sent me to a place where I just had to think about what made me dance, what brought me to Arizona State and try not to reinvent the wheel but go through redesigns and stuff. . I’m excited to show the world this year what we can really do.

InterMat, a respected wrestling content website, has projected ASU to finish third in the NCAA tournament, and bringing back a large number of All-Americans has got a lot of enthusiasm for what the Sun Devils can do.

“I feel like this is a good start to this season,” said Valencia, a senior redshirt from Bellflower, Calif. “Coming back with all these guys, we’re good to go. We’ve been anxious for a while. I think we’re going to start strong, and we’re going to continue and finish strong.

There’s a buzz as final season approaches at Desert Financial Arena before the team moves to the new multi-purpose arena, and fans can expect the Sun Devils to put on a show.

“I’ve seen a lot of different styles, but this is one of the most attacking teams I’ve been around, and it’s only the first week of wrestling,” said Molinaro. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting year. We put a great product on the table. You can go to a lot of different wrestling matches and see a lot of guys standing up, but we’re a very offensive team. “

The team’s first scrum of the season provided a brief glimpse of that buzz.

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MMA legends Henry Cejudo and Tito Ortiz, father of first-year wrestler Jake Ortiz, were in attendance for the Maroon & Gold intra-team scrum and addressed the lively crowd from the stands during the event.

“It lets you know you’re on the right track,” Norfleet said. “When you have ‘Triple C’ (‘The King of Cringe’) and ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ stops to support you, that means you are making noise the right way. manner.”

It’s clear that something is brewing in Tempe.

After a full year of cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19 protocols, the Sun Devils are excited to once again perform in front of the Inferno – not cardboard cutouts – once again.

“Dude, that’s a relief I’m telling you that,” Norfleet said. “Hear some noise, get that adrenaline rush, sink that anxiety. Believe it or not, we hear some of it. You always know who’s here, who isn’t there, who’s looking, who isn’t looking. Having that extra presence – that extra voice, that extra push – it really sets us up for games more than the fans might know. We’re definitely excited. We got it back here.

Friday’s scrum was a great way to signal the start of the season, but the program understands that the work is just beginning.

The All-Americans will need to stay disciplined to return to the NCAA tournament, and their experience will trickle down to the rest of the team.

“I feel like a leader for them,” said Valencia. “I’ve been here for a while, so I help guide them in the right direction. Obviously they’re going to make their own choices, but I feel like I’m stepping in and doing that part does a lot and changes the attitude of the team.

Although he still doesn’t consider himself a veteran, Norfleet feels obligated to help in any way he can to contribute to the program’s strong sense of unity.

“I know the guys ride with me,” he said. “Their confidence in me makes me want to help and try to push them as hard as I can. We all lean on each other. From 125 to heavyweight, through programming, we have all supported each other. If anything, I’m familiar with the system, the practices, the ups and downs of the year. I’m just offering this voice to continue. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We are keeping this message stable.

Everything is on deck for the Sun Devils, and this could be the year they return to the top of the mountain and win their first NCAA title since 1988.

“The biggest thing we have to do is believe,” Valencia said. “I think we have enough experience, I think we are good enough to win a national title, but I think we all have to believe in it. If we believe we can win, we will win.

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