The Arizona State wrestling program has added a big-name opponent to this year’s schedule as it continues with its rebuilding process.
The University of Nebraska is down on the calendar for a Feb. 4 meeting in Lincoln. A scheduled January match-up was scheduled last year at ASU, but was canceled due to a winter storm so bad that Sky Harbor canceled flights in and out of Phoenix. So this will be the first time the schools have met since the 2003-04 season.
The Sun Devils’ second-year head coach, Shawn Charles, is attempting to bring the program back from the doldrums of the past few years, taking over for Thom Ortiz who lasted eight years.
A team with Nebraska’s reputation gives the schedule a little more weight, but the Huskers didn’t provide much competition last season. The Big 12 program that has 10 national champions in its resume wasn’t the same last year, compiling a 9-11 record and managing just a fifth-place conference finish.
The year before, the Huskers went 17-3-1 and took the conference crown. So last year may not be an indicator of the kind of foe they will present to the Devils this year.
Charles was one of the most successful wrestlers during his years at ASU as a two-time Pac-10 champion, four-time All-American, and national runner-up twice. During his stay in Tempe, the Sun Devils won the Pac-10 championship three times and were the national runner-up in 1990.
Now, he’s trying to instill that winning philosophy in a team that went 5-8 overall and finished fifth in the conference, coming on the heels of a fourth-place and fifth-place finish the two years prior to that.
His cornerstones for the program re-launch this year are returning senior, Anthony Robles, a two-time Pac-10 champion at 125, and a transfer senior from Penn State, Bubba Jenkins. Jenkins was the 2008 NCAA runner-up at 149 and ranked among the top 10 nationally. He sat out last year.
Nebraska is the only newcomer to the schedule this year. ASU is one of two Pac-10 teams on the Huskers’ schedule. Oregon State and Nebraska meet up on a regular basis each year.
The Devils will have a good chance to get the new season off to a positive start as they get underway with two road duals against Arizona teams. They travel to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix Nov. 13 for an afternoon match and then head up the hill to Prescott to take on Embry-Riddle in the evening.
ASU is 57-9 all-time against teams from within the state and last year beat both GCU and Embry-Riddle.
But next up is Oklahoma, a Nov. 18 match in Tempe. That match will determine whether the Devils have made the necessary improvements this year.
The Sooners were ranked No. 4 when the two teams met last year in Stillwater and came away with a 21-9 win. The Devils won just three of the 10 matches.
This year, the Devils will have the home-crowd advantage.
And they’ll have Bubba.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)