For the young Grand Canyon University wrestling program, this afternoon’s dual meet at home against Arizona State is a landmark event.
For ASU, it represents an opportunity to prepare for their home opener against No. 8 Oklahoma next week, as they meet GCU this afternoon and then travel to Prescott for a 7 p.m. dual against Embry-Riddle.
“It’s a great learning experience for the coaches and the athletes,” says Sun Devils’ second-year head coach, Shawn Charles, who was an All-American wrestler himself at ASU. “It’s an opportunity to go out there and try some stuff against people you haven’t wrestled before.”
ASU, which is ranked No. 16 nationally in the USA Today/coaches poll, is 3-0 so far against GCU and has won 42 straight matches against Arizona schools. But Charles, the third-year Sun Devil coach, isn’t taking anything for granted and has made a point of saying he doesn’t want to look past either school.
That’s probably good advice going into today’s meeting with Grand Canyon, a program on the rise. The Antelopes are in just their fourth season of competition, but were ranked No. 12 in the pre-season NCAA D-II Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
GCU head coach, R.C. LaHaye, has been building a program that is ready to compete nationally. The Lopes were winless in their first season, had one win their second, and then broke out last year with a squad that went 12-8 and qualified four wrestlers for the NCAA D-II nationals.
Two of those qualifiers became the school’s first All-Americans in the sport, one of them a local product. Ryan Becerra (184), a senior who wrestled at Highland High School in Gilbert, joins Victor Carazo (174) from California as the team’s returning All-Americans.
Being able to face off against a team like ASU just adds to the program’s credibility.
“For us to dual a top-20 team and get them on the schedule is one thing,” says LaHaye. “But we’re looking to knock them off.”
Easier said than done, coach.
Even though the Devils will be starting as many as six newcomers to the program against GCU, they are expected to win their sixth straight season opener. They will be anchored by a couple of veterans, seniors Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins.
Robles has spent his entire career at ASU, while Jenkins is a transfer from Penn State who sat out last year. Both are ranked third nationally in their respective weight classes, Robles at 125 and Jenkins at 157. And both have been invited to participate in the NWCA All-Star Classic later this month.
ASU represents a chance for Grand Canyon’s wrestling program to step up to another level. An upset would catapult them there at warp speed.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/Tim Tushla)