Robles, Jenkins providing foundation for ASU wrestling

The 18th-ranked Arizona State wrestling team is solid at two weight classes this year, with national-caliber talent at 125 pounds and 157 pounds.

But they’ll need some help at the other weights if they want to get past teams like No. 8 Oklahoma.

Anthony Robles, ranked No. 3 in the country by Amateur Wrestling News, pinned the Sooners’ ninth-ranked Jarrod Patterson at 125, while Penn State transfer, Bubba Jenkins, also took care of business in last week’s home opener against OSU in a 7-5 decision over Matt Lester at 157 pounds.

But those wins by the two redshirt seniors were the only bright spots of the day, as the Sun Devils lost the fourth in a row to the Sooners in front of a large home crowd estimated at 800 enthusiastic fans.  Oklahoma, which came into the match with seven starters in the national top 20 and heavily favored, left with a 32-7 victory.

ASU was 2-0 before stepping up to nationally-ranked competition, but the wins came against Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, a Division II school,  and Embry-Riddle University in Prescott, an NAIA member.  It was a huge step to take on Oklahoma.

But Robles and Jenkins added some more glitter to their resumes over the weekend, departing after the Oklahoma match to participate in the 45th NWCA All-Star Classic in Fresno, Calif.  The pair posted dominating victories against top-tier opponents in the prestigious event, presented by the U.S. Marine Corps.

Overall, only two of the 10 matches ended in something other than a major decision, and both of those wins were by the Sun Devils.

And both matches were much-anticipated events on the national stage.

Robles took on No. 4 Zach Sanders from Minnesota.  Through their careers, they have met twice and each has won once.  Sanders won in 2008 at the Las Vegas Invitational and Robles came back later that year to beat Sanders in the semi-final round of the NCAA Championships.

This time, Robles took an early lead with a takedown 24 seconds into the match.  The second period ended with Robles up, 20-2, giving him the win by technical fall.

For the last couple of years, Robles has been one of the more visible faces of the ASU wrestling program.  He’s an enormously popular local athlete, dominating high school wrestling at 112 pounds during his junior and senior years at Mesa High School.

During those two years, he posted a 96-0 record and won two state titles.  He was also the first ‘disabled’ wrestler to win a National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) title.  Robles was born with one leg.

But the sixth-ranked Jenkins is a newcomer to the Arizona wrestling scene.  And a welcome addition to the ASU program.

He had the marque match-up of the day Sunday, going up against the nation’s No. 1 in the 157 weight class, Boise State’s Adam Hall.  The two were 2005 high school national champions, but met for their first college match at the All Star event.  Hall wrestles at 157, but Jenkins just moved up from 149.

Jenkins opened his match much the same as Robles, with a takedown 23 seconds in and finishing with a 12-4 win.

When he left high school in Virginia, Jenkins was the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds and had won the 2006 NHSCA National Championship.  He went on to wrestle for Penn State and was the 2008 national runner-up at 149 pounds before deciding to transfer to ASU for his senior year, which meant he had to sit out the 2009 season.

When he announced his intent to leave the Big 10 school, he got offers from dozens of schools, but chose ASU, which had shown an interest in the young wrestler while he was still at First Colonial High School.

Now, Jenkins and Robles are trying to set the tone for leading ASU to a successful season in their final years of college wrestling.  The loss to Oklahoma told them how far they have to go.

“There were a lot of matches that came down to who wanted to win,” said ASU head coach, Shawn Charles, a former ASU wrestling All-American.  “Their guys wanted to win more than ours.”

But, if the two seniors have anything to say about it, that kind of effort will become a thing of the past.

“We’re a young team,” says Robles.  “We’ll bounce back.”

That rebound starts this weekend, when Robles and Jenkins re-join the team in time for the Sun Devils’ first conference dual of the season when ASU plays host to Cal State Fullerton.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Alex Ryan)