College wrestling in AZ gets jump-start at ASU duals

Last weekend’s double duals at Wells Fargo Arena provided an early look at the strength of the college wrestling programs in Arizona.

Arizona State hosted the event and took on Grand Canyon University and Embry-Riddle simultaneously.  The Sun Devils came away with a sweep, but not before the other schools showed they could hold their own.

Embry-Riddle is an aeronautical university in Prescott and is not an NCAA school.  Grand Canyon is an NCAA Division II program.  But both took the Division I Sun Devils to the mat… so to speak.

The match with Embry-Riddle was close, all the way up to the heavier-weight classes, which were the final three matches of the day.  ASU held just a 13-10 edge before Bobby Bowman (184 lb.), Tommy Burriel (197), and Michael Hawkins (Heavyweight) asserted themselves by pinning their respective opponents to close out the win.

It was the first loss of the season for the Eagles, who were coming off a win over Southern Oregon in an attempt to begin rebuilding after a 4-6-2 season last year.

Grand Canyon won four of 10 matches in the other dual against ASU, losing 27-16, despite being without a couple of its top wrestlers.  Madison Gambrell, an NCAA qualifier last year, was unable to compete at 141 because of an injury.  And two-time All-American Victor Carazo, who wrestles at 174, is out of the line-up until after the Christmas break.

The ‘Lopes had much better success than Embry-Riddle in the big-boy classes.  Celic Bell won in a 13-5 major decision over Burriel, and Brett Sanchez earned an 8-5 win over Bowman.

However, in the heavyweight class, where both wrestlers were nationally-ranked, Levi Cooper picked up the win for ASU, edging Jordan Johnson, 3-2.  Cooper is ranked No. 8 in Division I and Johnson comes in at No. 5 in D-II.

“We found ourselves in a dog fight in both those duals,” said ASU head coach, Shawn Charles, who just completed his second season at the helm.  “And it’s only because those guys have good programs.”

This will be an interesting season for the Sun Devils because it will be the first in a long time that they haven’t had Anthony Robles to depend on for consistent wins.  Robles, who gained national attention for his ability to compete at an elite level despite having just one leg, graduated as the 2011 NCAA Champion at 125 pounds.

Robles went undefeated during his senior season, running up an incredible 36-0 record and winning his third consecutive Pac-10 title.  His 122 career victories put him at No. 8 on the ASU all-time list.

The Sun Devils finished sixth at the NCAA Championships, with a 5-13 dual-meet record.  They begin the 2011-12 season unranked.

Meanwhile, Grand Canyon has been developing into a national power under head coach, R.C. LaHaye, who has been molding the program for the past four years.  Last year, they won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title and compiled a 17-4 record.  The 17 wins were the second-most in the nation.

They are currently ranked No. 5 in the nation.

LaHaye had five All-Americans on that 2010 squad and has two of them back, Victor Carazo at 174 and Teddy Bristol at 157.

In the West Region 4, GCU is ranked No. 2 behind Nebraska-Kearney, and have wrestlers ranked either first or second in nine of 10 weight classes.

The ‘Lopes don’t have a home match until Dec. 31.  That’s when they will find out just how good they are this year.  No. 1 Newberry and No. 2 St. Cloud State will be in town to compete in the Grand Canyon Duals at the school’s new arena.

“We are very excited for this season,” says LaHaye.  “As long as we can stay healthy, our potential is off the charts.”

(Photo: GCU Athletics)