It’s always an interesting story when the past and the present intersect to create an eerie coincidence – especially in the world of sports.
The latest example occurred 1,400 miles from the Arizona State University campus, but linked a high-profile college wrestling career with a coaching career that has turned out to be just as successful.
Almost three decades have passed since Zeke Jones, wrestling in the Sun Devils’ maroon and gold, captured the 118-pound title in a match against NCAA wrestling power Iowa State at Ames, Iowa. Six days ago, Jones returned to the heartland as the head coach of the ASU squad and secured the program’s first victory, 25-14, over the Cyclones in Ames since 1989.
The Sun Devils won seven of the 10 weight classes behind victories by Nikko Villarreal (141), Josh Maruce (149), Josh Shields (157), Anthony Valencia (165), Zahid Valencia (174), Austyn Harris (197), and Tanner Hall (285).
The week prior, the Sun Devils won a pair of individual championships that helped them to a third-place finish at the prestigious Midland Championships in Evanston, Ill.
Once again, another flashback to the past. The Dec. 30 tournament marked just the fourth time the ASU program has had multiple individual champions at Midlands. One of those years was 1989 – when Jones won the 118 title.
This was also the best ASU finish since the Devils won the tournament that year.
Zahid Valencia and Hall won their weight classes, while Shields and Anthony Valencia each picked up third-place finishes. It has been 19 years since the ASU program had four or more podium finishers at the event.
Hall and Zahid Valencia also became the first individual Sun Devil winners at the Midlands in the last 15 years.
After success on the road at Evanston and Ames, the Devils returned home over the weekend to host Cal Poly in their Pac-12 opener. Hall and the Valencia brothers led the way again as ASU collected seven wins in 10 matches and walked away with the 30-15 win.
But it was a couple of local athletes that got the ball rolling. Josh Kramer, a redshirt freshman from Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, opened the dual meet with a win at 125 to give the Devils a 6-0 lead. Another redshirt freshman followed to make it back-to-back wins as Ted Rico from Combs High School in the San Tan Valley took the 133 title. It was Rico’s first win of his college career and Kramer’s first in duals.
The ASU roster this season is littered with redshirt athletes – for good reason. Coach Jones, who was hired in April of 2014, decided to redshirt many from a 2015 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the country, to be able to use them as building blocks for the future of the program.
Jones’ reputation as a both a competitor and as a coach have enabled him to score big in the recruiting wars. A three-time All-American while wrestling for ASU and silver medal winner at the 1992 Olympics, he followed his college wrestling career with an equally-successful rise in the ranks of the country’s best college coaches. He has been on staff at three universities, including ASU, and coached four Olympic teams.
He is also a National Wrestling Hall of Fame member who has enjoyed such a prominent role in the sport that he is widely recognized by just his first name.
The Valencia brothers, who picked ASU over then-No. 1 Penn State, were the first to commit when Jones took over the ASU program. They lead the squad this season with six pins apiece.
Jones took over a tradition-rich wrestling program that has been under-performing in recent years, one that hadn’t had a top-50 finish nationally since the 2011 season.
But his decision to move that 2015 recruiting class to the sidelines for a year could be the key to restoring the program’s lost lustre.
So far, it appears to be working that way.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)