There was a sweet irony to Arizona State‘s recent huge victory over wrestling’s No. 1 team in the nation, Penn State, which broke the Nittany Lions’ 60-match win streak.
But there are probably just three people who realized the deeper meaning hidden in the huge upset. That would be head coach Zeke Jones and brothers Anthony Valencia, and Zahid Valencia.
And you’d have to go back five years to uncover the significance of the improbable win.
It was 2014, when the Valencia brothers were still in their junior year at St. John Bosco High School in California. That was the year they committed to wrestle for ASU.
It was a huge recruiting win at the time for newly-hired Coach Jones, who was just 70 days into a rebuilding project for a moribund Sun Devil wrestling program. The brothers were both ranked No. 1 in the nation in their respective weight classes and were coveted prizes in the college recruiting wars.
Here’s the irony: At the time they made their commitment to join Jones’ program they had narrowed their lists of college suitors to ASU and…yep, Penn State. The Nittany Lions were the No. 1 team in the nation at the time and their program was reaching legendary proportions. Today Penn State dominates the sport, winning eight of the last nine national championships.
But the brothers chose to come to Tempe.
Last year was the first time since joining the ASU program that the brothers would be part of a team trying to match up to Penn State. That meeting didn’t end well, a 41-3 loss at University Park.
But the then-No. 5 Sun Devils avenged that debacle four weeks ago by upsetting the Nittany Lions, 19-18. This time the dual was held at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena, the second part of a home-and-home arrangement with Penn State.
Ironically, neither brother actually wrestled in the event that ended Penn State’s attempt break the modern-era record for consecutive wins, 69, set by Iowa. Anthony, who is ranked No. 8 at 174 lbs., wasn’t entered, and Zahid won his match at 184 by forfeit.
Zahid, who took a 15-match win streak into the meet, was scheduled to wrestle Shakur Rasheed, the No. 2-ranked at that weight. It would have been the first time the two top wrestlers in that weight class would have met, but Penn State withdrew their star performer without explanation.
The Penn State victory was followed by the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, where Zahid won his third individual title at the event by earning five straight bonus-point victories, and Anthony finished in fifth place at 174.
Now, the squad gets nearly a month off from competition, giving them time to savor their win over the top team in the nation and enjoy their current ranking as the No. 4 team on that list. That team ranking (NWCA coaches poll) is the highest of any ASU team in the last 21 years.
When the 5-0 Sun Devils return to action on Jan. 6, they will get another chance to take down a top-10 team. They travel to Columbus to meet No. 7 Ohio State.