Wrestling to open season in Michigan
The Arizona State University wrestling squad will open up the 2011-12 campaign at the 20th Annual Eastern Michigan Open in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Saturday, Nov. 5. The Sun Devils, who finished sixth at last year’s NCAA Championships, will look to get a look at where they stand early in the season with a very young roster. The EMU Open has a great tradition as being a season opener for some of the top programs over the past two decades and will give the ASU team a solid early season test.
• ASU enters the season ranked unranked
• Head Coach Shawn Charles opens his third season as head coach
• ASU will host the NWCA All-Star Classic at Wells Fargo Arena on Nov. 21.
• The Sun Devils return one All-American this season in heavyweight Levi Cooper
• Cooper (HWT) and Eric Starks (174) both enter the season ranked in several rankings in their respective weight classes
• Nine Sun Devils on the preseason probable starter list will make their Division I wrestling debuts this season
IN THE RANKINGS - TEAM
The Sun Devils will enter the season unranked for the first time since the 2008-09 season. This comes despite finishing sixth at the NCAA Championships last year, though the loss of national champions Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins and the very young team the Sun Devils will be fielding are likely to blame for their omittance. Despite the youth and loss of veterans, though, the Sun Devils did receive some votes in the NWCA/USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Seven opponents on ASU’s schedule can be found within the NWCA/USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll that was released on Thursday. No. 3 Oklahoma State, who the Sun Devils are set to face in Stillwater on Jan. 20. Slightly more surprisingly would be ASU’s early season test against Lehigh at the Northeast Duals in Troy, N.Y. in just a couple weeks as the Mountain Hawks enter the season ranked No. 6. Other top 25 teams on this year’s slate include No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 18 Oregon State, No. 20 Iowa State, No. Stanford and No. 25 Penn, the last of which ASU will also face at the Northeast Duals
IN THE RANKINGS - INDIVIDUAL
According to Amateur Wrestling News, two Sun Devils will enter the season ranked in returning All-American heavyweight junior Levi Cooper (8th) and senior Eric Starts at 174 pounds (17th). Cooper and Starks were the only Sun Devils to be acknowledged in any of the ranking services with Cooper being listed as high as fifth (D1CollegeWrestling.net) and Starks as high as 12th (W.I.N. Magazine).
FINDING HIS HOME
Levi Cooper’s early career was not an easy one. The redshirt junior out of Hubbard, Ore., started as a freshman at Portland State in 2008, compiling an 11-15 record before the program was discontinued at the conclusion of the year. Cooper would go on to compete at CSU Baskersfield the following year but found himself transferring to Arizona State after readshirting his year with the Roadrunners. As a sophomore last year, Cooper burst onto the scene to the tune of an eighth-place All-America finish at last year NCAA Championships and is the Sun Devils’ lone returning All-American and one of just nine upperclassmen on the roster as he gets set to compete in a second year for a program for the first time in his career.
A look at ASU’s probably starters heading into the season gives one every indication they need as to why the Sun Devils aren’t receiving much love in the preseason rankings. Up to nine student-athletes could make their debuts as a Division I competitor this year. With only 10 weight classes, that tells you all you need to know about this years team. Among those expected to start this year are eight redshirt freshman: Dalton Miller (125), Shane McGough (133), Nathan Hoffer (141), Joel Smith (149), Hans Rasmusson (157), Derek Felton (165), Bobby Bowman (184) and Tommy Burriel (197) will all likely see their first action in the coming weeks. Victor De Jesus is a junior college transfer who could also make an impact at 149 pounds
DON’T COUNT THEM OUT
Just because there is tons of youth on the 2011-12 roster doesn’t mean there is any shortage of talent. The redshirt freshmen all had a year to learn and grow under the likes of the now-departed Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins and saw just what it takes to be a top-10 caliber team. Six of the eight redshirt freshmen won at least one state title while in high school and the two that didn’t (Tommy Burriel and Hans Rasmusson) were both runners-up at their respective state championships. De Jesus was the two-time junior college national champion at 149 pounds.
THE NWCA ALL-STAR CLASSIC
The 46th NWCA All-Star Classic presented by The Marines will be hosted by the Sun Devils this season and will take place on Monday, Nov. 21 at Wells Fargo Arena. Tickets are available through the ASU Ticket Office (480-727-0000) and will be a hot commodity as the event is one of the most prestigious on the wrestling circuit every season, pitting top-10 opponents from across the country against each other in a n epic early-season event. Last year, Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins became the 21st and 22 Sun Devils, respectively, to compete in the event. Both dominated their competition en route to foreshadowing victories. No Sun Devils were selected for this year’s All-Star matches but some will see action in the undercard events.
Mention has already been made of the eight redshirt freshman who could be starters this year, but that’s just the start oh how young the Sun Devil roster is this year. Of 31 student-athletes, just nine are upperclassmen and only four are seniors. There are a total of 11 redshirt freshmen on the team and 10 true freshmen, making up two-thirds of the ASU roster. The brand news faces on this year’s team include: Kory DeBerry (Tucson, Ariz.), Jake Gentzler (Andover, Kan.), Jacob Graham (Phoenix, Ariz.), Rush Hall (Hoover, Ala.), Mat Malnoske (Anchorage, Alaska), Preston McCalmon (Lafeyette, Ga.), Lucio Murillo (Tucson, Ariz.), Kevin Radford (Fayetteville, N.C.), Alex Schmersahl (Centralia, Mo.) and Blake Stauffer (Neosho, Mo.).
Four individuals on the roster are entering their final seasons in the Maroon and Gold. The list includes 2011 NCAA participants Eric Starts and Jake Meredith (2011 Pac-10 Champion) as well as Arizona-native Kyle DeBerry. David Prado, who should find a role as a starter at 125 pounds this year is also set to graduate.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
In the history of the program, 29 different families have supplied the Sun Devils with multiple wrestlers, including a pair of brothers this year and a second-generation Sun Devil. Brothers Kyle and Kory DeBerry are the 27th set of brothers to be members of the Arizona State program with Kory joining his senior brother after winning four consecutive state titles at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, a feat Kyle accomplished at the same school just five years earlier.
The 2011-12 season will see the addition of two additional coaches with Travis Pascoe joining the staff as an assistant coach, replacing Ben Askren, while recently-graduated national champion Anthony Robles will be a part of the team in a volunteer coach role while he continues his post-collegiate career of motivational speaking. Pascoe had served as a volunteer coach at Oregon State for the past five seasons and will bring a wealth of knowledge to the team’s heavyweights, having been an All-American and hour-time NCAA qualifier during his collegiate years at Nebraska.
• Cain Velasquez will look to defend his UFC heavyweight title in just over a week as he competes for the first time since defeating Brock Lesnar for the belt over a year ago. Velasquez will step into the Octagon with Junior Dos Santos in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 12 for the main event in the first-ever UFC on Fox broadcast.
• A week after the Velasquez fight, Dan “Hendo” Henderson will be the main event draw against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139 while Ryan Bader will fight in the Spike TV undercard against Jason Brilz
• Aaron “A-Train” Simpson won his bout against Eric Schafer in UFC 136 just under a month ago while Clifford Starks won his UFC debut on Oct. 29 against Dustin Jacoby. Both wins were by unanimous decision.
NEXT TIME OUT
The Sun Devils will host their home opener next weekend as they welcome in-state programs from Embry-Riddle and Grand Canyon University to Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday, Nov. 13. The Sun Devils have been impressive in their duals with other schools from the state of Arizona, holding an all-time record of 62-9-0. What is more impressive is the fact the Sun Devils have won 42 in a row against Arizona schools with its last loss coming in an 18-17 loss at home to Arizona on February 13, 1973. The double dual will get underway at 2 p.m. starting with Embry-Riddle to be followed by the GCU matchup at 4 p.m.