Some have called it the toughest seven minutes in competitive sports.
Requiring the utmost in brute strength, physical stamina and tremendous focus, the sport of wrestling offers no bargains.
And it’s these attributes that the members of the ASU wrestling team continuously work to have. Out of the ashes from a 2007 season — the Sun Devils went 9-8 (3-5 Pac-10) — and more importantly surviving a chaotic suspension of their entire program, ASU wrestlers are fervently ready to take the mat.
“We’ve just been preparing all summer,” sophomore Anthony Robles said. “We’re all excited to get going. Especially since the program did get dropped. We really want to go out there and prove that we belong.”
Last season, Robles went 25-11 (11-3 in duels) and was the Pac-10 Conference runner-up for the 125-pound weight class, one victory away from becoming an All-American.
Sophomore Chris Drouin, who in 2007 went 21-16 (8-8 in duels), was also a Pac-10 runner-up, though he competes out of the 141-pound weight class.
Drouin and Robles rank No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, in their weight classes.
While this leadership and talent cannot be overlooked, there are eight other weight classes for Sun Devil coach Thom Ortiz to fill. Of the remaining starting positions, half are filled by freshmen and none are filled by seniors.
“I’m not worried about it at all,” said junior wrestler Thor Moen, who will start in the 197-pound weight class. “Everyone’s been working just as hard.”
Aside from Robles and Drouin, Ortiz will be looking to the Moen to provide leadership.
“The kids realize how hard Thor Moen wrestles,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got three captains on this team: Robles, Drouin, and Moen. We focus on that, those three are tough. And Thor … he’s going to go hard every time,” he said.
Drouin said Moen commands his teammates respect.
“When he speaks you’d better listen, [or] Thor is going to lay down the hammer on you,” Drouin said.
Still, ASU’s squad is full of inexperience. But it appears the feeling amongst teammates and coaching personnel is that youth yields more to possibility than it should to pessimism.
Maybe they have a reason for such a positive outlook.
Of the four freshmen expected to start, only one (174-pounder Eric Starks) has not had a redshirt season.
Kyle DeBerry (165-pound class) was a four-time Arizona state high school champion. Vicente Varela (149-pound class) did the same in New Mexico, while Michael Swigart (157-pound class) placed three times at the Colorado state championships.
And the one true freshman? Well, Starks is also a two-time State Champion in Washington.
“I’m pretty satisfied with all the freshmen,” Drouin said. “I see success from a lot of these guys.”
This season, however, will be tough for each of the team’s wrestlers.
“We have one of the toughest schedules in the county,” Ortiz said. “Of the top 25 teams ranked right now, we’re gonna see every one of them. It’s an opportunity to do better.”
After opening its season against UC Davis team on Saturday, ASU travels to Portland State before a very tough road trip.
On Nov. 21, Ortiz and company travel to Iowa City, to face No. 1 Iowa.
The expected attendance for the meet is more than 15,000 and the stadium is already sold out.
Two days later, the Sun Devils will be in Ames, Iowa to face No. 2 Iowa State.
Adding to the strength of their schedule will be the Sun Devils’ three tournaments in the month of December.
The first, the Las Vegas Invitational, features seven of the top 15 teams in the nation and takes place Dec. 5-6.
Going from sin city to the biggest little city in the world, the squad travels to Reno on Dec. 18. There, ASU will participate in the Reno Tournament of Champions. Finally, the team will head to Evanston, Ill. on Dec. 29-30 for the Midlands Tournament.
“I know one thing: we’re going to give our best every time we step on that mat,” Ortiz said. “These are some tough kids. I believe they’ll be ready to perform. It’s not a right to be in college athletics, it’s a privilege.”
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