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Behind heroic performance from Townsell, Stanford upsets Arizona State in home dual meet

No. 25 Cardinal topple No. 9 Sun Devils in a last-second, jaw-dropping finish


No. 25 Stanford (7-1, 1-1 Pac-12) triumphed over No. 9 Arizona State (4-9, 1-1 Pac-12) in a dual meet unlike any other. Last Saturday, No. 20 junior Gabriel Townsell, wrestling in the 125-pound class, scored a six-point move in the final match of the afternoon that stopped the Sun Devils from taking their first win in Cardinal territory since 2013.

Although Stanford has had a fiery season so far, spirits were running low after the Cardinal fell to CSU Bakersfield (5-7, 2-1 Pac-12) last Sunday. The 13-20 decision came about after dropping six matches, one of which was lost with takedown points. Gabriel Townsell, No. 15 redshirt sophomore Requir van der Merwe (149 pounds), redshirt senior Paul Fox (157 pounds), No. 9 redshirt sophomore and team captain Nathan Traxler (197 pounds) were all able to score victories — but it wasn’t enough. The previously indomitable Stanford squad suddenly had their mortality revealed to them, and what once seemed like a probable victory over the Sun Devils turned into an uncertain possibility.

The Cardinal walked into the match against ASU having won against every ranked opponent in dual meets this season, including No. 11 Northwestern (3-8, 1-5 Big-10) and No. 22 Utah Valley (9-11, 0-5 Big-12). Arizona State, however, is a behemoth of a team. ASU has titans like No. 2 Zahid Valencia and No. 5 Josh Shields — wrestling in the 174 and 165 pounds, respectively. Valencia won the NCAA tournament last year, was named the fourth-most dominant wrestler in the NCAA and has won nearly every single dual meet match this season with a major-decision margin. Shields won the Pac-12 championship last year, ended as an All-American and finished second this year at the Cougar Clash national tournament in Virginia. Needless to say, Saturday’s matches against Valencia and Shields opened up like a story of David and Goliath.

Stanford claimed the first three matches of the day to take a 10-0 lead. Redshirt senior Mason Pengilly won by major decision in the 133-pound class, junior Brandon Kier triumphed over Cory Crooks at 141 pounds and Merwe won a 4-1 decision against Josh Maruca at 149 pounds. Merwe, dubbed the “South African Tornado,” showcased his prowess by turning precarious positions into outright advantages and never, ever letting his opponent escape for extra points. The Cardinal were hitting the Sun Devils in their weak spots, claiming victories where there were no ranked opponents to be found.

The first loss was inflicted by the Sun Devils’ No. 17 Christian Pagdilao, who took down Dominick Mandarino after the Stanford wrestler hit a decrescendo in energy in the second period. The match went into overtime after Pagdilao tied it up 9-9, and by then, Mandarino was already bust. This loss was followed by yet another to Shields and then another against Valencia. Fifth-year Rico Stormer, wrestling at 174 pounds, did pose a problem for Valencia though; the Sun Devil got called for unnecessary roughness twice in the match. Another loss was followed by a win for Traxler in the 197-pound class against Keavon Buckley, tying up the score of the meet 15-15. Traxler has not lost a dual meet match this entire season and is currently leading the Cardinal in pins. In the second-to-last match of the afternoon, redshirt freshman and heavyweight Haydn Maley held out against Brady Daniel and claimed a 5-2 win.

Although the Cardinal were leading the score 18-15, the Sun Devils were leading in other stats. If Gabriel Townsell gave up the final match to tie up the score 18-18, ASU would have won over a slim performance margin. Stanford’s worst nightmares were nearly confirmed by Townsell’s poor performance in the first two periods. The pace of the meet was slowed down and his opponent, Brady Daniel, got the better of the Cardinal after securing valuable escape points, taking a 4-2 lead. The clock was running, the crowd was getting restless, and it seemed that Townsell had already exhausted all of his energy reserves. A minute, then 30 seconds, then only 10 seconds remained in the third period. But Townsell was able to conjure a miracle that saved the day. He hoisted Daniel up in the air with only seconds left in the period and dropped his opponent to the mat to score six points in the process. The crowd erupted. The air was electric. In the final moments of Saturday’s match, Stanford persevered for a 21-15 victory and their third dual meet win against a matched opponent this season. It was as though the wrestling gods descended to the mortal plane to tell the Cardinal, “my friends, you bow to no one.”

Next, Stanford hits the road on Friday, Feb. 8, for a dual meet against Purdue in Indiana at 4 p.m. PT.


Contact Arman Kasam at armank ‘at’

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Arman is a North Carolina native who loves rap, maps, and Lord of the Rings. He doesn’t know much about sports and yet he writes about them.