By Arman Kassam
No. 24 Stanford men’s wrestling (9-4, 3-1 Pac-12) heads to Tempe, Arizona, this week to compete in the 57th annual Pac-12 Tournament on Saturday, March 9. The tournament — hosted by Arizona State (6-10, 3-1 Pac-12) — will feature 10 wrestlers from five conference schools, each with a chance to make it to the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Cardinal have had a phenomenal season, both in terms of overall record and individual milestones. Stanford achieved a program-best fourth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Ohio, where nine Cardinal wrestlers placed and two secured runner-up titles — only falling to the indomitable No. 6 Ohio State (12-2, 7-2 Big-10).
Other highlights this season included Rico Stormer’s victory over his Crimson alma mater in mid-January. The graduate student claimed a 7-4 win over Harvard’s Leo Tarantino, and as a team, the Cardinal gobbled up the Stanford of the East with a 26-12 finish that included three major decisions and a takedown to boot.
Redshirt sophomore and team captain Nathan Traxler, who is ranked No. 8 in the 197-pound class, has managed the unthinkable with back-to-back-to-back dual victories this season. Traxler leads the team in season wins (26), is third for all-time wins (45) in just his second year wrestling and lost only one dual match at No. 25 Purdue (7-10, 3-6 Big-10).
The team captain, who was also awarded Pac-12 Wrestler of the Week in early January, has participated and placed in three tournaments; he currently holds two second place titles from the Princeton Open and the Southern Scuffle and has a fourth place title from the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite. Breaking records, collecting accolades and leading the team, Traxler is truly having an annus mirabilis.
Though this season has been one for the history books, the ghost of Cardinal past may haunt the squad going into the postseason. The last two Pac-12 tournaments have been handily swiped by the Sun Devils. Last year, Arizona State ended with more than double the points that the Cardinal were able to rake in, and both Oregon State (5-8, 0-2 Pac-12) and CSU Bakersfield (7-9, 2-2 Pac-12) finished ahead of Stanford. This season, the Cardinal beat the Beavers 19-16 on Feb. 15 but were razed by the Roadrunners 20-13 on Jan. 27.
The Cardinal ended up in fourth place at last year’s tournament; junior Gabriel Townsell (125 pounds), redshirt senior Mason Pengilly (133 pounds), redshirt senior Paul Fox (157 pounds), graduate Keaton Subjeck (174 pounds), redshirt sophomore Nathan Traxler (197 pounds) and graduate Nathan Butler (heavyweight) all clinched spots at the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Tomorrow’s competition will be the fourth Pac-12 Tournament appearance for Mason Pengilly, and third appearance for both Gabriel Townsell and Paul Fox. A three-time Pac-12 All-Academic pick and three-time NWCA Academic All-America selection, Fox was recently named the Pac-12 Wrestling Scholar-Athlete for the 2018-2019 season. The award highlights the academic and athletic accomplishments of graduating student-athletes.
With Goliath-like wrestlers like No. 2 Zahid Valencia (174 pounds) and No. 7 Josh Shields (165 pounds), the vengeance-seeking Sun Devils may pose the biggest problem for the Cardinal in tomorrow’s matches.
Though Stanford may have been trampled on by Arizona State in the past, the Cardinal were able to narrowly beat them this season on Feb. 2. Forever seared into the Sun Devil memory is the six-point maneuver that junior Gabriel Townsell managed in the final seconds of his 125-pound match — the final bout of the day between Stanford and ASU that ended up deciding the entire meet. The crowd erupted at Burnham as Townsell prevailed and shattered Arizona State’s lead. The junior is second in all-time wins on the team (54) and was named Pac-12 Wrestler of the Week on Feb. 6.
Catch the first match of the tournament on Saturday, March 9, at 10 a.m. PST at Fargo Arena in Tempe. All-session passes are $30 for adults and $20 for students, youth and seniors and can be purchased at the door or online at thesundevils.com.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.