By Jason P. Skoda
CLEVELAND – The tunnels leading to the floor arena at Quicken Loans Arena are tight enough as is, but when there is history involved it can make it feel like a pair of ill-fitting jeans after a big meal.
Uncomfortable, but the feeling eventually fades.
Arizona State’s Jason Tsirtis felt it Thursday night before stepping on to the mat in front of 18,680 fans for the second round of the 2018 Division I Wrestling Championships.
As he was warming up and preparing for his match nearby was Northwestern coach Matt Storniolo and its trainer, not to mention his opponent Ryan Deakin, who came visited Northwestern as a recruit when Tsirtis was an All-American for the Wildcats.
There was a time when Tsirtis was a two-time All-American for the Wildcats and Storniolo was the assistant at Northwestern, the worked with each other every day and were side by side before Tsirtis walked on the mat.
They were again. Only there was no talking, no pumping up or handing off of warmup clothes. They were on opposite sides.
“It was a little weird,” said Tsirtis. who transferred to ASU after his junior year when bad grade got him suspended at Northwestern. “Storniolo was usually the guy I am handing my clothes to and slapping hands with. They were there, but I want with them.
“It’s weird. It happens. I’m happy with what’s going on right now.”
Tsirtis was one of two Sun Devils to win in the second round in six attempts to advance to the quarterfinals. He did it by getting a take down in the final minute, and he to hold on the final seconds where a stalling call was possible. Storniolo challenged a call, but the call went Tsirtis’ way.
He knows a little something about winning at this time of the year after winning a national title as a freshman and finishing third as a sophomore.
“He’s an expert at this tournament,” Arizona St. coach Zeke Jones said of the four-time qualifier. “You have to perform at a high level here and he understands the dynamics. He knows how manage a match, work on the edge and that’s a lot of what this is. He pulls out of those close matches.”
He was joined in the semis by Zahid Valencia, the top seed at 174, as he stayed on course with a 18-5 win over the 16th seed Christian Brucki of Central Michigan to improve to 29-0 heading into Friday’s quarterfinals.
He faces Navy’s Jadaen Bernstein, the eighth seed, on Friday morning.
The tough loss came at 157 when fourth-seeded Josh Shields lost 9-6 to South Dakota St.’s No. 13 Nate Zilverberg, who avenged two 4-0 defeats to Shields this season.
“He got caught on that first takedown and tried to force the action and got taken down again,” Jones said. “He had that kid on the breaking point so (Shields) had to push there and get him there. He kept reaching and got penalized for it.”
Junior heavyweight Tanner Hall, the eighth seed, lost 6-4 in three overtimes to Oklahoma St.’s Derek White. Tanner was called for stalling point and locking hands in the extra periods.
“There were a lot of penalty points called and that generally means the wrestlers aren’t in control of the match; other people are,” Jones said. “Let the guys wrestle and figure it out. When other people get over involved it is too bad, but (Hall) has to manage those things, too.”
A couple of the Sun Devils found out the importance of getting a seed within the top 14 because they fought hard to win in the first round but came up against second-seeded competitors in the second round.
Senior Ryan Millhof, the 15th seed at 125, was down 10-3 when he injury defaulted to Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello after tweaking a bad left ankle.
Sophomore Anthony Valencia, No. 15 at 165, was unable to do much against undefeated David McFadden of Virginia Tech’s David McFadden in a 14-3 result.
The Sun Devils went 6-2 in the first round with only Ali Naser (133) and Kordell Norfleet coming up short in the first round.
Both were eliminated in the consolation round.
The lone Arizona prep qualifier is Horizon product Garrett Ryan, a four-time national qualifier for Columbia. He lost to Hall in the first round and came back to beat Utah Valley’s Dustin Dennison 9-3 to stay alive for Friday’s action.