TEMPE – Mullett Arena is best known for its ice and boards, a unique and intimate home to ASU’s men’s hockey team and the Arizona Coyotes.
On Thursday, however, the ice at Mullett Arena will be swapped out with a mat as the ASU Sun Devils wrestling team takes centerstage for its home opener against the No. 3-ranked Missouri Tigers in the first of two home meets scheduled in the new sports complex this season.
“We’re excited to have two matches in Mullett,” Sun Devils wrestling coach Zeke Jones said. “When the Coyotes came here, that changed the dynamic a little bit for wrestling. We’re one big team. We’re just excited to wrestle in the greatest wrestling arena in the United States. Sharing with our hockey brothers is going to be part of our success. Sun Devil hockey is cool and we’re pumped to play in the same place as them.”
The Sun Devils wrestling team, whose current home is Desert Financial Arena, believes Thursday’s location is the next step for a program building buzz with its recent success at a university best known for its football, basketball and baseball programs.
“It’s (Mullett Arena) already creating national exposure through the NHL,” Sun Devils assistant coach Frank Molinaro said. “Now when these top teams come in here and compete against us, that’ll create some more exposure. It’s good and helps a lot.”
Last season, ASU wrestling meets averaged 1,411 fans. That number should surely increase during the Sun Devils’ two meets at Mullett Arena. Through ASU men’s hockey’s first six home games this season – the team’s first at Mullett Arena – there has been an average of 4,035 fans per game, a significant increase compared to the team’s time at Oceanside Arena.
Not only would the Sun Devils wrestling team moving to Mullett Arena attract more fans, but recruiting efforts could also see a boost.
“I think the kids on the team and future recruits will say man this is a cool place to wrestle,” Jones said. “I’m sure we’re gonna have to figure out a few kinks since it is our first match in Mullett, but I do think that as we dial it in it will be the premier place in the United States to wrestle. Kids will love it.”
A new arena is nice but loses its allure if the team does not win. The Sun Devils have won three consecutive Pac-12 championships, and finished fourth in the NCAA championships in the past two seasons.
The Sun Devils’ level of success has been impressive but with the team continuing to improve year after year, the bar is set even higher.
“Every year I’ve been on the team we’ve had amazing talent,” redshirt sophomore Cohlton Schultz said. “I think fourth place the first time was awesome, it felt great. Fourth place the second time didn’t feel as awesome. I think this year, we’re carrying that we want to do a lot better than just fourth place. We say our goal is to be national champions, it’s time to make it happen.”
Familiar faces return to the Sun Devils this season including Schultz, redshirt senior Michael McGee, redshirt junior Jacori Teemer and redshirt junior Brandon Courtney. The team also welcomes an array of new players, headlined by Tony Negron, a transfer junior from Penn State, and Anthony Montalvo, a transfer junior from Oregon State.
“We have some solid transfers on our lineup now,” Schultz said. “It goes to show that a lot of people are seeing what we got going on over here and want to be a part of it. As long as you work hard, and you do your part, you’re gonna be welcomed as part of this family no matter what.
“As soon as you throw on the pitchfork, and you’ve thrown forks up, we’re all on the same team.”
In the Sun Devils’ first meet of the season Saturday, they dominated Rutgers 25-16. However, the Sun Devils’ first true test comes against the Tigers. After losing to Missouri last season, ASU has plenty to prove going into Thursday’s matchup.
A win against the Tigers could provide the Sun Devils with a jolt of confidence that can have a lasting impact on the entire season.
“Missouri is strong,” Jones said. “They’re ranked third in the country. Five returning All-Americans and a national champion in their lineup. They’re the real deal. But that’s why we scheduled them. Time to find out what the Sun Devils are made of.”
Is this the year the Sun Devils take a tremendous jump as a program?
That question remains unanswered for now, but it is clear that the Sun Devils are in prime position to reach new heights with Mullett Arena as their home.
“I feel Arizona State wrestling has never been better,” Jones said. “We have outstanding community support, strong leadership within our administration, and our junior high and high school wrestling is the best it’s been in a very long time. We have a world-class coaching staff and a fall Olympic program training at ASU. These are the ingredients of success and this will put us in a position to compete for a championship.”