Arizona State's Zahid Valencia became the 11th Sun Devil to win a national wrestling championship when he cruised through the 174-pound bracket at that NCAA tournament in Cleveland and took down defending national champion Mark Hall in an 8-2 decision in March. We caught up with Valencia, a redshirt junior, to talk about his goals for the upcoming season, his experience on the big stage and the importance of his Arizona State teammates in his journey to the top.
Here's everything you need to know about Zahid Valencia's wrestling mindset, in his own words.
What it was like to win his first national title:
Valencia: It was a lot of fun, I was pretty much focused the entire three days I was there, taking it match by match. I knew Mark Hall was going to be tough opponent, but I beat him earlier year at All-Stars, so I was pretty confident in myself, especially with my training going up to the NCAA tournament. So after getting that win, I think the best part was just giving my coaches a hug and then going down to the stands and giving my dad and my mom a hug. That was a lot of fun.
What it's like to enter the season as the defending national champion:
Valencia: I don’t really take on a lot of pressure because wrestling is what I love, no matter what happens win or lose, I’m enjoying the journey. I am looking forward to competing for the Hodge Trophy this year, I think that’s one of my goals right now.
What it's like to compete against his friend Mark Hall from Penn State:
Valencia: We both have our dreams and our goals that we want to accomplish, and so we both know that one of us is going to get it, but at the same time we don’t let that get to our friendship. We still have a good time wrestling, he’s a really cool guy. I just think with this focus on the wrestling part, we leave it at that, and not let it get to our friendship.
What it's like to wrestle with his brother at Arizona State:
Valencia: He’s a year older than me, but I wrestle with him. It’s been fun, we’ve been doing it since we were two or three years old so having him there as a teammate and looking out for each other, for me, it’s been great. Usually we both compete [over the summer too]. This year he got a little hurt, so we wasn’t able to compete and try out for the World team and stuff, but usually every summer we are working together making sure that we can compete at our best at every tournament.
What he sees as his greatest strength on the mat:
We are...— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) October 10, 2018
Valencia: Just continuing to keep my conditioning at a high level, a high pace of wrestling and trying to score as many points as possible, I think that’s where I get a lot of my opponents tired. I go to the point where I’m almost breaking every day at practice, so that way it just builds up my conditioning every day. In a situation in a match where I’m tired, I can still push through, and I’m used to that kind of stuff.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity