Arizona State's Jason Tsirtsis seeks redemption in his final NCAA run

By McKenzie Pavacich, Arizona State | March 14, 2018, 2:27 p.m. (ET)

With 16 seconds left in overtime of the 149-pound championship finals, Jason Tsirtsis scored arguably the most important takedown of his career, capping off his redshirt freshman campaign as a 2014 NCAA national champion.


The crowd erupted in applause as Tsirtsis stood up in disbelief before running over to his coaches’ corner and jumping into their arms. His brother and dad embraced each other in the crowd, celebrating the end of an awe-inspiring run at a national title in the best way anyone in college wrestling could imagine.


When recounting that moment, the now-redshirt senior describes it as “a Cinderella Story type of tournament. It was something that I’ll never forget, it was just like all of my hard work my whole life has gotten me to this point.”


In a press conference following his national title match, Tsirtsis answered questions about a rough patch in his season, citing that his career would “not be a positive incline. There’s going to be bumps in the road.”


Looking back, nearly 1,450 days since that moment, “emotional” is still the one word Jason uses to describe his 2014 national tournament run. Three years later, a lot of things have changedhis road was certainly permeated with plenty of bumpsbut one constant that remained in his life is his passion for the sport of wrestling.


Adversity is a term far from foreign in the realm of college wrestling. Upsets occur regularly, injuries cause an abrupt end to seasons and careers; it all comes down to how the athlete responds to that adversity that will make the difference in the legacy he leaves behind. For Tsirtsis, an unparallelled resilience has accompanied him through his six years of eligibility that leaves just as bold of a mark on his athletic record as his accolades do.


Between the months of March and October of 2015, Jason faced more tribulation as a 22-year-old than most people do throughout their entire lives. Tsirtsis fell short of his second national title, placing third at the 149 weight class. He then suffered an injury while training that following summer. Above all, he faced the ineffable losses of his sister and best friend that fall.


“From there, I was somehow supposed to go through a college wrestling season, go to school at Northwestern and be successful... and I just mentally couldn’t do it,” Tsirtsis said.


Jason was put on academic probation for the 2016 spring semester, where he fell short in a class, leading to his dismissal from Northwestern. Upon notice of his dismissal, Tsirtsis had an extremely small window of opportunity with limited time and resources to transition from one program to another.


“I either had to sit out and lose my last year of eligibility, or transfer and leave the school I was at for four years, and my whole life was there. So it was a hard decision, but I couldn’t give up that last year,” Tsirtsis said.


Tsirtsis made the decision to continue on with the one thing that remained a beacon in the darkest time of his life. He knew the process of gaining an extra year of eligibility would not be easy, and was far from guaranteed, but he found a home at Arizona State and ultimately was granted one last chance to break through the setbacks he’s faced, and use that momentum to end his collegiate career on a high note.


“Physically and mentally he was in a tough spot,” head coach Zeke Jones said. “Anyone would’ve been in his situation and most people wouldn’t have made it, but he knew that deep inside he had what it took to build himself back up. He’s done the work. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished in a short amount of time at Arizona State.”


Throughout the entirety of his career, Jason’s coaches have contributed immensely to his success. From when he started wrestling at the age of four through his time at Northwestern, and even while at ASU, Jason’s older brother Alex has been there every step of the way.


“Alex has invested so much time in his wrestling, I’m sure Jason would tell you the same: he probably wouldn’t be who he was today without the help of his brother,” said Dawn Tsirtsis, Jason’s mother.


When the time came for Jason to make the decision to transfer to ASU, he was leaving more than just his family and home behind. He was leaving one of his most influential coaches behind as well. The dedication and prominent passion the ASU coaching staff exhibited made the decision much easier for Jason.


“I can’t really express how grateful I am with how patient [ASU] has been. When I first came here, I told [the coaches] that I was far from being mentally stable, I was still dealing with depression and everything,” Tsirtsis said. “I hadn’t committed yet. They could’ve said they don’t want to have to deal with all of that, but they told me that they were going to support me, and they haven’t done anything but that.”


With the unwavering support of his family and new coaches and teammates, Jason was able to pull himself out of the rut the devastation in his life created, to grow not only as an athlete, but in a number of personal ways as well.


“We decided to make a long-term commitment to Jason because above all, like all people, he’s a human being first. [He] deserved the opportunity to work his way back from a difficult family tragedy and the first place we started was with Jasonthe person,” said head coach Zeke Jones.


Jason has his eyes already set the future: a future which doesn’t exclude wrestling in any foreseeable time.


“I plan on continuing with freestyle, I’m excited to close the book on [folkstyle wrestling] and finish out on a strong note. I know nothing lasts forever, so I’m just trying to enjoy it. I can appreciate it more and enjoy it more because I do realize how precious things in life can be,” Tsirtsis said.


He plans to continue with his training to gear up for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. After that milestone, he’ll decide whether he wants to continue on with competing, or begin to give back to the sport that gave him so much.


“It’s inspiring to know that I can turn any sort of negatives that I had in my career, and I can turn those into positives for other people. Having the opportunity to show kids the lifestyle and how passionate you can be about something… it’s exciting to be able to use my life experiences to help them,” Tsirtsis said.


In his final week of eligibility, Tsirtsis will look to build on his already impressive resume, which includes a Ken Kraft Midlands title, two Big-10 titles, a Pac-12 title, and two All-American honors on top of his 2014 national title.


“My goal is to win another NCAA title. I ultimately know that this is only going to happen if I wrestle with a focus on scoring points and constantly trying to improve and wrestle through every position. So that is a smaller goal going into the tournament,” Tsirtsis said.


With an army of support behind him, Tsirtsis is ready to jump head first into the one tournament any wrestler works his whole life toward. Standing on the podium by the time Saturday evening rolls around is no easy task, but it is a feat which he plans to tackle this week in Cleveland at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.