ASU Heads to National Wrestling Duals

Jan. 16, 2001

This Week:
The ninth-ranked Arizona State wrestling squad (4-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-10) will look to bounce back from its first dual loss of the season, as the Sun Devils travel to the Cliff Keen National Wrestling Duals this weekend hosted by Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center. The two-day affair is a double-elimination bracketed tournament in which the nation's top 10-man teams compete against each other in a dual meet format. Preliminary rounds begin Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8 a.m. (MST), with semifinals to follow at 7 p.m. The tournament continues Sunday, Jan. 21 with consolation rounds at 10 a.m. and finals at 1 p.m.

A Closer Look at the National Duals:
The Sun Devils will be among a 16-team field in which 12 are ranked among the top-25 Division I wrestling squads in the nation according to the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association poll released Jan. 10. Those teams participating at the National Duals in addition to ASU are No. 13 Edinboro, No. 19 Hofstra, No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Iowa State, No. 12 Lehigh, No. 7 Michigan, No. 2 Minnesota, NAIA Champion Montana State Northern, Div. III Champion Montclair State, No. 8 Nebraska, Div. II Champion Nebraska-Omaha, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 1 Oklahoma State, host Penn State, No. 22 Virginia Tech. The top eight seeds of the tournament will be determined by the top eight teams in the last NWCA poll released Wednesday, Jan. 17. The seeded teams will draw from the remaining eight teams to determine their first round opponents. The only team ASU has faced in a dual competition this season is Oklahoma, with the Sooners emerging victorious 20-12.

Probable Sun Devil Lineup:
125: Chris Knox, RS-Fr. (1-6)
133: #13 David Douglas, Jr. (12-4)
141: #3 Eric Larkin, So. (9-1)
149: Dana Holland, Jr. (13-6)
157: #16 Rocky Smart, So. (15-5)
165: #4 Steve Blackford, Sr. (18-2)
174: Curtis Owen, Jr. (11-10)
184: #10 R.D. Pursell, Sr. (16-7)
197: Andy Swanson, RS-Fr. (7-9)
HWT: #10 Kellan Fluckiger, So. (14-5)

Last Year:
No. 17 ASU took sixth at the National Duals last season, falling 23-20 to No. 7 Nebraska in the fifth-place match at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State. The Sun Devils lost their opening match to No. 5 Oklahoma 38-4, and went on to win the next three matches, only to fall again to the Sooners 26-9. No. 2 Iowa State defeated No. 3 Minnesota 17-16 to take the tournament title. Steve Blackford went undefeated in six matches at 165 pounds.

Sun Devils in the National Polls:
ASU moved up a spot to ninth after being ranked 10th for three straight weeks according to the lastest National Wrestling Coaches Association Poll released Jan. 10. Six Sun Devils are also included in the latest individual rankings released by InterMat and Amateur Wrestling News. Eric Larkin (141) is ranked third by both polls, while Steve Blackford (165) is ranked fourth by AWM and fifth by InterMat. Rocky Smart (157) checks in at No. 16 according to AWM and No. 10 according to InterMat. In the 133 pound weight class, David Douglas is ranked 13th by AWM and 15th by InterMat. Kellan Fluckiger (HWT) ranks 10th by AWM and 15th by InterMat, while R.D. Pursell ranks 10th (AWM) and 19th (InterMat) at 184 pounds.

Last Time Out:
Through six matches, the ninth-ranked Sun Devils held even with the sixth-ranked Sooners, only to have Oklahoma win three of the next four to hand ASU its first dual loss of the season 20-12, Friday, Jan. 12. The match 1,142 fans came to see led off the night, yet not in favor of the Sun Devils. Two of the top three wrestlers at 141 pounds faced off, with No. 2 Michael Lightner (OU) defeating No. 3 Eric Larkin, 7-3. It was the first loss of the season for Larkin and first match after being out since Dec. 2 with a knee injury. Sparking the Sun Devils were back-to-back wins by Rocky Smart (157) and Steve Blackford (165), and a win by R.D. Pursell (184) tied the team scoring at nine. But Oklahoma was too strong for ASU, notching three straight wins, including two major decisions, to send the Devils packing.

Blackford Closing in on the Record Books:
Senior Steve Blackford, the 2000 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year and two-time All-American, continues his climb in the ASU record books as the 2001 season unfolds. Blackford has a team-high 18 wins this season, giving him 121 career victories and a sixth-place ranking on the all-time win list (just 26 shy of the school record). Last season, Blackford tied for second on the single-season victory list with 43 wins (Eddie Urbano, `84-85), just two away from the school record. Dan St. John (1986-90) holds both the ASU single-season victory record (45) and career victory record (147). Blackford is seventh on the career dual victories list (54), and is tied for fifth on the career falls list (27).

Larkin Back In Action:
When sophomore All-American Eric Larkin returned to the lineup Friday night, he faced one of the toughest match-ups possible. Third-ranked Larkin was greeted by second-ranked Michael Lightner from OU, with barely a week of practice under his belt since being out of the lineup with a knee injury for over a month. Lightner won the battle with a 7-3 decision, handing Larkin his first loss of the season and sixth of his collegiate career. Minus that one loss, Larkin won his nine previous bouts this season, all by bonus points. Earlier this year, Larkin placed fourth at the World University Championships in Tokyo, Japan as a member of the U.S. national team.

Pursell Power Points:
Senior R.D. Pursell has paired with fellow team-captain Steve Blackford in providing leadership on a squad that features five underclassmen starters. Pursell is second in team wins only to Blackford with a 16-7 record at 184 pounds and was one of four Sun Devils to pick up victories vs. Oklahoma. It was Pursell's crucial 7-5 decision over Nick Curcio that kept ASU even with OU through six matches Friday night. Pursell also has a perfect 5-0 dual record, shares the team pin lead with Blackford (four) and ranks second on the team with four major decision victories. In his final season as a Sun Devil, he has already surpassed his ASU high of 15 wins set last year.

On the Leaderboard...:
Four Sun Devils have perfect dual records going into this weekend's National Team Duals, Rocky Smart, Steve Blackford and R.D. Pursell are 5-0, while David Douglas is 4-0...The top three Sun Devils in the win column are Blackford (18-2), Pursell (16-7) and Smart (15-5)...Blackford and Pursell lead ASU with four pins...Blackford and junior Curtis Owen share the team lead with three wins via technical fall...Douglas, Larkin, Owen and Fluckiger all have five major decision victories.

Head Coach Lee Roy Smith:
In his ninth year at Arizona State, Lee Roy Smith has continued the unprecedented sucess of one of the nation's premier collegiate wrestling programs. In eight seasons, Smith has guided the Sun Devils to eight NCAA Championship appearances, four top-10 national finishes and four Pac-10 titles. Smith's ASU teams have finished as high as fourth in the nation in 1993 and 1995, and he has mentored 26 All-Americans and two national champions (for a total of three NCAA titles). Smith owns a career slate of 85-54-1 (.607) and is assisted by Tony Quinones, Aaron Simpson and his younger brother Mark Smith.

Up Next:
ASU will make a West Coast swing next weekend, traveling to face the Oregon State Beavers Fri., Jan. 26 at 8:30 p.m. MST and the Fresno State Bulldogs, Sun., Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. MST. Please note these times are different from what was on the schedule.

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