Sun Devils Wrap Up NCAA Wrestling Championships with Ninth-Place Team Finish

March 17, 2001

IOWA CITY, Iowa - All-Americans Eric Larkin, Steve Blackford and David Douglas took home medal honors for third, fifth and seventh-places, respectively, leading the Arizona State Sun Devil wrestling team to a ninth-place team finish as the 2001 NCAA Wrestling Championships came to a close the University of Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday.

The Sun Devils earned their first top-10 national finish since 1996, when ASU placed 10th with 45 points, and 12th top-10 NCAA finish in the last 17 years. With a total of 48 points in this year's national championships, ASU finished with its highest place and point total since 1995, a year which saw the Sun Devils place fourth in the nation with 65.5 points.

Minnesota won the NCAA team title with 138.5 points and 10 All-Americans. The Gophers became the first team to win an NCAA title without a championship finalist and the first team to end the tournament with a total of 10 place-winners. Until this year, Iowa had won six straight NCAA titles and nine of the last 10.

Larkin took third place at 141 pounds with an 8-2 decision over Wisconsin's Grant Hoerr, while Blackford won the fifth-place match at 165 pounds with a three-point near fall at the buzzer to defeat Kevin Stanley of Indiana 8-5. Douglas captured seventh-place at 133 pounds, scoring a takedown with five seconds on the clock to earn a 6-3 decision over Minnesota's Brett Lawrence.

'Those three individuals have been three that we were able to count on all year,' ASU head coach Lee Roy Smith said.

Larkin's third-place bout was a re-match with Hoerr who eliminated him from the championship bracket with 3-2 decision in the semifinals. Larkin avenged just his second loss of the season in fine fashion, earning the 8-2 decision for third-place honors and improving upon his fourth-place finish in 1999.

'It felt good to win third but I wish I would have been in the finals,' Larkin said. 'I wrestled badly against Hoerr in the quarters but I knew I could beat him for third or fourth. I felt good after last night, so I got my groove back a little bit. I'm glad I took third.'

Larkin advanced to the third-place match via medical forfeit, as his scheduled opponent in the consolation semi-final, Virginia Tech's Sean Gray, suffered a sprained MCL during his championship semifinal loss to top-seeded Doug Schwab of Iowa Friday night. A native of Tucson, Ariz., Larkin earned the second All-America honors of his career after placing fourth in the 1999 national tournament. With a 6-1 record at this year's nationals, Larkin finishes the 2001 season with a 28-2 record.

'Eric did just a fabulous job,' Smith said. 'Third place can be the toughest place in the tournament, to get to and to win. For him to be able to come back and avenge the loss to Hoerr says a lot about the kind of wrestler he is. Eric has had two knee surgeries that have taken well over 30 days of mat training from him in about a three-month period. I'm just very proud of him.'

Blackford came into the final day of the tournament with hopes of his second-straight third-place finish, but that was not to be the case. In the consolation semifinal match, Matt Lackey from Illinois earned a slim 5-4 decision, sending Blackford to the fifth-place final. Lackey was also responsible for one of Blackford's four regular season losses this year, as he pulled a 6-3 upset at the Las Vegas Invitational Dec. 2.

Blackford bounced back in his next match like he did throughout the entire tournament, taking Stanley down to the wire with a three-point near fall at the buzzer, capturing fifth-place with an 8-5 decision. After a disappointing first-round upset Thursday, Blackford reeled off five straight wins to get himself into this morning's consolation final. Last year he placed third and as sophomore took fourth in previous NCAA appearances.

'I'm really proud of Steve,' Smith said. 'He has a way of digging down deep and pulling out a match like that, and very few people possess that ability. Steve has a lot to be proud of. He did this for himself, for his family, for the university and I appreciate that.'

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Blackford culminates his career as one of the greatest wrestlers in ASU history. With a 6-2 record at nationals this week, Blackford completes his final season as a Sun Devil with a 35-6 overall record. His 138 career victories give him sole possession of second place on ASU's all-time win list and he is just the eighth Sun Devil wrestler to be a three-time All-American.

'It feels good to be a three-time All-American, but it's kind of bittersweet to go out in fifth place your senior year,' Blackford said. 'I think it was really a test of character to come back after that first round loss. I really would have liked to place third but I'm not going to dwell on it. The losses haven't really hit me but maybe in a month or so I'll breakdown. This whole experience just makes me a better person and that's all you can ask for.'

With most of the capacity crowd of 15,500 in attendance cheering him on, Douglas scored a takedown with five seconds left in the final period, earning a 6-3 decision over Minnesota's Brett Lawrence in the seventh-place match. With a tight race among the top-three team leaders, consolation finals wins were crucial. Douglas' victory in the final seconds of the match received an ovation from the Iowa faithful, as both the Hawkeyes and Minnesota Gophers have traded ownership of the team lead all tournament.

'I felt like I had on the black and gold instead of the maroon and gold,' Douglas commented on the deafening cheers for his victory. 'It felt good - all those fans yelling for you - you just feel that energy instantly. Now I know why they (Iowa wrestlers) never get tired.'Douglas, earning All-America honors for the first time in his career, tallied a 4-2 record at nationals this week and ends the season with a 26-10 overall record.

Arizona State wrestling culminates the 2001 season with three All-Americans, a ninth-place national finish, a Pac-10 team title, four individual Pac-10 title winners and a 10-4 overall dual record.

2001 NCAA Wrestling Championship Results
Carver-Hawkeye Arena, University of Iowa
Thursday, March 15-Saturday, March 17

Session V - Consolation Semifinals - Saturday, March 17
141: #3 Eric Larkin (ASU) medical for. #4 Sean Gray (Virginia Tech)
165: #5 Matt Lackey (Illinois) dec. #3 Steve Blackford (ASU), 5-4

Session V - Consolation Finals - Saturday, March 17
Third Place Match
141: #3 Eric Larkin (ASU) dec. #11 Grant Hoerr (Wisconsin), 8-2
Fifth Place Match
165: #3 Steve Blackford (ASU) dec. #9 Kevin Stanley (Indiana), 8-5
Seventh Place Match
133: #11 David Douglas (ASU) dec. #10 Brett Lawrence (Minnesota), 6-3

Final Top-10 Team 2001 NCAA Wrestling Championship Standings
Team Pts.
1. Minnesota 138.50
2. Iowa 125.50
3. Oklahoma State 115.50
4. Oklahoma 93.50
5. Illinois 89.00
6. Iowa State 66.50
7. Michigan 65.00
8. Nebraska 52.50
9. Arizona State 48.00
10. Boise State 47.00
10. Wisconsin 47.00

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