Wrestling Off to Albany For NCAA Championships This Week
March 19, 2002
This Week --
After a third-place finish at the 2002 Pac-10 Championships, No. 15 Arizona State wrestling now turns its focus to the 2002 NCAA Championships held at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y., Thursday, March 21, through Saturday, March 23. ASU will send six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, as five automatically qualified with top-four finishes at the conference tournament and junior Rocky Smart earned one of three Pac-10 wild-card selections. Also representing ASU will be senior All-American David Douglas (133), two-time All-American junior Eric Larkin (141), sophomore Nick Frost (165), senior Erik Gladish (197) and junior Kellan Fluckiger (HWT).
Television Coverage --
The 2002 NCAA Wrestling Championships will be televised by ESPN2, Saturday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m. MT. This broadcast marks the second time that the wrestling championships will be taped and then aired the same day the tournament occurs.
ASU NCAA Roster --
133: #3/#5 David Douglas, Senior, Harvey, Ill. (29-4)
141: #2/#5 Eric Larkin, Junior, Tucson, Ariz. (27-4)
157: #13/#13 Rocky Smart, Pleasant Grove, Utah (19-5)
165: nr/#19 Nick Frost, Sophomore, Tucson, Ariz. (19-11)
197: #9/#9 Erik Gladish, Senior, Kentfield, Calif. (24-11)
HWT: #10/#9 Kellan Fluckiger, Junior, Preston, Idaho (26-8)
Rankings according to AWN/InterMat (3/13/02)
NCAA Championship Brackets --
Four of ASU's six qualifiers were granted top-12 seeds as the NCAA announced the brackets for each weight class Monday, March 18. Eric Larkin is the No. 2 seed at 141 pounds, David Douglas is the No. 5 seed at 133, Erik Gladish is the No. 9 seed at 197 and Kellan Fluckiger is No. 10 at HWT. Full brackets are available at www.ncaawrestling.com.
How They Got Here --
Five of ASU's six qualifiers earned their trips to the NCAA Championships by finishing in the top four in their respective weight classes at the Pac-10 Championships hosted by Oregon State March 2-3 in Corvallis, Ore. Eric Larkin won the 141-pound title, while Erik Gladish and Kellan Fluckiger finished runner-up at 197 and heavyweight, respectively. David Douglas and Nick Frost placed third at 133 and 165, respectively. Rocky Smart finished fifth at 157, but was granted one of the three Pac-10 wild card selections at the conclusion of the Pac-10 tournament.
NCAA Championships Schedule --
The three-day NCAA Championship tournament is divided into six sessions, culminating with the championship finals Saturday afternoon. The schedule is as follows:
Thursday, March 21 (Please note all times EST)
Session I 11 a.m. First Round
Session II 6:30 p.m. Prelims, wrestleback prelims
Friday, March 22
Session III 10 a.m. Quarters, wrestleback 2nd and 3rd rounds
Session IV 5:30 p.m. Semifinals, wrestleback 4th and 5th rounds
Saturday, March 23
Session V 8 a.m. Wrestleback semis, Medal Rounds
Session IV 2 p.m. Championship Finals
ASU NCAA Championship History --
With their ninth-place team finish at the NCAA Championships last year, the Sun Devils will aim to repeat a top-10 finish under first-year head coach Thom Ortiz in 2002. ASU has placed in the top-10 at NCAAs 12 of the last 17 years, but 2001's ninth-place finish was the first top-10 finish for the Sun Devils since 1996. In the program's 39-year history, ASU has captured one NCAA championship title (1988) and turned in two national runner-up finishes (1989, 1990). Five ASU wrestlers have won a total of seven national titles: Curley Culp (1967-HWT), Eddie Urbano (1985-150 pounds), Dan St. John (1989-158 pounds/1990-167 pounds), Ray Miller (1993-167 pounds) and Markus Mollica (1993-158 pounds/1995-167 pounds). The 2002 Sun Devils feature two returning All-Americans in Eric Larkin and David Douglas. Larkin is looking to become the ninth ASU wrestler to earn three All-America honors in his career after finishing fourth in 1999 (133) and third in 2001 (141). In his final season at ASU, Douglas is aiming to add a second All-America certificate at the upcoming NCAA Championships.
Last Year At The NCAA Championships --
Eric Larkin, Steve Blackford and David Douglas took home All-America honors for third, fifth and seventh-place finishes, respectively, leading ASU wrestling to a ninth-place team finish (48 points) at the 2001 NCAA Championships at the University of Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Sun Devils earned their first top-10 national finish since 1996 and finished with their highest place and point total since 1995, a year which saw ASU place fourth with 65.5 points. ASU had five other competitors in the championships that did not place.
ASU Places Third At 2002 Pac-10 Championships --
Despite being ranked No. 1 in the conference all season long and compiling a 6-0 dual record against conference opponents, ASU crowned one individual champion en route to a third-place team finish at the 2002 Pac-10 Championships hosted by Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., March 2-3. Junior Eric Larkin was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler and won the conference crown at 141 pounds, his third-straight Pac-10 title. Senior Erik Gladish and junior Kellan Fluckiger advanced to the finals at 197 and HWT, respectively, but came away with runner-up finishes. Gladish finished third at 197 in 2000 and Fluckiger was the defending heavyweight champion. ASU had two of its five No. 1 seeds upset in the first round of competition, as senior David Douglas, the defending champ at 133, placed third in that weight class, while junior Rocky Smart ended up finishing fifth at 157. Sophomore Nick Frost, unseeded at 165, placed third, while No. 2 seed Mike Simpson, placed sixth at 125 pounds.
Sun Devils in the National Polls --
After four straight weeks at No. 11, ASU has continued to drop in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Poll and now finds itself down to 15th according to the March 14 poll. In the final InterMat poll, ASU jumped from No. 16 and ends the season at No. 11. Six Sun Devils are ranked individually, featured by junior Eric Larkin, ranked No. 2 at 141 pounds by Amateur Wrestling News and fifth by InterMat, while senior David Douglas ranks third according to AWN and fifth by InterMat at 133 pounds. Additional rankings include junior Rocky Smart at 157 (13th-AWN, 13th-IM), senior Erik Gladish at 197 (ninth-AWN, 11th-IM), and junior Kellan Fluckiger at heavyweight (10th-AWN, ninth-IM). Eric Larkin fell from his No. 1 spot at 141 pounds for the first time all season in the Feb. 26 Amateur Wrestling News poll.
Best In The West --
Arizona State is arguably the most successful wrestling program in the West. With its 1988 national title, ASU is still the only program west of Oklahoma and Iowa to win a NCAA championship. The Sun Devils have finished in the NCAA top-10 at 12 of the last 17 national tournaments and have claimed seven individual titles.
Larkin Eyes NCAA Title --
Already to junior Eric Larkin's credit are two All-America honors, three Pac-10 titles, a 2002 NWCA All-Star invitation, 2001 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year honors and 2002 Pac-10 Tournament Outstanding Wrestler acclaim. What Larkin has yet to achieve is a national title which he hopes to accomplish this week in Albany. Despite four losses this year, two coming to Iowa State's Aaron Holker whom he also defeated by a 13-3 major decision at Midlands this year, Larkin has been the top-ranked wrestler in the nation at 141 pounds until the final two polls released by Amateur Wrestling News. Larkin is 27-4 this season with a career high 14 pins and looks to improve upon his third place NCAA finish in 2001 and his fourth place finish in 1999.
Douglas Looks To End ASU Career On High Note --
Senior David Douglas, ranked third in the nation at 133 pounds for a good portion of the year, is ASU's other NCAA title-winning hopeful going into Albany. Douglas leads ASU with a career high-tying 29 wins and is 29-4 overall including six pins. With a seventh-place finish at last year's NCAA Championships, Douglas not only has his sights set on becoming the 14th Sun Devil to twice earn All-America honors, he is looking to end his career with a NCAA title. Douglas finished third at this year's Pac-10 Championships after winning his first conference title in 2001.
Ortiz Makes First NCAA Trip As A Head Coach --
First-year head coach Thom Ortiz has made countless trips to the NCAA Championships, first as an ASU grappler and then as an assistant at Iowa State, but his 2002 trek to Albany will be special, marking his inaugural appearance at nationals as a head coach. Ortiz and his staff are more than familiar with the nation's top collegiate wrestling stage, as he and his two assistants, Townsend Saunders and Aaron Simpson combined for a total of seven All-America honors (Ortiz three, Saunders and Simpson two) while wrestling at Arizona State. Ortiz was an NCAA runner-up at 142 pounds in 1990, while Saunders was an NCAA runner-up at 142 in 1989.
Head Coach Thom Ortiz --
Named the fifth head coach in the 39-year history of ASU wrestling April 19, 2001, Thom Ortiz returned to his alma mater where he was a three-time All-American, a three-time Pac-10 champion and a strong contributor to three of the most successful teams in ASU wrestling history. In his competitive career, Ortiz helped ASU win four straight Pac-10 titles and its only NCAA crown in 1988, a season followed by two-straight national runner-up finishes in '89 and '90. Ortiz returned to ASU after serving nine years as the head assistant coach at Iowa State under his former Sun Devil coach Bobby Douglas. In 1992, he followed Douglas from Tempe to Ames, Iowa, for an assistant coaching position. With the Cyclones, Ortiz helped mentor three national champions and numerous All-Americans while bringing in some of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the nation. Ortiz was also the runner-up for the 2000 National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year Award. Prior to his stint at Iowa State, Ortiz was an ASU graduate assistant in 1991, before taking over as the Sun Devils' interim head coach while Douglas was coaching the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 1992.
ASU Ties --
Not only is head coach Thom Ortiz a former Sun Devil, both of his assistant coaches, Townsend Saunders and Aaron Simpson, are ASU alums. Saunders is in his first season as an assistant coach, hired by Ortiz in June 2001. Saunders wrestled for two seasons at ASU (1988-89, 1989-90), both years earning All-America honors and winning Pac-10 titles. Since his collegiate career, he went on to compete as a two-time Olympian, including a silver-medal winning performance in 1996. Saunders, named the executive director of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club this past fall, was also a two-time gold medalist at the Pan-American Games and a 1994 gold medalist at the Goodwill Games. Simpson enters his fourth year as an assistant, after working the previous three years under Lee Roy Smith. Simpson graduated from ASU in 1998 where he was a two-time All-American and two-time Pac-10 champion. Simpson continues his wrestling career competing for the Phoenix-based Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club. He was the 1997 Pan-American Games silver-medalist at 187 pounds and in June 2000, he placed fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Last summer he qualified for the World Team Trials with a fifth-place finish at the U.S. National Championships.
A complete post-season guide that includes bios on all six ASU qualifiers is in PDF format at the top of the page.