Sun Devil Wrestling Opens Season on the Road

Nov. 18, 2002

Weekly Release (in .pdf) | Individual National Rankings

TEMPE, Ariz.- The No. 11 Arizona State wrestling team opens its 2002-03 season this weekend with a road trip to America's Heartland, squaring off with No. 8 Nebraska Friday evening before heading to Nebraska-Omaha for the Omaha Open all day Saturday. Neither the Sun Devils nor the Huskers have competed collegiately this year. ASU did have many of its members compete in the Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open (Oct. 18-19) in Tempe.

Arizona State is 29-10 (with one outcome unknown) all-time in its first dual of the season and has won its last four openers. Its last loss to open the dual year was a 22-9 setback at Oklahoma State (Nov. 29, 1997).

In their first road contest of the year, the Sun Devils also stand 29-10 (with one unknown) including two in a row. ASU's last loss in a road opener came during the 1999-00 season at Michigan State. The Spartans won the dual, 17-15.

Both teams head into their first duals of the year holding Top 15 national rankings. According to The Wrestling Mall, Nebraska is No. 8 while Arizona State is No. 11. Both rankings are the highest for each team among all polls. The NWCA has ASU No. 12 and UN No. 13 while InterMat has the Sun Devils No. 15 and the Huskers No. 20.

ASU has four wrestlers in the Top 10; Eric Larkin is No. 3 at 149, Rocky Smart and Kellan Fluckiger are No. 7 at 157 and heavyweight, respectively, and Nick Frost is No. 10 at 165. Rounding out ASU's individual rankings are No. 11 Curtis Owen at 174 and No. 20 Dana Holland at 141.

Eight Sun Devil wrestlers were selected to the preseason Top 6 rankings as voted on by the conference coaches with four ASU grapplers earning the top spot. Eric Larkin at 149, Nick Frost at 165, Curtis Owen at 174 and Kellan Fluckiger at heavyweight all earned top billing with Rocky Smart being chosen No. 2 at 165. Dana Holland and Evan Larkin were both voted for the No. 4 spot at 141 while Mike Simpson (133) and Ryan Bader (197) were chosen No. 5.

As a team, the Sun Devils, as voted upon by the conference coaches, were selected to finish second in the Pac-10 this year. Boise State, the defending conference champions, were chosen to repeat at the annual championship meet. Following ASU is No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 California-Davis, No. 5 Cal-Poly, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Cal State Fullerton, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Portland State and No. 10 Cal State Bakersfield.

Arizona State stands 397-212-13 all-time in its 41-year history as a varsity program and needs just three wins to break the 400-win plateau. For the Sun Devils to pick up their milestone victory and remain undefeated in the process, they will have to come out on top of No. 8 Nebraska, No. 15 Northern Iowa and No. 5 Iowa. All three duals are on the road with the Omaha Open falling between the UN and UNI duals. Portland State also comes to town before ASU takes a three-week hiatus in dual competition.

The Sun Devils will open the season with the following probable starters: Adam Chavira or Dan Vucci (125), Mike Simpson (133), Dana Holland or Evan Larkin (141), Eric Larkin (149), Rocky Smart or Mike Smith (157), Nick Frost (165), Curtis Owen (174), Mazi Burke or Ron Renzi (184), Ryan Bader (197) and Kellan Fluckiger (heavyweight).

Though a rarity among collegiate wrestling, teams have ended dual meets in a tie. Ties will now be a thing of the past.

The NCAA has administered a set of criteria, similar to the system employed for the NWCA National Duals. Twelve tiebreaking criteria have been set in place and, if a tie remains after those 12 have produced no winner, the referee's green-red disc will be flipped with the color showing being declared the winner.

A member of the Big 12, Nebraska has asserted itself as one of the prominent teams in the nation each year. Coach Mark Manning enters his third year at the helm of the program following an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships last year, fourth in the conference and an 8-9 dual record. Former Sun Devil standout Shawn Charles is on of his assistants. No. 4 Jason Powell (125) and No. 2 Justin Ruiz (197) return after All-American performances last year (each finished fifth in the nation).

The Sun Devils and Huskers have met 11 times with Nebraska holding a 6-4-1 advantage... Arizona State snapped UN's five dual win streak last year with a 20-16 decision in Tempe...the series began in 1969 with UN winning the first match, 16-15...six duals have been decided by five points or less, including an 18-18 tie...ASU has visited Lincoln one time and returned home with a 29-14 victory in 1985...eight of the duals have been contested at neutral sites...ASU's record at home: Nebraksa: neutral sites: 1-6-1.

ASU's trip to the Omaha Open will be the first in the history of the program...billed as one of the largest collegiate tournaments in the United States...anticipated 500 wrestlers to compete this year...participants will come from some of the top Division I and II teams.

Eric Larkin is back for his final campaign with the Maroon and Gold and will seek to elevate his standing among the elite wrestlers in ASU history. A three-time All-American and national runner-up a year ago, larkin can become the fourth four-time All-American in school history with another solid year. He also is 11 wins away from cracking the 100 win plateau as he enters the year 89-12.

Former Sun Devil standout Thom Ortiz, a three-time All-American, national runner-up and three-time conference champion, returns for his second year at the helm of the Arizona State program. After compiling a 9-6 record a year ago, the team went on to place second at the Pac-10 Championships and 12th at the NCAA meet. The fifth head coach in the 40-year history of the program, Ortiz knows what it takes to make the Sun Devils a prominent team. He was a member of ASU squads that won three conference team titles, one NCAA championship and two national runner-up finishes.

Wells Fargo Arena is the home of Sun Devil wrestling, as well as men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball. The arena was completed in 1974 with the ablity to seat a capacity of crowd of more than 14,000 and has seen its far share of top competition. The annual Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open has been staged inside WFA and the Sun Devil wrestlers also called the facility home on their way to the 1988 NCAA title. In all, some of the elite teams in the nation have visited the arena. That list includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Iowa and Iowa State, to name a few.

The Sun Devils head back to the Midwest for two tough road duals. ASU faces No. 15 Northern Iowa at 2 p.m./3 p.m. local (Nov. 30) in Cedar Falls, Iowa, before heading to Hawkeye Country and battle No. 4 Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, at 6 p.m./7 p.m. local (Dec. 1). The Sun Devils return to actionfour days later with their home opener, a 6:30 p.m. (Dec. 5) affair, with Portland State at Wells Fargo Arena.

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