No. 18 Wrestling Heads to Cleveland for NWCA National Duals

Jan. 18, 2005

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TEMPE, Ariz. - Following a five-dual home stand, the No. 16 Arizona State wrestling team will return to the road this weekend as it takes part in the 2005 NWCA National Duals Saturday and Sunday. The Sun Devils will face No. 4 Michigan (6-1) in the first round of the event being held at the Cleveland State Convocation Center on the campus of Cleveland State University.

 The 2005 edition of the Duals is the 14th appearance for the Sun Devils and their first since the 2003 event. Overall, ASU holds a 29-25 record in the event and has placed among the Top 8 on eight occasions. Most recently, the Sun Devils went 3-2 to finish seventh by defeating their first round opponent, Michigan, 27-13. In ASU's first two appearances in the event, the Sun Devils finished second to Oklahoma State both times, falling 22-13 in 1989 and 24-19 in 1990.

 The Division I tournament features 16 teams with 13 holding a position in the Jan. 18 USA Today/NWCA National Top 25. Undefeated and No. 1 Oklahoma State leads the field with seven total teams holding a ranking in the Top 10. The teams set to compete are No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Illinois, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Lehigh, No. 6 Hofstra, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 11 Cornell, No. 12 Central Michigan, No. 14 Northern Iowa, No. 16 ASU, No. 21 Penn State, No. 22 West Virgina, Cal Poly, The Citadel and host Cleveland State.

 Arizona State holds a bit of familiarity with some of the teams entered into the National Duals. The Sun Devils already have faced Minnesota (L, 22-16) and Oklahoma (L, 20-17) and will meet conference opponent Cal Poly later in the season. Both UM and OU, seeded No. 3 and No. 7 in the tournament, respectively, are in the same half of the bracket with the Sun Devils, possibly setting up a rematch later in the tournament.

 In fact, the last time the Sun Devils competed in the event (2003), ASU met three of the teams in the 2005 field: the Sun Devils lost duals to No. 1 Oklahoma State (38-3) and No. 3 Minnesota (26-12) before upsetting No. 7 Michigan (27-13).

 Arizona State last entered the NWCA National Duals in 2003 when the tournament was held in Columbus, Ohio. As the No. 8 seed in the event, ASU opened the tournament with a 19-17 defeat of Missouri before falling to No. 1 Oklahoma State, 38-3. In the consolation side of the draw, the Sun Devils defeated Pac-10 rival Boise State, 19-15, before again meeting defeat, this time in a 26-12 decision to No. 3 Minnesota. ASU capped the tournament with a 27-13 defeat of No. 7 Michigan to claim seventh place.

 Here is an update on several former Sun Devils: Current assistant coach Eric Larkin, a member of the USA Wrestling freestyle team, will travel to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and represent the United States in the Ivan Yarygin Memorial International on January 30 ... 2003 graduate Curtis Owen, currently an assistant coach for football and wrestling locally with Chandler High School, was recently named the December Play It Smart academic coach of the month. He was chosen from more than 120 academic coaches nationwide ... former All-American and assistant coach Zeke Jones, now an assistant coach with West Virginia, was recently selected to enter the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame. Jones was enshrined into the Arizona State Hall of Fame in September, following his coaching duties as a member of the USA Wrestling Freestyle team at the Athens Olympics.

 Five home duals doted the Sun Devil schedule last week with Arizona State coming out of the homestand with a 4-1 record. On Monday, Jan. 10, ASU opened with a trio of victories at the Sun Devil Duals. In the first bout, ASU handed Utah Valley State a 36-3 defeat before claiming bragging rights with a 27-16 defeat of intrastate rival Embry-Riddle. In the final dual of the night, ASU captured its first conference victory of the season by downing Cal State Bakersfield, 20-19.

 Two days later, ASU and No. 10 Oklahoma met inside Wells Fargo Arena with the Sooners leaving town with a 20-17 victory in hand. The weekend was closed out with the Sun Devils rebounding to garner their second Pac-10 win of the season, this time handing a 31-14 defeat to Cal State Fullerton on Sunday night.

 The tie with Fresno State on Jan. 4 was the first tied finish for the Sun Devils since ASU and Cal State Bakersfield ended their Jan. 31, 1999, dual in Tempe knotted at 18 apiece. The last time ASU was involved in a tied dual was last year at the Virginia Duals when Purdue won on criteria in a 20-20 in the consolation semifinals of the national event.

 Brian Stith (157) has been on a tear as of late, going 5-1 in his last six bouts. But the more interesting part is how he has built that near perfect record. All five of his wins, including the last four in a row, have come via major decision. He also has won 11 of his last 13 bouts with both losses going down as 2-1 decisions in tie-breakers.

 The three heaviest weights in the Sun Devil lineup have provided the largest impact for the team this year. Arizona State's three starters of C.B. Dollaway (184), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (285) are a combined 60-12 overall with a total of 13 wins by major decision, six by technical fall and another 11 victories by fall. The trio are currently ranked No. 10, No. 6 and No. 3 in the nation, respectively.

 The latest Pac-10 individual rankings were released Jan. 17 with eight Sun Devils earning places in the Top 6 while the team is in the top spot based upon those individual rankings. Cain Velasquez (285) leads the way at No. 1 while four wrestlers are ranked No. 2, including Patrick Williams (149), Brian Stith (157), C.B. Dollaway (184) and Ryan Bader (197). The remaining ranked wrestlers are No. 4 Jeremy Mendoza (125), No. 4 Rick Renzi (174) and No. 5 Patrick Pitsch (165).

 The Jan. 18 USA Today/NWCA National Top 25 has Arizona State moving up two positions to No. 16 this week following a 4-1 homestand.

 On September 3, 2004, former Sun Devil All-American Steve Blackford lost his life in a tragic automobile accident. A beloved son, brother, nephew and friend, Blackford will be sorely missed by all that were fortunate enough to have met him and especially those who hold a special place in their hearts for him.

 The wrestling program will soon have a new training facility on campus to use as a joint effort between the Sunkist Kids and ASU. Ground was broken in early August with the 9,600 square foot building scheduled for completion in December. With 7,200 square feet of usable mat space, the facility will hold three full-size competition mats (40x40) and afford a much larger practice area for the Sun Devils, and Sunkist Kids, to utilize.

 A consensus Top 4 pick in this season's preseason individual rankings, Ryan Bader returns for his junior season with hopes of not only adding his third Pac-10 championship title at 197 pounds, but also adding his second All-America honors following a fourth-place finish at the national meet a year ago. Bader has compiled a career record of 57-26 following a stellar 33-8 mark last year on his way to earning a spot among the nation's elite wrestlers and winning tournament titles at the Missouri Open, Reno Tournament of Champions and the Pac-10 Championships.

 Ryan Bader's All-America honor attained last year may have been his first, but it is certainly not the first for the program. Bader's accolade was the 100th award in the history of the program and also continued a streak of 30 years in a row that the Sun Devil program has produced at least one All-American wrestler.

 All four members of the Arizona State coaching staff obtained their degrees from ASU while also competing for the Sun Devils during their careers in Tempe. Head Coach Thom Ortiz graduated in 1990 and was a member of the 1988 national championship team. Aaron Simpson was a two-time All-American prior to earning his degree in 1996 and coaching the team for the past seven seasons. Eric Larkin and Kellan Fluckiger both completed their degree work in 2003 following successful campaigns with the maroon and gold. Larkin was the 2003 NCAA champion at 149 and a four-time All-American and conference champion while Fluckiger was an All-American in his senior season while taking home two conference gold medals.

 Thom Ortiz enters his fourth year at the helm of the Sun Devil wrestling program with a 32-20 record as the head coach. Ortiz led the Sun Devils to the 2003 Pac-10 Championship title on the strength of six individual champions and seven total finalists while also guiding current assistant coach Eric Larkin to the NCAA title at 149 pounds in his senior campaign. A graduate of ASU in 1990, Ortiz was a two-time All-American and was a member of the 1988 NCAA Championship Sun Devil team. A three-time Pac-10 champion, Ortiz also was a part of three conference team championships in his time with ASU.

 Real Pro Wrestling (RPW) was created in 2002 and held its first show taping Oct. 8-9 in Los Angeles. Eric Larkin, Aaron Simpson, Kellan Fluckiger and Danny Felix all competed for the shows that will begin airing on PAX TV March 31. Teams, results and other information will be released as part of the one-hour shows that will air for 14 weeks in a row with the 15th showing being a two-hour special that features all seven of the championship bouts that pit Olympic caliber freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers against one another (

 Wells Fargo Arena, located adjacent to Sun Devil Stadium, is the home of several of Arizona State's athletic teams, including wrestling, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball. The building has a capacity of 14,198 and has been the host of numerous conference and national events, most recently the 2004 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships. In 2005, the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight for women's basketball will be contested on Ned Wulk Court with the winner heading to the final four.

 Following the national duals, the Sun Devils will remain on the road as they compete in four duals away from Tempe. The road trip opens Jan. 29 with a noon dual at Oregon State. One day later at 2 p.m., the Sun Devils will meet Oregon.

 The final two road duals come six days later when ASU travels to Stanford on Feb. 5 for a noon dual before heading over to face UC Davis at 7 p.m. All four duals will count towards Pac-10 standings and mark the final road dual meets of the season for ASU. Following a pair of home duals, the Sun Devils wind up the season at the Pac-10 and NCAA Championships.

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