WRESTLING JOURNAL: This Week in ASU Wrestling with Aaron Simpson

Dec. 4, 2005

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12/4/05 (Post Las Vegas Invitational Weekend)
Well, we just returned from a semi-successful weekend at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Based on how you look at it (I'm a cup-half-full type of guy), we actually performed pretty well. I'll give you a quick run down of each placer and how well I believe each wrestler competed.

125 - Jeremy Mendoza came in seeded No. 2 and was pretty consistent throughout. In the finals, he took on a tough freshman who is quickly making a name for himself on the college scene. Jeremy was in on several shots but just did not do the right things to finish and score points. The second he walked off the mat from his finals loss, he looked at Coach Eric Larkin and said, '10:30 Monday morning, I want to be in the room working on this, this and this.' Now that is what I like to see from an athlete. He did not make excuses. He did not throw his headgear. He internalized it and will become better because of it. I see this same mentality in all our top guys. They are all fierce competitors with the urge to become better.

149 - Pat Payne did a complete 180 this weekend. He decided to flip the switch and just wrestle. He was maybe the most impressive on the weekend. After losing his first match of the tournament on a last second takedown, Pat reeled of victory after victory, at one point not allowing a single point in five matches! I believe he had close to five hours riding time! I guess you can say that there comes a time when you just get tired of losing. This was that time for Pat. I do not believe he is accustomed to losing and really needed some time to figure it all out. I know just from watching him train that he expects to win every time he laces his shoes and steps on the mat! He believes he should be the man getting his hand raised. Sometimes, that is all it takes. Great job Pat! Maybe it is still too early to predict an All-American placing for him, but if he keeps this type of intensity up, he'll go as far as he wants.

165 - Pat Pitsch did another outstanding job. I know he only placed fourth (which was what he was seeded), but if you just sit back and watch Pat compete, you'd appreciate his passion for the grind of it all. He really loves the fight. He loves everything about being completely spent physically and yet somehow still finding a way to battle. Pat lost a tough one for third place. He made some mistakes, but they were attacking mistakes. He went after it and you cannot fault him for being aggressive. You just have to love Pat Pitsch's relentless, never say die attitude.

197 - Ryan Bader took a big step forward this weekend. You can say he got his 'swagger' back. (I know this term 'swagger' is being a little over-used lately in the media. It is normally reserved for football lingo, but I thought I'd throw it in where I deemed it appropriate!) Anyway, Bader lost a close match to Burns from UNC Greensboro and pretty much gave the kid six points. Just like Pitsch, I can't be mad at the aggressive mistakes. Bader was trying to score points and got caught in a scramble. He just tries to do too much. After that first night, I took Pitsch and Bader to a gym to run on the treadmills and lose some weight for the following mornings weigh-in. You could tell that Bader was down and I was afraid he was falling out of love with the sport. I have seen it happen to several of my past teammates and athletes and I was worried that it was happening again. I remember Steve Blackford in his senior year placing fifth in Vegas and just being so hurt he was not winning when he knew he should. He just was just sick of it.

Okay, back to Bader. We decided to sit down and really talk about what he needed to do to be successful. At one point, Pitsch, with all his great wisdom, spouted out, 'You know, sometimes the best guy in the tournament places third.' I am going to ask Pat if I can use that one because it is so true. It really says a lot about a guy's character that can get knocked down, get up, dust himself off and come back for more. He came to the realization he is a great wrestler when he does the basic things that have now won him 99 matches in his career. We told him to quit trying to do too much and just go out there and win the match. From that point on, he looked like the tournament champ. I believe that 197 is open this year as to who will be the national champion. I also believe Bader now believes he can be the man atop the podium in March.

Heavyweight - Cain, once again, looked very solid. He definitely uses his supreme conditioning to his advantage and, even though he did not win in the finals, he really looked as though he was ready to step up to another level. In his match against Wagner in the finals, he decided he was going to have to use leg attacks to win the match. If you have ever watched Cain wrestle in big matches, he sometimes shies away from committing to shots, but in this match, Cain was in on several leg attacks and had Wagner's leg up in the air. He just was not doing the right things to finish. Cain was very disappointed in himself and did not say much that night on the ride home. I told him I was impressed with his attacks and we know he can beat Wagner. We now know Cain can shoot. He just has to finish.

So, placing five wrestlers in a very tough tournament helped us place fifth overall, ahead of top teams like Illinois, Cal Poly, West Virginia, Purdue and Ohio State. We had injury defaults at 133, 157 and 184. Nothing overly serious, we just know how long the season is and how deep we are not. Look for Brian Stith to resume his All-American ways several weeks down the road. He is not quite 100% and will be rested until he is fully able to compete at 100%. There is no sense in pushing it. All in all, we are moving in the right direction. We have finals coming up, so our guys will be busy studying. But, we will still be spending much time in the room perfecting our technique and getting ready for Reno (Dec. 18). I'll check back in a week. Make sure you enjoy this last month of 2005, for it is quickly coming to an end. GO DEVILS!

~ Aaron

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