WRESTLING JOURNAL #13: This Week in ASU Wrestling with Aaron Simpson

March 7, 2006

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3

/7/06 - NCAA Championships on the Horizon
We are a week and a half out from the NCAA Championships, one of the toughest tournaments you could ever compete in. It is also one of the most exciting wrestling tournaments you can watch. I recommend everyone make their way to the national tournament one time in their lives. Each round means something. Guys are fighting for their lives. The athletes have been trained for this one moment. You have to be so focused, so wired in to the task at hand. Any distractions could mean you are sent home without reaching your goals. We are preaching this to our guys, day-in and day-out. Cut out the distractions, zero in on what you can control and wrestle as though your life depended on it.

I must say, we spent last week really pushing our guys. They responded well and put together some of their best work yet. We are really happy as to how our guys have progressed thus far. We have cut the practices to about an hour and a half. We are getting in some good lifts, still concentrating on some core lifts, but also hitting some hard circuit lifts to train for endurance. The intensity has been short and high. We will hit one more three-day cycle before we back off and go into a recovery/timing phase.

So, this leaves me to the BIG 6! Let me go through the six guys we have heading to Oklahoma City next weekend:

Jeremy Mendoza (Senior)
Record: 32-3
Jeremy came to us as a walk-on from Temecula, Calif., and I remember calling him on the phone and telling him, 'You know, we may need you to wrestle your true freshman year. Will you be ready?' He told me, 'I'll do it, whatever you need'. He did in fact wrestle for us and had a pretty good season. The following year, he wrestled again, this time he moved all the way up to 141lbs., doing this with no question. He did it for the team. He probably should've red-shirted that year, which would've given him another year of maturity. He barely missed qualifying for the NCAAs, placing sixth in the Pac-10's two weight classes up. In his junior season, he really started to make a name for himself by beating some real good guys along the way, qualifying for the big one and getting a chance to see what it is all about. He failed to place, but still had one last season to figure it out. This brings us to the present day. Now, in his senior season, Jeremy has been ranked as high as No. 6 in the country. He has again beaten some top ranked opponents and will look to finish out his career on top. I have no doubt Jeremy will be an All-American in two weeks. The question is; how high will he place?

Brian Stith (Junior)
Record: 27-3

Brian had a very trying freshman year. He came to us a high school national champion. He showed a lot of promise in his red-shirt year and actually beat NCAA champion Matt Gentry in the California Open during that first year. Then, in his first year as a red-shirt freshman, he took his lumps. He kept pushing, but just couldn't get past the top ranked guys. He lost to NCAA runner-up Alex Tirapelle from Illinois in a 1-0 match. It was the Pac-10s that would do him in though. He drew Stanford's Gentry first round of the Pacs, losing a close one. Then, he dropped down and was eliminated by Oregon's Joey Bracamonte. Brian was beside himself. He needed to make some changes. He needed to get better on top and get better with his defense. Last season, he did just that. He became a tough rider on top. He became really tough to takedown. His first real big breakthrough came at last year's Pac-10s. He defeated Gentry, who was the defending national champion, with a takedown at the end of the third period. This gave Brian a huge amount of confidence going into the NCAAs. At the nationals last year, Brian ran into Michigan's Ryan Bertin in the quarter finals. Unbeknownst to us, Brian tore his ACL in that match. Brian lost and needed to win one more to become an All-American. He defeated Minnesota's C.P. Schlatter with a torn ACL to earn his first All-American honor. Now, in Brian's junior year, after spending the summer recovering from a serious ACL surgery, Brian is ready to win a national title and there is no reason why he can't. He will be ready.

Patrick Pitsch (Sophomore)
Record: 24-11
Pat has been a joy to have on the team. He is full of energy (almost too much energy at times) and has to be quieted during practice because he likes to visit. I used to have to be quieted also, but I was in the second grade! Anyway, you have to love Pat's enthusiasm. I remember him as a redshirt at the NCAA tournament just there observing. He was bouncing off the walls with excitement. We were in the hotel and I told him, 'You have to be ready next year as a freshman. Don't you want to win this thing?' This got him all excited and he bounced off the bed into Kellan Fluckiger, then back into the wall. We laughed. It is easy to get him going! Anyway, Pat had a great freshman year, qualified for the NCAAs and battled like no other. He actually reminded me of Curtis Owen, when Curtis placed fourth in the country back in 2003. Both Curtis and Pat left it all on the mat. They were bruised and battered. Pat had a black eye and a sore body. He could hardly walk when it was all over. He did not reach his goal of becoming an All-American last year, but this means he has a little more incentive this season. He reached a goal by winning the Pac-10s last week, but it is not over for him yet. If there is one guy on this team who will be ready to fight, it is Pat!

C.B. Dollaway (Senior)
Record: 13-7

C.B. came to us from Colby Community College. He, like Mendoza, also never used a red-shirt. C.B. had a great start last season. He was second in Las Vegas and really beat some good guys. I just do not think he was ready for the length and grind of a Division I college season. By the NCAAs, I think he was mentally fatigued. This season, C.B. sat out the first half of the season, but was still in the room training. He was cleared to wrestle in January and started off with a boom by pinning Iowa State's Kurt Backes and defeating Minnesota's Roger Kish. He then had some good wins at the National Duals, before losing some costly matches. We were really proud of C.B. at the Pac-10s. He handily beat Cal Poly's Ryan Halsey before losing to Oregon's Shane Webster in the finals. He lost by a big margin in the finals, but he never quit wrestling. He pushed Webster and looked stronger in the third period, but he was just too far behind when the final buzzer rang. Now, it is national tournament time. I expect C.B. to really step up and go out with a fight. He will place because he realizes the urgency of it all. You get a weird focus your senior year. I believe C.B. will get the job done and come home with All-American honors.

Ryan Bader (Senior)
Record: 28-4

Bader, as we call him, has been a Sun Devil for five years. He is the only person on the team who has been here that long. He was a red-shirt freshman when Coach Eric Larkin won his NCAA title. He remembers us being a Top 5 program. I'll never forget when he came on his recruiting trip from Reno, Nev. We had all the guys and recruits that weekend on the Student Recreation Center field playing a game of soccer. Bader took off his shirt and he looked like a college senior. We were all amazed at his physique. He was an 18 year old high school senior that looked more ripped than most of the current guys on the team. Needless to say, we signed him. He was Coach Thom Ortiz' first recruit. He has had an unbelievable career as a three time Pac-10 champion and one-time NCAA All-American. He failed to place at last year's nationals, which has really driven Bader to train hard and get better in positions that hurt him last season. If you know anything about him, you know he is a tough competitor. He does not put a lot of points on the board. He just wrestles smart and in control. He comes from a hard working family who has instilled a great amount of work ethic and determination. I don't care where he gets seeded next week. I don't care who he wrestles. He will win because it is his 'will' to win!

Cain Velasquez (Senior)
Record: 34-5

Cain is without a doubt the most intense wrestler we have had on this team in a while. He wants to dominate and is angry when he doesn't. He has had some tough losses this year, but is really gunning for a rematch with the three that beat him. It seems as though he will have that chance with if the seeds go as they are now ranked. Cain will no doubt have to be ready for each match, but, if and when he makes it to the semi-finals, he will probably face Minnesota's Cole Konrad. Cain used to win matches because he just flat out got them tired, but he has really developed his offense and now beats them with not only a relentless attack, but now with good leg attacks and strong set ups. Cain will not be satisfied with anything less than winning the whole thing. There are not many who think he can beat both Konrad and Steve Mocco (Oklahoma State), but those of us who know Cain know he can. Cain will attack this tournament with extreme focus and mental toughness. If you are going to beat him, you are going to have to go through hell. As our friend and fan Denny McCabe from Tucson says, 'Cain is Able'!

As you can tell, I, along with Coach Ortiz and Coach Larkin, are very excited about our guys' ability to win. We will not be sleeping much over the next couple of weeks. This is what we have been training for! GO DEVILS!

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