WRESTLING JOURNAL #15: This Week in ASU Wrestling with Aaron Simpson

March 27, 2006

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3/22/06 - NCAA Review
Well, things have really wound down around here. As many of you may know by now, we had a very successful NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. We crowned four All-Americans which has not been done in this program since 1997, and placed sixth as a team in the overall standings. It was an exciting time for us all, as we really came in as the dark horse and proved to the rest of the country that Arizona State University can still wrestle. The entire season, we battled injury after injury after injury. We knew the goal was get the guys ready for March and lay it on the line. We did just that.

We rolled into the tournament with six wrestlers, where all six where seeded in the Top 10. We knew the first round draws the Monday prior to competing and were pretty confident we would win our first six matches to begin the tournament. We were also pretty confident that we could get all six through to Saturday and place them all in the Top 8. Well, this did not completely happen as there were some bumps in the road.

125 - Jeremy Mendoza was the 7th seed and started off with a good win to make it to the second round. There, he hit a tough Nebraska kid who defeated Jeremy in a very tight match. Jeremy dropped down to face the returning two-time runner-up at 125 Kyle Ott of Illinois. They battled and battled and, at one point, I thought Jeremy was going to pull off the upset with a takedown on the edge of the mat. He did not get it and wound up losing in overtime and ultimately being knocked out of the tournament. This was a tough loss for all of us because Jeremy had been through so much in his career at ASU. We wanted him to earn the All-American honors badly. He worked so hard to get to where he is at. He did this all without a red-shirt year and most of the time without scholarship money. Jeremy's leadership and attitude will be missed. It was nice to have him be able to be the first one on the mat in duals and be able to count on him getting some big points. His career should not be defined by how he placed at the NCAAs; it should encompass more. It should tell of his acceptance of moving up two weight classes when he should've red-shirted for a chance to make the team better. It should tell of his pinning ability and his ability to wow the crowd with his unorthodox style of wrestling. He was a fun one to watch and was many a fan favorite. We, the coaching staff, wish Jeremy Mendoza great success in his future. We have no doubt that he will accomplish great things.

165 - Patrick Pitsch stepped on the mat in the first round ready to wrestle. He just did not realize at the time that we would face the type of wrestler from the Citadel that he faced. I believe he may have overlooked the stronger kid and made one fatal mistake that cost him four points. Pat was leading the match and was on top of his opponent. In an attempt to stop the kid's stand up, he rushed the kid and was thrown to his back. Pat fought it off, but could not make up the point difference. He was a little upset, but knew that in order to be an All-American, he would have to get his mind right and wrestle a lot of tough matches. In one exciting win against Slippery Rock, Pat was losing the match by four points with about 20 seconds left in the match and he hit a cement mixer roll and put the kid on his back for a five count. He went ahead by one point and hung on to advance in the bracket. It was unbelievable, because we were thinking it was Pat's last match. He found a way to win. He put together some other very good wins and found himself in the All-American round Friday night. He was to wrestle a kid from Edinboro who we had no scouting report on. The match was going back and forth when Pat was reversed and cradled for a five point swing. Pat made another crucial mistake. It was the one that would take him out of the tournament. He was really disappointed with his performance because he had only one goal. Now, he must wait an entire year to get back to the place that can set it all straight. Pat will need to cut out the mistakes that proved to do him in. If you watched Pat at home this year, you will remember two very winnable matches against Bracamonte of Oregon and Blake of Stanford where Pat was winning and lost because of mistakes. I hope he learns from this. We expect him to step up and fill the leadership role next season. He will be a huge factor in our return to national respect.

184 - C.B. Dollaway shocked everybody but Thom, Eric and myself. We have known all along how dangerous he could be and how good he actually was. His wins over nationally ranked opponents throughout the year were no fluke. All along, we preached to C.B. that he would step up and the national tournament and go out the way he wanted to go out. And, he did just that. We were really excited about his defeat over Backes of Iowa State in the second round. This put him in a match against Roger Kish of Minnesota, whom C.B. had already beaten in the year. Kish ended up winning the close match, so C.B.'s back was against the wall. He had to win one more match to be an All-American and reach his second goal, since winning the national title was no longer possible. He would face Iowa's Paul Bradley. C.B. lost to Bradley last year in an overtime match that was just plain brutal. This time, C.B. was the aggressor and had several leg attacks on the edge of the mat that did not score. It was C.B.'s defense that would prove to be the deciding factor in the match as C.B. shot several shots and won the match. I personally was so excited for C.B. He wanted it so bad. At times, I know he questioned it all, but all the hard work finally paid off. He was an All-American. Now, it was just how high did he want to place. He wrestled hard and ended up winning his last match of his college career, placing fifth in the nation. He was the tenth seed coming into this and some people had him ranked as low at 18th. He proved a lot of skeptics wrong. We were all so proud of C.B. What a fun athlete to coach! I will miss our workouts and some of the crazy scrambles that we got in. I will not miss being put to my back by him because of the crazy scrambles!

197 - Ryan Bader left it all in Oklahoma City. We all believed he could win the national title. He knew going in that he would have to wrestle his best and save nothing. He had two very good wins moving himself into the quarter-finals where he would wrestle the unseeded kid from Hofstra. We had no idea about the kid, only that he knocked off the #1 seed the match earlier with a spladle. We thought Bader would win this one for sure. Well, he was caught right off the bat with a little arm pass bye that the referee gave a quick (questionable) two points for. Bader escaped and was hit with the same move again and ridden out. We got nervous. Bader kept fighting and actually got back in the match with a takedown and some back points, but in the end, it was the Hofstra kid who got his hand raised. Bader was upset. He just envisioned himself winning and moving on. Later, on the van ride home, Bader told Coach Larkin, 'I tried too hard.' We knew he did. He spent every ounce of energy trying to get back in the match. It just did not happen. Bader needed to win one more match to earn All-American status now. He would have to do so against Nathan Moore of Purdue. Bader beat Moore 6-4 and got a great deal of pressure off of him. He wanted and needed to get back to that All-American podium. I believe that early in the year, he was questioning if he still had the desire to train and compete at the level it would take to get the job done. He lost a couple of early season matches to guys who he knows he should beat. We tried to keep him in good spirits knowing how long the season was. We were going to have to make sure he was hungry to wrestle by March. It became evident at the Pac-10s when he won his third title and was looking forward to finishing his career on top in Oklahoma City. We all trained so hard. We kept the room's intensity very high. I really had to get myself up to wrestle with both Bader and C.B. If I did not, I was afraid that they were going to really hammer me. So, day-in and day-out, we wrestled. We did not give each other an inch. I believe the preparation for these two was exactly what they needed, both mentally and physically. Bader eventually would lose a close match in the consolation semifinals, but redeem himself by wrestling his last match of his career against the #1 seed from Central Michigan and winning. It was one of the best matches that I have seen him wrestle. It was an awesome ending to an awesome career.

Heavyweight - Cain Velasquez began the tournament on a tear. In his first two matches, his opponents tried to throw Cain, but ended up on their own backs. Cain put the hammer down and pinned them both. Ortiz later commented that he believed these guys were putting themselves to their backs so they would not have to be completely exhausted by going through an entire match with Cain. He will get you dog tired. In his quarter final match, Cain once again put on a dominating performance with a major decision. It was the semifinals that had everyone on the edge of their seats. Cain wrestled Cole Konrad of Minnesota. Last season, Cain beat Konrad at home, but needed a stalling point to do so. This season in the dual, Cain earned a takedown in the third period to tie the match, but decided to cut Konrad and go for one more takedown to win the match. He shot and shot and shot but could not finish. He lost 3-2. So, that brings us to the semis. Cain's game-plan was to hand fight early and not give up any points in the first period. He stuck to this plan and really was looking good. In the second period, the choice was ours and we decided to go neutral because Konrad rode us out the entire first period last match. Cain hand fought again and defended one leg attack on the edge of the mat. It was a close one, but no points were scored. In the third period, it was Konrad's choice. He decided to go neutral also because Cain rode him out the entire second period last match. It was more of the same in the period, with Cain picking it up and taking some half attempts at shots, but really making Konrad look bad. Regulation time was up and the score, 0-0. In overtime, Cain could sense Konrad was tired. Cain decided this was it and that he was going to have to shoot to win. He took several shots and, at one point, actually looked as though he had a takedown on the edge of the mat. He did not get it. He shot again and again in that minute, but did not score. The crowd was really getting into it. I believe some Oklahoma State fans behind us started chanting 'A-S-U, A-S-U'. You just knew that an upset was about to happen. The period was up, so it went to the ride out. Both guys earned early escapes, but Cain was the one on the attack. In the second overtime, Cain once again took some great shots. Finally there was one stall warning called against Konrad, but that would be the only one. Konrad was purple in the face and completely exhausted. Cain just kept coming. He took more shots. Some said that Cain took nine shots total to Konrad's one, yet no more stall calls and no more points were awarded. This came down to the final ride out. If both guys earned escapes, then it would come down to who rode who longer. Konrad ended up riding Cain a little longer than Cain rode Konrad, so he won the match. Cain was upset. We were all upset. He worked so hard this season and really believed that he was going to be in the finals. After the match, so many fans and coaches came up to us and said that it was a great match and that Cain should've won. Even several Minnesota fans spoke of the match in Cain's favor. It was too bad that he didn't win. You do not like to win a match on stall calls, but it was clearly evident that Konrad was stalling and just trying to hang on. Cain went after it but was 40 pounds undersized, so he really had a tough time finishing his shots. Cain dropped down and ended up placing fourth in the tournament. He finished a great career by leaving it all on the mat. As a coach you can't help but love his intensity and aggressiveness. He just never stops. You wish all your wrestlers could wrestle like him. You would wish they could all emulate his passion to go as hard as humanly possible. Cain will be missed next season.

157 - Brian Stith beat everyone who stepped on the mat before him to get to the finals. Many said that he did not have to beat anyone good to get to the finals, which is where I have to disagree. If you won, then you advanced. You had to be good. Just because you were not ranked or seeded early on does not mean that you cannot wrestle. Brian wrestled a tough kid from Harvard in the quarter-finals who upset the #2 seed the match before. This was not Brian's fault. Brian majored the kid from Harvard to get to the semis. He then wrestled an All-American in the semis from Lehigh to advance to the finals. Brian looked on top of his game. He dominated with speed and good mat strategy. Brian only had two losses on the year coming into the tournament and was an All-American last year, yet he was only seeded 10th. This motivated Brian to prove to everyone that he was the best in the weight class. Remember, Brian suffered an ACL knee ligament tear last year in the NCAAs and still finished to become and All-American. He had surgery and rehabbed all summer. He missed several important matches early on and just took his time, making sure that he was going to be 100% by March. It was a great plan and worked just fine. Brian lost in the finals of the Pac-10 tournament by a quick pin that caught us off guard. We didn't know what to think. Brian got motivated to get to the finals of the NCAAs and bring home the title. It just so happened that the kid from Boise State whom he had wrestled in the finals of the Pac-10s was now once again in the finals with him at the NCAAs. In the finals, Brian looked like nerves had got the best of him. He took a bad shot early on and was ridden the entire period. Cherrington just seemed to be on. He also looked a lot stronger than Brian and was controlling the tie ups a lot better than Brian was used to. Brian just could not get back in the match. At one point, it looked as though Brian was going to lock up a cradle, but Cherrington just bailed out and gave up the takedown. Brian Stith lost and was the NCAA runner-up. Not a bad showing, but defiantly not what Brian had in mind. Luckily, Brian has one more year to get it done. He will now have a target on his back and will have to respond to guys trying to knock him off next season. I believe he will win it all next year.

In closing, I would like to thank all of you who attended the NCAAs and supported our guys. We loved getting the big wins and looking up to the families and friends up top and seeing you cheer. An interesting story took place right before Brian's final's match. Coach Ortiz, Coach Larkin, Don Bocchi and I were getting ready for Brian to wrestle, when we heard a voice calling us from above (no it wasn't God). We turned around and saw ASU president Michael Crow. He said good luck and gave us the thumbs up. We were kind of in awe. If you do not know about Dr. Crow, he has transformed our institution into the academic university of the future. His plans for the growth and development of ASU are on the cutting edge of higher education. Needless to say, he is 'big time'. It was just awesome for him to take some time out of his busy schedule to make it out to support Brian and the Sun Devils at the NCAAs.

I will try to write a couple more journals before I call it a year, but until then, remember that we will be having our end of the year wrestling banquet sometime in April. We are shooting for Wednesday, April 19. We will look to hold it in the new Riches Family Wrestling Complex, if we can get all the logistics worked out. Please plan on attending and celebrating our awesome season, our Pac-10 Championship and our sixth-place finish at the NCAAs. GO DEVILS!

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