ASU Wrestling Heads to Reno Tournament Wednesday

Dec. 19, 2006

TEMPE, Ariz. - With finals behind its members and the holiday break ahead, the Arizona State University wrestling team hits the road this week as the Sun Devils are set to compete in the 2006 Reno Tournament of Champions all day Wednesday inside the Downtown Convention Center in Reno, Nev. The event marks the final individual tournament of the year for the Sun Devils before the championship season in late February.

The collegiate division will see 28 teams compete, including 18 NCAA Division I teams, four members of the NCAA Division II, four teams from the NAIA and two from the NJCAA ranks. No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 9 Northwestern, No. 10 Central Michigan and No. 20 Cal Poly are four of the 13 ranked teams in the tournament that also features nine of the current 10 members of the Pac-10 Conference (Portland State will not compete).

Despite being in smaller classifications, nine other teams hold positions in their respective national polls heading into the Reno Tournament. No. 3 Minnesota State-Mankato, No. 13 Newberry College and No. 17 Adams State represent the NCAA Division II while No. 4 Embry-Riddle, No. 9 Great Falls and tied for No. 14 Montana State-Northern and Southern Oregon compete in the NAIA. The only two junior colleges in the tournament are both ranked, including No. 4 Western Wyoming CC and No. 10 Southwestern Oregon CC.

The Reno Tournament of Champions will mark the final time Greg Gifford will compete as a collegiate wrestler in his home state of Nevada. A native of Las Vegas, Nev., Gifford competed for Fresno State for three years before the program was cut over the summer, forcing him to transfer into the Sun Devil program for his senior campaign.

Last year, the Sun Devils scored 75.5 points to finish seventh overall in the standings while Oklahoma State secured its ninth title in 10 years with 195 points. Jeremy Mendoza (125) and Brian Stith (157) each won their respective weight classes while Cain Velasquez (285) took second in the event to round out the placements for the team.

Although not part of the national Top 20, the Sun Devils continue to receive votes.

According to the latest NWCA national rankings, three Sun Devils have earned positions in the individual polls, with No. 2 Brian Stith leading the team at 157 pounds. Also in the rankings are No. 9 Patrick Pitsch (165) and No. 15 Pat Payne (141).

The first Pac-10 rankings of the season were released in early December with the latest rankings (December 19) seeing five members of the Sun Devil program among the Top 6. Brian Stith (157) and Patrick (165) are both tabbed as the No. 1 wrestlers at their respective weight classes while Jason Trulson (No. 3 at 197), Pat Payne (No. 5 at 141) and Chris Remsen (No. 6 at 149) round out the ranked ASU competitors.

In one of the tougher tournaments held each season, the Sun Devils placed 17th overall at the Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational (Dec. 1-2) with two members of the team placing in the event. Brian Stith won the 157-pound title while Patrick Pitsch finished fifth overall at 165.

With their 38-12 defeat of Portland State, ASU improved to 31-14 in their first home dual of the season and moved to 32-13 all-time in the first dual of the season.

At the start of his senior season, Brian Stith needed just 12 victories this season to reach 100 for his career and become the 22nd Sun Devil to achieve that status. The NCAA runner-up in 2006, Stith is 3-1 so far this season and holds a career record of 91-30.

Seven different wrestlers picked up their first wins in a Sun Devil singlet over the opening weekend, including two true freshmen, three redshirt freshmen and two transfers. Greg Gifford, who spent the past three seasons with Fresno State before the program was cut, went 2-0 on the weekend for his first wins with the program and also picked up the 70th win of his collegiate career. Another transfer, Chris Remsen, also secured the first wins of his career, going 2-0 on the weekend at 149 after dropping all four of his bouts at 174 last year. The NC State transfer is now 2-4 on his career. True freshmen Shawn Jones and Angel Alegre each won one bout at 133 for victories in their first collegiate bouts while redshirted athletes Robert Galvan (141), Jake Cranford (197) and Thor Moen (285) made the most of their first bouts following a season off from competition with victories in their debuts. Following the Fullerton Open, Jonathan Prince, a sophomore transfer, added his name.

After redshirting last year, Thor Moen got his first opportunity to compete for the Sun Devils Sunday, but did not spend much time on the mat as he pinned his foe in 3:56. Moen was one of two Sun Devils that recorded the first pin falls of their collegiate careers as Jason Trulson also won by fall, pinning his opponent in 1:40.

Despite their 0-2 performance over the weekend, the Sun Devils stand to 448-246-12 all-time in dual competition and need two more wins to reach the 450-win plataeu. The last two milestone victories came under the leadership of current coach Thom Ortiz as he guided his squad to a 36-9 defeat of Portland State on December 5, 2002, for the 400th victory in program history before seeing his Sun Devils down CS Bakersfield, 20-19, on January 10, 2005, for the 425th victory. Both victories came in Tempe.

ASU also needs just two more home victories to reach 200 in the history of the program. Arizona State won the 175th home dual on Jan. 5, 2003, when they defeated Embry-Riddle, 46-0, with the 150th victory coming on Jan. 9, 1997, in a 19-16 defeat of visiting Iowa State. The next home event for the Sun Devils will be January 7 when they play host to American, CS Fullerton and Lehigh for the Sun Devil Duals.

Arizona State won its 17th Pac-10 dual in a row (went 8-0-0 over the previous two seasons) and extended its home conference unbeaten streak to 29 duals in a row (28-0-1) following its 38-12 defeat of Portland State on Nov. 12. The last time ASU did not win at home against a Pac-10 foe came during the 1998-99 season when ASU and CS Bakersfield fought to an 18-18 tie in Tempe. The last home loss in conference action came during the 1996-97 campaign when CSUB defeated ASU, 21-18. Overall in his coaching career, Thom Ortiz is 34-2-0 in duals with Pac-10 foes.

Looking at the preseason team rankings released by the NWCA and InterMat, the Sun Devils will face at least seven of the teams ranked in the Top 25, including five of the Top 9 teams in the nation. Those teams include No. 1 Minnesota, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Iowa State, No. 9 Cornell, No. 20 Cal Poly and No. 21 Lehigh. The Sun Devils will meet Oklahoma, Cal Poly and Lehigh at home with the others taking place on the road.

After opening his senior campaign with a 2-0 record, No. 1 Brian Stith headed to the 41st NWCA All-Star Classic presented by the United States Marines Corps in Dallas on Monday evening. In a bout that featured No. 1 Stith and No. 2 Travis Paulson of Iowa State, neither man scored in the first period with Stith winning the flip and deferring. Paulson started the second period down and quickly escaped for the only scoring in the period. Stith, however, could not escape quickly and when he did to tie the match, Paulson had accumulated over one minute of riding time to secure the win, 2-1.

With Stith's 2-1 setback in Dallas this week at the All-Star Classic, the Sun Devils are now 10-12-1 all-time as 23 different wrestlers have competed in the event.

Head Coach Thom Ortiz and the Sun Devil wrestling program have received National Letters of Intent from three high school seniors that have chosen to continue their education and wrestling careers at Arizona State next academic year. The trio of signees include Vincent Varela (Rio Rancho, N.M.), Kyle DeBerry (Tucson, Ariz.) and Jesse Robbins (Oviedo, Fla.) with all three ranked in the Top 150 according to InterMat's Recruiting Rankings with Varela ranked No. 18, DeBerry No. 45 and Robbins No. 101. Varela is a three-time state champ and ranked second in the nation at 135 pounds, DeBerry is a three-time state champion and ranked third in the nation at 160 while Robbins is a two-time Greco-Roman national champion and ranked fifth nationally at 171.

Arizona State sent five of its wrestlers to the finals of the 2006 Pac-10 Championships with Patrick Pitsch (165), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (285) winning individual crowns to help the Sun Devils secure their second Pac-10 team title in a row and the 16th in program history following the tournament held at Stanford. The crown gave the Sun Devils their first back-to-back championships since winning the 1997 and 1998 titles. This year's team will look to secure its third crown in a row, marking the first time the program won more than two in a row since Bobby Douglas' squads won seven in a row between 1985-91.

For the fourth time in the five years Thom Ortiz has been the head coach, the Sun Devils placed in the Top 15 at the NCAA Championships as his squad placed sixth one year ago in Oklahoma City. Four All-Americans helped the maroon and gold to their second-highest finish under Ortiz (fifth in 2003) with Brian Stith leading the charge as the national runner-up at 157. He was joined by Cain Velasquez (4th at HWT), C.B. Dollaway (5th at 184) and Ryan Bader (7th at 197) on the podium at the end of the meet to help ASU accumulate 61.5 points, just one-half of one point from a fifth-place tie with Cornell (62.0) and 8.5 points from fourth-place Iowa (70.0) and a team trophy.

Brian Stith is the lone returning All-American for the Sun Devils having secured the national honor each of the last two seasons. His first honor came in 2005 when he placed sixth in the nation before finishing as the runner-up last year after entering the tournament as the No. 10 seed. An All-America accolade for Stith this season would make him the 13th Sun Devil to earn three honors in a career and the first since Eric Larkin earned four All-America honors (1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003).

A pair of middle-weights return this season with hopes of collecting their second individual Pac-10 crown. Brian Stith won his first crown in 2005 when he upset defending conference and NCAA champion Matt Gentry of Stanford in the 157 final before earning his first All-America honor. Stith placed second last year, falling to Ben Cherrington of Boise State. The second returning champion is Patrick Pitsch, who captured the 165 title last year as the tournament's three-seed. Pitsch went on to fall one victory short of All-America honors at the national championships and will look for his first national award this year.

Depleted by graduation and redshirts this year, the Sun Devils return just four athletes to their starting line up in 2006-07 that competed in the Pac-10 Championships one year ago. Those individuals include Pat Payne (sixth at 149), Brian Stith (second at 157), Patrick Pitsch (first at 165) and Chris Remsen (did not place at 174). Jason Robbins, who won the true fourth-place match at 141 last year, will redshirt this season.

Over the summer, the Fresno State University cut its wrestling program, unfortunately lowering the number of Division I programs in the west. Because of the cut, many of the wrestlers were forced to transfer to other programs to continue their careers with one of their top talents, Greg Gifford, choosing Arizona State. The senior from Las Vegas will start for ASU at 184 after winning the 2006 West Region Championship and qualifying for his second NCAA Championships berth.

The Sun Devil roster features 41 student-athletes this season with 17 entering their true-freshmen campaigns and three others transferring into the program. Of the newcomers this season, five have already worked their way into the probable starting line up, including freshmen Shawn Jones (125) and Angel Alegre (133), first-year sophomore Cameron Smith (149) and transfers Danny Galvan (sophomore at 141) and Greg Gifford (senior at 184).

The coaching staff welcomed a new volunteer coach to the fold this season as Travis Koppenhafer, the 2004 NCAA Division II Champion at 157 pounds for Adams State College, has joined the Sun Devils. A three-time All-American for ASC, Koppenhafer will work with the middle-weights, including Brian Stith and Patrick Pitsch, among others.

Arizona State has a pair of brothers on its roster this season as Quinton Pruett and Jason Trulson have been joined by their younger brothers, Preston Pruett and Jerrad Truslon, respectively. Although another pair of wrestlers share the same last name, Danny Galvan and Robert Galvan are not related.

Begun last year, the wrestling program continues to strive to not only improve on the mat, but also push for greatness off the mat by participating in the Scholar Brawler program. Based on the football team's Scholar Baller, the program was designed and implemented by the Office of Student-Athlete Development to 'teach that performing well in school and earning a bachelor's degree are victories that last a lifetime.' To become a Scholar Brawler, a student-athlete must carry a 3.0 GPA or higher in any semester. Last year, 17 different Sun Devils were Brawlers, including returning wrestlers Robert Galvan, Kevin Gaughan, Pat Payne, Brandon Schad, Brian Stith, Jason Trulson, Alex Pavlenko and Chris Remsen.

Last year, during the first season of Real Pro Wrestling, several former Sun Devils competed in the event with Eric Larkin placing second at 145 pounds for the Texas Shooters. Larkin was teammates with Danny Felix (132 pounds), Aaron Simpson (184 pounds) and Kellan Fluckiger (264 pounds) while another former Sun Devil, Markus Mollica, competed at 184 pounds for the California Claw. Heading into Season 2, the RPW is replaying its first season matches in select television markets with Simpson serving as the host. His duties include previewing the bouts and setting-up the next show in the season rewind.

Wells Fargo Arena serves as the home of Arizona State's home wrestling duals, as well as basketball (men and women), gymnastics and volleyball. Opened in the spring of 1974, the 14,198-seat arena has been the home venue of some of the Sun Devil greats with all 16 Pac-10 team titles and one of the two Western Athletic Conference crowns attained by ASU. Since its opening, 56 Sun Devils have captured 106 individual conference titles while 67 different athletes have earned a total of 98 All-America honors.

On Saturday, January 7, the Sun Devils dedicated their new training facility in a joint celebration with the gymnastic team. The Riches Wrestling Complex, the John Spini Women's Gymnastics Training Center and the Cavanagh/Dickey Olympic Sports Plaza were dedicated and showcased as fans and over 200 supporters toured two of the premier training centers in the nation while both teams showcased their teams by holding practices. The facilities are located off Sixth Street behind the Kajikawa Football Practice Fields and beyond the outfield wall at Farrington Softball Stadium.

The Sun Devils return to dual action following the holida break as the team hits the road for a showdown with No. 1 Minnesota on January 2 in Minneapolis, Minn. Five days later (January 7), the Sun Devils return home for the first time since Nov. 12 when they play host to the Sun Devil Duals as American, Lehigh and Cal State Fullerton will visit Tempe for an afternoon of action.

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