Wrestling Opens 2007 at #2 Minnesota, Home for Three

Jan. 1, 2007

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TEMPE, Ariz. - With 12 days off from competition and the holiday season behind it, the Arizona State University wrestling team jumps back into the dual season as the Sun Devils (2-2, 1-0 Pac-10) heads to Minneapolis, Minn., for a 7 p.m. contest on January 2 when ASU meets the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-1, 0-0 Big Ten). After the New Year opener on the road, ASU returns home for the Sun Devil Duals on January 7 when they play host to American (2-4, 1-1 EIWA) at 4:30 p.m., conference foe Cal State Fullerton (1-2, 0-2 Pac-10) at 6 p.m. and No. 23 Lehigh (4-4, 0-0 EIWA) at 7:30 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.

The Sun Devil Duals will feature six collegiate duals taking placing on the floor of Wells Fargo Arena with two duals slated for each time slot. In the 4:30 p.m. slot, Arizona State will meet the Eagles of American while CS Fullerton and No. 23 Lehigh face one another. The 6 p.m. slot will feature a pair of conference duals as the Sun Devils and Titans meet in a Pac-10 battle while the EIWA is on display as the Mountain Hawks and Eagles meet. The final time slot (7:30 p.m.) will see the Sun Devils and Mountain Hawks meet while CSUF and AU meet in the other dual.

Although not part of the national Top 20, the Sun Devils continue to receive votes in the December 19 USA Today/InterMat/NWCA Coaches Poll. Two of this week's foes are currently ranked with Minnesota holding the No. 2 position and Lehigh ranked No. 23.

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.

When the Sun Devils take on the Golden Gophers, two bouts are slated to feature a pair of Top 20 competitors with the bouts taking place at 141 and 157. In the lower weight class, No. 15 Pat Payne will look to hand No. 5 Manuel Rivera his first loss of the season while No. 2 Brian Stith will meet No. 10 C.P. Schlatter in the other Top 20 clash.

Last year, the Sun Devils traveled to Minnesota to open the New Year where the No. 19 Sun Devils nearly came back to upset the second-ranked Golden Gophers before falling, 23-19. After winning the opening bout at 125 with a major decision and a 4-0 lead, the Sun Devils dropped the next three bouts before Brian Stith won a fall in 1:11 to bring the deficit to 14-10. After surrendering a forfeit at 165 (down 20-10), the Sun Devils won the next three bouts to make it 20-19 heading into the heavyweight showdown where No. 2 Cole Konrad scored a 3-2 decision over No. 4 Cain Velasquez to take the team win, 23-19.

The Sun Devils competed in the Reno Tournament of Champions on December 20 where they scored 34.5 points and had two wrestlers place individually to lead the team to a 14th-place finish. Greg Gifford, a Nevada native, placed fourth overall at 184 pounds in his final collegiate action in his home state while Jason Trulson continued to show improvement on the year by finishing sixth overall at 197 pounds.

The Golden Gophers enter the week with a 6-1 overall record and recently finished second at the Southern Scuffle, just 2.5 points behind No. 1 Missouri for the team crown. Minnesota has seven individuals ranked in the national Top 20, including a pair of No. 1 grapplers in Dustin Schlatter at 149 and Cole Konrad at heavyweight.

The Sun Devils hold a slim 9-8-0 record in the series with the Golden Gophers and lost the last meeting, 23-19, in Minneapolis last year.

The Eagles enter the Sun Devil Duals with a 2-4 overall record and stand 1-1 in EIWA action so far on the season. Recently, American placed 11th at the prestigious Midlands Tournament in Evanston, Ill., with a trio of competitors placing in the Top 8. The Eagles are led by national No. 3 Josh Glenn at 197 and No. 7 Adam LoPiccolo at heavyweight.

The Sun Devils hold a 1-0-0 record in the series with the Eagles, winning the lone meeting by a 41-8 score.

The Titans visit Tempe with a 1-2 overall record and stand 0-2 in the Pac-10 Conference, having fallen to Stanford and Cal Poly earlier in the season. The team, which placed eighth at the Reno Tournament of Champions last month, is led by Reno champion Ian Murphy at 184 and tournament runner-up and nationally ranked No. 11 Morgan Atkinson at 149.

The Sun Devils are a perfect 15-0-0 in their series with the Titans after taking a 25-18 decision in California last year.

The Mountain Hawks hold a 4-4 overall record on the year and have not competed in an EIWA dual so far this season. Lehigh, which finished 11th at the Southern Scuffle over the weekend, placed five athletes in the Top 8 and were led by the sixth-place showing of national No. 12 Paul Weibel at heavyweight.

The series between the Sun Devils and Mountain Hawks is tied at 2-2 after Lehigh won the last meeting, 29-7, at Lehigh.

Looking at the individual national rankings at heavyweight, the Sun Devils' Thor Moen certainly has his work cut out for him as he will face four ranked foes. After taking on No. 1 Cole Konrad of Minnesota on Jan. 2, Moen could face No. 7 Adam LoPiccolo of American, No. 20 Wade Sauer of CS Fullerton and No. 12 Paul Weibel of Lehigh at the Sun Devil Duals on Jan. 7.

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.

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.

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, 2006, 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 hit the road next weekend as they will take part in the 2007 Virginia Duals in Hampton, Va., on January 12 and 13. The Sun Devils' opponents will be determined early next week for the bracketed team tournament.

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