2001-2002 ASU Wrestling Outlook

Nov. 13, 2001

TEMPE, Ariz. - Under the direction of first-year head coach Thom Ortiz, the Arizona State University wrestling program looks to reach new heights when the 2001-02 season gets underway in Tempe.

With two All-Americans and six NCAA qualifiers returning from the 2001 squad that placed ninth at the NCAA Championships, Ortiz has an experienced group of wrestlers ready to defend their Pac-10 crown and aim for a top-five finish on the national stage come March.

'Our goal is to break into the top five, which is going to require a lot of hard work,' Ortiz said. 'It's going to be difficult because of the outstanding teams returning this year. However, the people we have in our program right now are surely capable.'

A three-time All-American and member of ASU's 1988 national championship team, Ortiz wants to take the Sun Devils 'back to the future,' by creating a program that annually contends for a national crown, the way ASU did in the late 1980's. After a nine-year stint as an assistant at Iowa State, Ortiz brings a familiar philosophy back to ASU.

'My main goal is to make conditioning a factor,' Ortiz said. 'The 1988, '89 and '90 ASU teams were known for their conditioning. I want the fitness of this Sun Devil team, and future teams, to be just as recognizable.'

Leading the way for ASU will be two-time All-American Eric Larkin. The junior from Tucson, Ariz., enters the season in pursuit of a national title after a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships last season. Larkin, the 2001 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year, is ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds going into the season.

'Eric has shown that he is willing to work hard and he has extraordinary talent,' Ortiz said. 'He has stated that his goal is to be a national champion and we want to do everything we can to prepare him to accomplish his dreams.'

Senior David Douglas, who earned his first All-America honors last year, will also provide ASU with necessary leadership. Along with Larkin, Douglas was named the team's 'Most Inspirational Wrestler' after his seventh place finish at nationals in 2001. Douglas enters 2002 ranked third at 133 pounds.

'I think David has realized that he has the ability to be a national champion and now he's working diligently in his senior year to attain that goal,' Ortiz said. 'He wants to finish his Sun Devil career on top of the podium.'

Joining Larkin and Douglas as ASU's team captains are senior Curtis Owen and junior Rocky Smart. Both two-time NCAA qualifiers, the pair will be aiming for All-America status this season. Smart enters the season ranked 11th at 157 pounds, while Owen is No. 18 at 174.

The Sun Devils will be challenged by a schedule that features dual meets with perennial national contenders Iowa State and Oklahoma, as well as Nebraska, Oregon and Oregon State. ASU will also be tested in the Las Vegas Invitational, the Reno Tournament of Champions and the National Duals.

'We have a quality home meet schedule,' Ortiz said. 'There are some traditional wrestling schools coming to ASU in Oregon State, Oregon and Nebraska, and recent up-and-comer Boise State. Also, Cal State Fullerton always has individuals that are NCAA caliber.'

Here's a look at the 2001-02 Sun Devils by weight class:
125: Battling for the starting position at 125 pounds will be sophomore Chris Knox, junior Adam Chavira and redshirt freshman Mike Simpson. Knox compiled an overall record of 2-18 as last year's starter, while Chavira has seen limited mat time.Simpson, who redshirted last season, comes to ASU with an impressive prep resume. At Brethren Christian High School in Anaheim, Calif., Simpson was a two-time state champion, a national high school champion and a two-time world team member. Redshirting at this weight and acting as a valuable workout partner for his teammates will be freshman Dan Vucci from Fairfax Station, Va.

133: Douglas is the returning All-American at this spot, but will have to contend with redshirt freshman Evan Larkin for the starting position. 'What's pushing David is that he will be challenged by Evan Larkin,' Ortiz said. 'He is not going to concede his starting position. Evan is a three-time Arizona state champion and he's been practicing very hard. He's probably going to be in our lineup quite a few times.'

Last year Douglas compiled an overall record of 26-10, en route to his first Pac-10 title and a seventh-place finish at nationals. Larkin gained a great deal of experience during his redshirt season last year, after following brother Eric to ASU from Sunnyside High School in Tucson. As a prepster, Larkin compiled a record of 157-5, winning three state titles and four city titles. He was also a World Team member in 1996.

141: After just two official seasons in an ASU uniform, Eric Larkin's resume is already lengthy. Following a freshman year in 1999 that saw him win a Pac-10 title and earn All-America honors at 133 pounds, Larkin used his redshirt year in 2000 to train for the Olympic Trials. Without skipping a beat, Larkin returned to ASU's lineup at 141 in 2001, to tally an overall record of 28-2, and a dual mark of 13-1. Despite surgery on both knees at different points of the season, Larkin won his second conference crown in as many years before placing third at the NCAA Championships. Larkin has already etched his name in the Sun Devil record books, becoming the first ASU wrestler to earn All-America honors as a freshman since Markus Mollica won the 1993 national title.

149: A variety of wrestlers could see mat time at 149 pounds throughout the year. During the first half of the season, it looks to be a battle of redshirt-freshmen for the starting spot. Joey Ortiz and Danny Alcocer will most likely fill the spot until 1999 All-American Quinn Foster regains his eligibility for the spring semester.

Foster redshirted last year, after a '99 season that saw him win the Pac-10 title at 149 pounds en route to an eighth-place finish at the NCAA tournament. Foster ranks seventh on ASU's all-time pins list with 26.

Last year's starter Dana Holland will redshirt this year, as will ASU's top newcomer at this weight, Chris Smith. Holland was the Pac-10 runner-up in his first year in Tempe after transferring from Iowa Central, compiling an overall record of 22-13. Smith comes to ASU from Highland High School in Gilbert, where he was a two-time All-American and a state champion in 2000.

157: The starting position at 157 pounds belongs to junior Rocky Smart. Smart, who transferred from BYU after his freshman year, quickly solidified the Sun Devil lineup in 2001. Smart compiled an overall record of 26-12 and a dual mark of 11-4, and qualified for the NCAA Championships with a third place finish at the Pac-10 tournament. 'Rocky Smart has the work ethic of a national champion,' Ortiz said. 'Right now he is the hardest working guy on the team.'

Backing up Smart will be sophomore Justin Peterson, while newcomer Will Randolph will use a redshirt season. Randolph, a freshman from Rio Rico, Ariz., was a state champion at 160 pounds in 2001, as well as a two-time regional champion.

165: Replacing Steve Blackford at 165 pounds will be no easy task, but sophomore Nick Frost stands willing and ready. Blackford culminated his ASU career last year as a three-time All-American. His 138 career wins rank second on ASU's all-time list, while his 62 dual victories rank second. Big shoes to fill maybe, but Frost will be the Sun Devils' go-to guy in 2002.

Frost used a redshirt year last season, gaining valuable mat time on the national level as he placed fourth at 167.5 pounds at the University National Freestyle Championships last April. As a freshman for ASU, Frost competed at 149 pounds, compiling an overall record of 13-23 as Foster's backup. Going into the season, Frost is ranked ninth at 165 points.

174: Senior Curtis Owen returns for one final year as a Sun Devil. The co-captain has his sights set on ending his career as an All-American, after qualifying for the NCAA championships the last two seasons. Last year Owen proved himself to be a reliable starter, tallying an overall record of 24-14 and placing third at the Pac-10 Championships. Sophomore Jason Conine could serve as a possible back-up for Owen, while newcomer Chris Petrie will redshirt at this weight. Petrie, from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz., was a state runner-up in 2001 and was also an outstanding football player.

184: The starting spot at 184 is up for grabs and will feature a wrestle off between four different Sun Devils. Looking to replace last year's starter, R.D. Pursell, will be Conine, redshirt freshman Scott Hollingsworth, sophomore Ron Renzi and freshman Will Carr. Renzi has the most collegiate mat experience, compiling a record of 2-6 at 174 pounds last year as a redshirt freshman. Conine has seen limited action and Hollingsworth used a redshirt season last year. Carr may not have collegiate wrestling experience, but the 29 year-old ex-marine comes to ASU with international experience gained in the military ranks. Among his many accomplishments, Carr, from Columbia Heights, Minn., placed sixth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000 and also placed sixth at the World Military Championships.

The future looks bright for the Sun Devils at 184 pounds, as incoming freshman Mazi Burke will be using his redshirt year. Burke, from Hawthorne, Calif., placed third at the California state championships and twice won CIF titles.

197: Senior Erik Gladish looks to be the leading candidate for the starting role at 197, but will be contested by sophomore Andy Swanson and newcomer Justin Klein. 'All are capable of doing well for the Sun Devils,' Ortiz said.

Gladish, ranked 10th going into the season, was an NCAA qualifier in 2000, finishing third at the Pac-10 Championships at 197 pounds. Swanson shared last year's starting spot at 197 with senior Mike Marshall, compiling an overall record of 7-14. Klein, a sophomore from Simi Valley, Calif., also spent time with the marine corps after being named the L.A. Times Wrestler of the Year as a prepster.

HWT: Juniors Kellan Fluckiger and Hector Torres will be contending for the starting position at heavyweight this year. 'The Sun Devils will look for an All-American at this position,' Ortiz said.

As a sophomore starter last year, Fluckiger qualified for his second straight NCAA tournament and won his first Pac-10 title. Torres, meanwhile saw limited action during the 2001 season but placed fifth at the U.S. National Freestyle Championships last April. Torres is ranked 15th at heavyweight according to preseason rankings.

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