Wrestling Makes Season Debut at Missouri Open Sunday

Nov. 14, 2001

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This Week --
Under the direction of first-year head coach Thom Ortiz, the Arizona State wrestling squad officially opens the 2001-02 season at the 2nd Annual Missouri Open, Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse in Columbia, Mo. The all-day affair will feature wrestlers from some of the top teams in the nation including Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Eastern Illinois. Several junior colleges from the state of Missouri will also be competing.

Season Outlook --
This year's Sun Devil squad features 2001 All-Americans David Douglas and Eric Larkin, as well as 13 returning letterwinners and six starters from the 2001 team that won a Pac-10 title and finished ninth at the NCAA Championships. Larkin and Douglas are two of the nation's top wrestlers in their respective weight classes, at 141 and 133 pounds. The All-American duo will be joined by fellow team captains and NCAA Qualifiers Curtis Owen (174) and Rocky Smart (157) as the Sun Devils' team leaders. Additional starters for ASU look to be Nick Frost (165), returning from a redshirt year last season, and Erik Gladish (197). 2001 Pac-10 Champ and NCAA Qualifier Kellan Fluckiger will be battling Hector Torres for the starting spot at heavyweight, while Chris Knox and Mike Simpson will do the same at 125 pounds. Ortiz is in his first year at the helm of the ASU program, yet he is no stranger to Tempe. He returns to his alma mater where he was a three-time All-American and three-time Pac-10 Champion. Ortiz also helped ASU to its only NCAA title in 1988, plus two national runner-up team finishes in 1989 and 1990.

Sun Devils in the National Polls --
The National Wrestling Coaches Association Poll has not yet been released, but ASU enters the season ranked ninth by Amateur Wrestling News and 11th by InterMat. Seven Sun Devils are ranked individually, featured by junior Eric Larkin, ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds by both AWM and InterMat and senior David Douglas, ranked third at 133 pounds by both. Additional rankings include junior Rocky Smart at 157 (eighth-AWM, ninth-IM), sophomore Nick Frost at 165 (13th-AWM, 10th-IM), senior Curtis Owen at 174 (20th-AWM, 19th-IM), senior Erik Gladish at 197 (10th-IM) junior Kellan Fluckiger at heavyweight (15th-AWM) and junior Hector Torres also at heavyweight (16th-IM).

Pac-10 Rankings --
ASU is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 Preseason Wrestling Poll released Oct. 26. The defending champions sit atop No. 2 Oregon State (host of this year's Pac-10 tournament), No. 3 Boise State, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Caly Poly, No. 6 UC Davis, No. 7 Cal State Bakersfield, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Portland State and No. 10 Cal State Fullerton. ASU wrestlers are ranked among the top four in eight weight classes, including four Sun Devils ranked No. 1: Mike Simpson (No. 4, 125), David Douglas (No. 1, 133), Eric Larkin (No. 1, 141), Rocky Smart (No. 1, 157), Nick Frost (No. 4, 165), Curtis Owen (No. 3, 174), Erik Gladish (No. 2, 197) and Kellan Fluckiger/Hector Torres (No. 1, HWT).

Sun Devils Impressive at Sunkist Open --
Junior Eric Larkin captured the freestyle 63 kg. championship title, while freshman Evan Larkin, junior Kellan Fluckiger and assistant coach Aaron Simpson each earned freestyle runner-up honors as the 17th Annual Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open that concluded at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz., Sunday, Oct. 28. Larkin went 5-0 during the two-day tournament, highlighted be a close 5-4 decision over Jamill Kelly in the championship bout. His title was one of five freestyle titles captured by the United States, while Canada came away with two champions. Eric's younger brother Evan, took second at 58 kg., losing to Canada's Saelo Azarbayjami by technical fall (12-2, 4:10) in the title match. Fluckiger finished second at 130 kg., losing by technical fall (10-0, 2:07) to Tolly Thompson, while Simpson, last year's winner at 85 kg., fell to Randy Pugh 4-2 in the title match.

Head Coach Thom Ortiz --
Becoming the fifth head coach in the 39-year history of ASU wrestling, Thom Ortiz returns to his alma mater where he was a three-time All-American, a three-time Pac-10 champion and a strong contributor to three of the most successful teams in ASU wrestling history. Ortiz helped ASU win four straight Pac-10 titles and its only NCAA crown in 1988, a season followed by two-straight national runner-up finishes in '89 and '90. Ortiz returns to ASU after serving nine years as the head assistant coach at Iowa State under his former Sun Devil coach Bobby Douglas. In 1992, he followed Douglas from Tempe to Ames, Iowa, for an assistant coaching position. With the Cyclones, Ortiz helped mentor three national champions and numerous All-Americans, while bringing in some of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the nation. Ortiz was also the runner-up for the 2000 National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year Award. Prior to his stint at Iowa State, Ortiz was an ASU graduate assistant in 1991, before taking over as the Sun Devils' interim head coach while Douglas was coaching the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 1992.

ASU Ties --
Not only is head coach Thom Ortiz a former Sun Devil, both of his assistant coaches, Townsend Saunders and Aaron Simpson, are ASU alums. Saunders is in his first season as an assistant coach, hired by Ortiz in June 2001. Saunders wrestled for two seasons at ASU (1988-89, 1989-90), both years earning All-America honors and winning Pac-10 titles. Since his collegiate career, he went on to compete as a two-time Olympian, including a silver-medal winning performance in 1996. Saunders was also a two-time gold medalist at the Pan-American Games and a 1994 gold medalist at the Goodwill Games. Simpson enters his fourth year as an assistant, after working the previous three years under Lee Roy Smith. Simpson graduated from ASU in 1998 where he was a two-time All-American and two-time Pac-10 champion. Simpson continues his wrestling career competing for the Phoenix-based Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club. He was the 1997 Pan-American Games silver-medalist at 187 pounds and in June 2000, he placed fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Last summer he qualified for the World Team Trials with a fifth-place finish at the U.S. National Championships.

2000-01 Season Review --
Last year ASU recorded a ninth-place finish with 48 points at the NCAA Championships, the first top-10 finish since 1996 when the Sun Devils took 10th and its highest place and point total since 1995, a year which saw ASU notch a fourth-place national finish with 65.5 points. ASU had eight NCAA qualifiers, with three earning All-America honors: senior Steve Blackford (fifth at 165 pounds), junior David Douglas (seventh at 133) and sophomore Eric Larkin (third at 141). ASU won its third Pac-10 title in the last five years, with four Sun Devils claiming Pac-10 titles: Blackford, Larkin, Douglas and sophomore Kellan Fluckiger (HWT). Also placing for ASU at the Pac-10 Tournament were junior Dana Holland (second, 149), sophomore Rocky Smart (third, 157), junior Curtis Owen (third, 174) and senior R.D. Pursell (fourth, 184). Larkin was named the Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year, while Lee Roy Smith was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. ASU ended the season with a 10-5 overall dual record, 4-0 in the Pac-10.

Up Next --
After their trip to Missouri, the Sun Devils return to Tempe for two dual matches at home, starting with Cal State Fullerton, Sunday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m., followed by Oregon State, Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.

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