Sun Devil Wrestling Prepares for NCAA Championships

March 17, 2003

Sun Devil NCAA Notes [in pdf] | Updated Stats [in pdf]
NCAA Brackets [in pdf]

TEMPE, Ariz.- The Arizona State wrestling team will wrap up its 2003 season this weekend when it ventures to Kansas City, Mo., for the NCAA Championships. Eight Sun Devils will compete in the meet that not only concludes the season, but the careers of seniors Dana Holland, Eric Larkin, Rocky Smart, Curtis Owen and Kellan Fluckiger.

Not only will the team be vying for the program's second national title in wrestling, the eight individuals will also look to finish in at-least eighth place so they may be called All-Americans. For all but Eric Larkin, their first national honor could be attained this year while Larkin goes for his fourth.

In Eric Larkin's first NCAA Championships, the freshman competed at 133 and finished fourth in the nation. As a sophomore and moving up to 141, Larkin finished third. Last year, the 141 junior took second at the national meet. Larkin has one more chance to move one rung higher on the national ladder and take the finish he has wanted the most: first place at the NCAAs.

The Pac-10 Championships began with Eric Larkin standing 25-0 and the owner of conference titles at 133 (one) and 141 (twice). Upon completion of the event, Larkin exited Boise, Idaho, with his fourth Pac-10 title, joining Marcus Mollica as the only Sun Devil to win four in a career. Larkin also remained undefeated at 29-0 and will seek his first national title after finishing fourth at nationals as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second last year as a junior.

With 134 points to Boise State's 127, the Sun Devils brought home their 14th Pac-10 Championship since 1979 on the strength of six individual champions and eight total competitors in the Top 3.

The six champions marked the second most in school history, tying the six the 1988 squad secured. Current head coach Thom Ortiz was a member of the that team that went on to win the NCAA team title. The record is seven and was set by the 1985 team.

Seven Sun Devils hit the mats in the final session of the Pac-10 Championships and six left the tournament as the top man in his weight class. Mike Simpson (133), Eric Larkin (149), Nick Frost (165), Curtis Owen (174), Ryan Bader (197) and Kellan Fluckiger (285) each won a Pac-10 title at the conference meet. Joining them on the podium was runner-up Dana Holland (141) and third place Rocky Smart (157).

With three seconds remaining in the 141 championship bout and the match tied at one, Boise State's Gabe Vigil scored a takedown on Dana Holland on the edge of the mat for a 3-1 lead. Holland tried to escape and as the buzzer sounded, he was awarded a point for Vigil locking hands. Holland also received a point for riding time to send the match into overtime. After a scoreless minute of extra wrestling, Vigil chose bottom and Holland rode him out for the title. But ...

After a protest and review of the match film footage, the officials overturned their decision, taking away the locking hands point from Holland and effectively ending the match at 3-2 in regulation. The decision gave Vigil the Pac-10 title and pushed Holland to the runner-up position following the controversial ruling.

Eric Larkin is making a push toward the top of several record categories at Arizona State, including a tie at No. 7 all-time with current head coach Thom Ortiz with 118 career wins. His nine pins this year put his career total at 34 and ties him with Adam Cohen at No. 4 all-time. Prior to postseason action, Larkin completed his dual career with 48 dual victories at No. 13. Larkin's career winning percentage of .907 ranks him third all-time at Arizona State.

Kellan Fluckiger is approaching the 100-win plateau and that is a spot in history he would rather not be. Standing 94-43 in his career and No. 21 on the all-time list, Fluckiger would need six more wins to reach 100. Traditionally, the heavyweight national champion wrestles and wins five matches at the NCAA meet.

In their final try to reach their ultimate goal, seniors Dana Holland, Rocky Smart, Curtis Owen and Kellan Fluckiger will attempt to earn their first All-America honors before calling their collegiate careers complete. All they need to do is place in the Top 8 at the NCAA Championships this week. If they reach their goal, they will join 55 other Sun Devils as All-Americans, 28 of which brought home the honor once in their respective careers. Another senior, Eric Larkin, will try to become the fourth ASU grappler to attain the accolade four times.

Ryan Bader and Mike Simpson will be the only Sun Devils making their first appearances in the NCAA Championship meet this week. A redshirt freshman, Bader represents the Pac-10 as its champion at 197. Simpson, also the conference's champion at 133, will go to the meet as a sophomore after not qualifying for the national meet a year ago.

Eight Arizona State wrestlers will be in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend to battle for national supremecy. Those Sun Devils are, with their 2002-03 record against NCAA participants in parentheses, are: Mike Simpson at 133 (8-13), Dana Holland at 141 (17-5), Eric Larkin at 149 (16-0), Rocky Smart at 157 (3-4), Nick Frost at 165 (8-11), Curtis Owen at 174 (7-5), Ryan Bader at 197 (9-11) and Kellan Fluckiger at heavyweight (12-5).

In the coaching corners for the Sun Devils will be second-year head coach Thom Ortiz, a three-time All-American at ASU; second-year assistant coach Townsend Saunders, a two-time All-American for the Sun Devils; and Aaron Simpson, a fifth-year assistant and two-time All-American for Arizona State.

The Sun Devils won 12 duals on the year with one of those victories holding a lasting effect on the program. With a 21-16 defeat of Lock Haven in the opening dual of the Sun Devil Duals on Jan. 5, Arizona State successfully collected the 400th win in the team's history. The Sun Devils ended the dual season 12-7 to push their all-time record to 409-218-13.

In the final national team rankings released prior to the national championships, the Sun Devils have been slotted as No. 8 by Intermat and No. 10 by the Wrestling Mall. The NWCA coaches (March 4 poll) has the Sun Devils at No. 14.

The finest wrestlers the collegiate ranks have to offer will converge on Kansas City, Mo., this weekend to battle for 11 championship titles: one team trophy and 10 individual champions. The Pac-10 Conference will send 44 of its own to the meet with eight of them being Sun Devils.

Arizona State has fared well at the NCAA Championships including 14 years in which it finished in the Top 10 nationally. The crowning moment for the program was the 1988 meet where the Sun Devils captured the team title. The following two years, ASU also finished as the national runners-up.

Individually, 55 Sun Devils have been named All-Americans with five returning to Tempe as national champions. Curley Culp (1967 at heavyweight), Eddie Urbano (1985 at 150), Dan St. John (1989 at 158 and 1990 at 167), Ray Miller (1993 at 167) and Markus Mollica (1993 at 158 and 1995 at 167) have won collegiate gold with several Sun Devils having a shot to join that list this year.

The 2002 installment of the NCAA Championships saw two Sun Devils return home with All-America honors and the team taking 12th. Minnesota took home its second national championship in a row.

David Douglas earned his second All-America award in as many years with a fifth place finish at 133 and Eric Larkin exited Albany, N.Y., as the runner-up at 141. Rocky Smart, Nick Frost, Erik Gladish and Kellan Fluckiger also competed in the event but fell short of placing in the Top 8.

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