Wrestlers Set to Compete at Sunkist/ASU Open

Oct. 27, 2004

TEMPE, Ariz. - The 2004-05 season unofficially gets underway for the Arizona State University wrestling team this weekend as it co-hosts the annual Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open. The meet will run Friday and Saturday inside Wells Fargo Arena on the campus of ASU and will feature men's and women's freestyle and men's Greco-Roman.

The Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open marks its 20th year this weekend with three disciplines being contested. The men's freestyle and Greco-Roman competition begins Friday with the preliminary, consolation and quarterfinal rounds being held starting at 9 a.m. The men's placing matches and all of the women's freestyle bouts will take place Saturday.

Along with the wrestling action on the mats this weekend, a coaches and wrestlers clinic will be conducted inside Wells Fargo Arena with 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner and 1988 Olympic Silver Medalist Zeke Jones serving as special guest clinicians. The Arizona State coaching staff, as well as all the current members of the Sun Devil team, will be on hand to instruct as well.

The wrestling program will soon have a new training facility on campus to use as a joint effort between the Sunkist Kids and ASU. Ground was broken in early August with the 9,600 square foot building scheduled for completion in December. With 7,200 square feet of usable mat space, the facility will hold three full-size competition mats (40x40) and afford a much larger practice area for the Sun Devils, and Sunkist Kids, to utilize.

A consensus Top 4 pick in this season's preseason individual rankings, Ryan Bader returns for his junior season with hopes of not only adding his third Pac-10 championship title at 197 pounds, but also adding his second All-America honors following a fourth-place finish at the national meet a year ago. Bader has compiled a career record of 57-26 following a stellar 33-8 mark last year on his way to earning a spot among the nation's elite wrestlers and winning tournament titles at the Missouri Open, Reno Tournament of Champions and the Pac-10 Championships.

Ryan Bader's All-America honor attained last year may have been his first, but it is certainly not the first for the program. Bader's accolade was the 100th award in the history of the program and also continued a streak of 30 years in a row that the Sun Devil program has produced at least one All-American wrestler.

A pair of student-athletes will be completing their collegiate careers this year as the wrestler in their senior campaigns. Patrick Williams (149) and Clifford Starks (197/HWT) enter their finals seasons after advancing to the NCAA Championships a year ago. Williams was the conference runner-up for the Sun Devils while Starks captured third in the heavyweight division at the Pac-10 meet. Both wrestlers transferred into Tempe from other schools with Williams coming from Neosho College in Kansas and Starks, a local product, spending his first two years playing football at near-by Mesa CC.

Of the 32 names appearing on the roster this season, nine are true freshmen with eight others being redshirt freshmen. All told, 24 of the wrestlers are freshman or sophomore standing with only two members of the squad being seniors this year.

Heading into the season, 10 student-athletes are projected as the starters for the Sun Devils with three freshmen cracking the lineup and two sophomores also earning spots. Patrick Williams (149) is the lone senior starter this season with All-American Ryan Bader leading the way as a junior at 197. Here is the tentative starting 10 for the Sun Devils in 2004-05:
125 • Jeremy Mendoza (Jr.)
133 • Curtis Ray (So.)
141 • Pat Payne (Fr.)
149 • Patrick Williams (Sr.)
157 • Brian Stith (So.)
165 • Patrick Pitsch (Fr.)
174 • Rick Renzi (Fr.)
184 • C.B. Dollaway (Jr.)
197 • Ryan Bader (Jr.)
285 • Cain Velasquez (Jr.)

All four members of the Arizona State coaching staff obtained their degrees from ASU while also competing for the Sun Devils during their careers in Tempe. Head Coach Thom Ortiz graduated in 1990 and was a member of the 1988 national championship team. Aaron Simpson was a two-time All-American prior to earning his degree in 1996 and coaching the team for the past seven seasons. Eric Larkin and Kellan Fluckiger both completed their degree work in 2003 following successful campaigns with the maroon and gold. Larkin was the 2003 NCAA champion at 149 and a four-time All-American and conference champion while Fluckiger was an All-American in his senior season while taking home two conference gold medals.

Thom Ortiz enters his fourth year at the helm of the Sun Devil wrestling program with a 32-20 record as the head coach. Ortiz led the Sun Devils to the 2003 Pac-10 Championship title on the strength of six individual champions and seven total finalists while also guiding current assistant coach Eric Larkin to the NCAA title at 149 pounds in his senior campaign. A graduate of ASU in 1990, Ortiz was a two-time All-American and was a member of the 1988 NCAA Championship Sun Devil team. A three-time Pac-10 champion, Ortiz also was a part of three conference team championships in his time with ASU.

Zeke Jones (1987-90) was enshrined in the Arizona State Hall of Fame Sept. 25 as part of the annual induction ceremonies coinciding with the ASU vs. Oregon State football game. Jones, the current assistant coach at West Virginia, was a three-time All-American and three-time Pac-10 Champion at 118 pounds for the Sun Devils. An accomplished international competitor, Jones was the Olympic Silver Medalist in 1992 and was recently a member of the USA Wrestling staff (freestyle) in Athens.

Real Pro Wrestling (RPW) was created in 2002 and held its first show taping Oct. 8-9 in Los Angeles. Eric Larkin, Aaron Simpson and Kellan Fluckiger all competed for the shows that will begin airing on PAX TV February 13. Teams, results and other information will be released as part of the one-hour shows that will air for 14 weeks in a row with the 15th showing being a two-hour special that features all seven of the championship bouts that pit Olympic caliber freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers against one another in the tournament (realprowrestling.com).

Wells Fargo Arena, located adjacent to Sun Devil Stadium, is the home of several of Arizona State's athletic teams, including wrestling, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball. The building has a capacity of 14,198 and has been the host of numerous conference and national events, most recently the 2004 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships. In 2005, the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight for women's basketball will be contested on Ned Wulk Court with the winner heading to the final four.

The Sun Devils will have 20 days to prepare for the official start of the season when they head to conference rival Cal State Fullerton for the Fullerton Open in Fullerton, Calif. The dual meet seasons gets underway one week later with the Sun Devils facing two of the nation's more accomplished programs with duals at Iowa and Iowa State.