Wrestling Opens Home Duals Season with No. 7 Minnesota

Dec. 6, 2004

TEMPE, Ariz. - The No. 22 Arizona State University wrestling team (0-2/0-0 Pac-10) opens its home dual season Tuesday night when No. 7 Minnesota (0-1/0-0 Big Ten) pays a visit to Wells Fargo Arena. The meet is set to begin at 7 p.m.

The Sun Devils are coming off a solid performance at the Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational held Friday and Saturday at the Cashman Center in Sin City. Seven Sun Devils placed in the Top 8 of their respective weight classes to give ASU 103.5 points and a fourth-place finish in the 46-team event. Michigan won the tournament with Nebraska and Hofstra rounding out the Top 3 finishers.

In the previous 42 years that Arizona State has competed on the varsity level, the Sun Devils have compiled a 27-15 overall record in home openers. ASU had its four dual winning streak snapped last year when No. 3 Iowa handed the Sun Devils a 24-17 defeat in Tempe.

Since Wells Fargo Arena opened its door to wrestling in 1974, the Sun Devils have compiled an overall record of 139-47-2 inside the friendly confines. In the history of the program, the Sun Devils hold a 176-74-2 record as the hosts in duals conducted in Tempe.

With 422 dual wins recorded in the history of the program, number 423 would help the 2004-05 Sun Devil squad escape a date with the record books. With Arizona State opening the season with an 0-2 record for the second year in a row, a third loss would be the longest losing streak to start a season since the 1971-72 team dropped its first eight duals en route to a 2-13 record on the year.

On September 3, 2004, former Sun Devil All-American Steve Blackford lost his life in a tragic automobile accident. A beloved son, brother, nephew and friend, Blackford will be sorely missed by all that were fortunate enough to have met him and especially those who hold a special place in their hearts for him. On the Sun Devils' Dec. 7 dual with Minnesota (7 p.m.), the team will hold a moment of silence in honor of Steve.

Jeremy Mendoza is off to solid start this year, building a 12-2 record and winning the season-opening Fullerton Open at 125 pounds. Most recently, he placed seventh in a very tough Las Vegas Invitational tournament, going 5-2 and posting a 1-1 record in bouts with nationally ranked foes.

A journeyman of sorts for the Sun Devils, Mendoza is back to competing at 125 pounds following a year a 141. He holds a career record of 38-32.

C.B. Dolloway and Ryan Bader, competing at 184 and 197, respectively, each finished second in the Las Vegas Invitational over the weekend to lead the Sun Devils to a fourth-place finish. Dollaway, ranked ninth nationally, defeated the No. 19, No. 11 and No. 8-ranked wrestlers in the nation before falling in the finals to No. 5 Travis Pascoe of Nebraska, 6-4.

Bader, who finished second in the event for the second year in a row and is currently ranked seventh in the nation, met three nationally ranked foes, going 2-1 with his lone loss being a 4-1 decision to No. 2 Chris Skretkowicz of Hofstra in the final.

A pair of Sun Devils scored upset victories in the first dual action of the season with the two wins coming in back-to-back bouts. Heavyweight Cain Velasquez got the ball rolling as the eighth-ranked Sun Devil big man scored a 4-1 decision over Iowa State's fifth-ranked Scott Coleman. One bout later, unranked Jeremy Mendoza scored an 11-5 decision over previously undefeated and 13th-ranked Grant Nakamura of ISU.

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.

The latest coaches rankings, provided by the NWCA and InterMat, were released Nov. 30 with six Sun Devils earning positions in the national Top 20. Both Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (Hwt.) are ranked No. 7 with Patrick Williams (149) and C.B. Dollaway (184) holding rankings of No. 8 and No. 9, respectively. Jeremy Mendoza (125) cracked the rankings for the first time this season on the strength of his 7-0 start to claim the No. 11 position while Brian Stith (157) rounded out ASU's ranked at No. 15.

Cal Poly, the host of the 2005 Pac-10 Championships, released the conference's preseason individual rankings Oct. 26 with four Sun Devils earning a place in the Top 6. Both Patrick Williams (149) and Ryan Bader (197) are No. 1 in their respective weight classes while Cain Velasquez (HWT) and Brian Stith (157) sit third and Jeremy Mendoza (125) ranks sixth. Look for other Sun Devils to make their way into the Top 6 during the year as the conference does not rank true freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the preseason (ASU has three redshirts among the starters).

The Golden Gophers have turned in three strong tournament performances for head coach J Robinson this year and stand 0-1 in duals following a 28-10 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Oklahoma State over the weekend. So far this season, the Gophers have won 13 individual titles in three tournaments and one team title. Bobbe Lowe (125) leads the way for UM with a perfect 14-0 record on the year.

Although ASU has lost three in a row to UM, the Sun Devils still hold a 9-6-0 advantage in the all-time series. The Gophers won the last meeting, a 20-15 decision on New Year's Day in Rochester, Minn. ASU holds a 6-2-0 lead in the series when the dual is conducted in Tempe.

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.

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.

Real Pro Wrestling (RPW) was created in 2002 and held its first show taping Oct. 8-9 in Los Angeles. Eric Larkin, Aaron Simpson, Kellan Fluckiger and Danny Felix 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 (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.

ASU has one more event slated prior to the arrival of the new year as the Sun Devils head to the 10th Reno Tournament of Champions in Reno, Nev., Dec. 19. From there, the winter break will give the ASU wrestlers a break from competition until the team travels to Fresno State for a dual on Jan. 4.

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