Sun Devil Wrestling Heads to Reno Tournament of Champions

Dec. 15, 2004

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TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona State University wrestling team (0-3, 0-0 Pac-10) will take to the mats for the final time in the 2004 calendar year as the Sun Devils head to the Reno Livestock Event Center for the 10th Reno Tournament of Champions slated for Sunday in Reno, Nev.

The 15-team Reno event has a distinct Pac-10 presence as nine of the 10 conference representatives will enter competitors into the meet. Only Stanford will not be on hand to compete. Of the 15 teams, three are ranked in the NWCA/InterMat National Top 25, including No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 18 ASU and No. 22 Cal State Bakersfield. Other non-Pac-10 teams slated to compete include Fresno State, The Citadel and Embry-Riddle (Prescott, Ariz.).

All-American Ryan Bader is set to return home this weekend as he heads back to Reno where he was a 2001 graduate of McQueen High School. A two-time Nevada state champion, Bader also was selected as the Nevada Wrestler of the Year and the 2001 Nevada Defensive Player of the Year while leading his football team to the state championship title.

One year ago, the Sun Devils entered the Reno event and finished second behind eventual national champion Oklahoma State. ASU tallied 127.5 points while the Cowboys ran away with the crown by recording 202.5 points.

Individually, Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (Hwt.) each won their respective weight classes while Christian Staylor (125), Mike Simpson (133) and Patrick Williams (149) each placed second. Brian Stith (157), Ron Renzi (174) and Nick Frost (184) each finished sixth.

Prior to his arrival at Arizona State, C.B. Dollaway finished first and third at the national junior college championship meet. At the start of his first season in Tempe, he was not well known among those compiling the national rankings, so much so that he was not ranked at all. But after a strong 8-4 start, Dollaway has risen to No. 7 in several polls following a first-place finish at the season-opening Fullerton Open before taking second at the Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational. Although he is 0-3 in duals, those losses include tough matches with the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked wrestlers at the time.

Cal Poly, hosts of the 2005 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships, released updated team and individual Pac-10 rankings on Dec. 1 with the Sun Devils climbing in both. On the team front, ASU moved up from No. 6 to No. 1 based on the improvements seen in the individual polls.

Half of the ranked individuals from ASU have received top billing as Patrick Williams (149), C.B. Dollaway (184), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (Hwt.) each lead their respective weight classes. The remaining four Sun Devils include No. 3 Jeremy Mendoza (125), No. 3 Brian Stith (157), No. 6 Patrick Pitsch (165) and No. 6 Rick Renzi (174).

The latest USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll was released Dec. 14 with the Sun Devils claiming the 18th position on the poll. Defending NCAA champion and entrant at the Reno event this weekend, Oklahoma State, holds the top spot again.

Also recently released were the national individual rankings supplied by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA). Ryan Bader leads the way as he sits fifth at 197 while Cain Velasquez (Hwt./7th), C.B. Dollaway (184/8th), Patrick Williams (149/8th) and Jeremy Mendoza (125/10th) all hold positions in the Top 10. Brian Stith (157) is the lone Sun Devil in the polls without being in the Top 10 as he is 13th.

Traditionally, the Sun Devils piece together a challenging schedule to prepare for the conference and national championship season and the 2004-05 slate is no exception to the rule. With their 22-16 setback at the hands of No. 7 Minnesota last week, Arizona State has opened the season 0-3 for the first time since the 1971-72 team dropped its first eight in a row. But the preceding team did not have the tough task of traveling to perennial powers Iowa and Iowa State in back-to-back dates.

Jeremy Mendoza is off to solid start this year, building a 12-3 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 38-33.

The 2004-05 season got underway with a quartet of Sun Devils winning titles at the Fullerton Open. Jeremy Mendoza (125), Patrick Williams (149), C.B. Dollaway (184) and Cain Velasquez (Hwt.) each secure titles in the event while four others placed in the Top 4, including second-place finishes from Patrick Pitsch (165) and Ryan Bader (197)

A pair of Sun Devils scored upset victories in the second dual of the season with the two wins coming in back-to-back bouts at Iowa State. 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.

Even with the individual wins, the Sun Devils were unable to overcome the No. 3 team in the nation, falling 22-16.

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.

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.

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.

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 (

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.

For the second dual in a row, the Sun Devils walked out of the arena with a 22-16 loss, this time thanks to visiting No. 7 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers jumped out to an early 12-0 lead before Patrick Williams won a major decision at 149 and Brian Stith pinned his foe at 157 (5:46) to bring the team tilt to a 12-10 score. UM then won three in a row to push their advantage to 12 points at 22-10 with two bouts remaining. Needing a pair of pins to tie the dual, Arizona State was forced to settle for two decision wins, including No. 8 Cain Velasquez upsetting No. 2 Cole Konrad, 4-3, in the final bout of the night.

Upon returning to campus after the holiday and the start of a new year, the Sun Devils will hit the road for a dual at Fresno State Jan. 4. The Sun Devils and Bulldogs meet at 5 p.m. in Fresno, Calif.

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