WRESTLING JOURNAL #4: This Week in ASU Wrestling with Aaron Simpson

Dec. 21, 2005

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12/21/05 (Post Reno Tournament and Winter Break)
Winter break is upon us. Campus has cleared, everyone has gone home. Let me spend sometime to recap Reno, talk about some issues we are dealing with and then look to the future.

First off, can I start by saying we have been hit with injuries harder than a punch from Chuck Liddell? Many of you who tuned in to our most recent tournament in Reno were probably asking some questions. Where is Ryan Bader? How about Pat Payne? What happened to Patrick Pitsch? Well, the answers are simple: injuries. (Now I know how Dirk Koetter and the football coaches felt when they lost some of their stars and still had much of the season left to play.) I am not one for excuses, but it is hard to field a competitive team when your horses are on the bench. The week before we left for Las Vegas, Pat Payne suffered an injury that looks to sideline him for 2-3 more weeks. Ryan Bader has been battling an injury since before Lehigh and now is the time to heal up before we get into the thick of things. In Patrick Pitsch's first match in Reno, he sprawled to defend a shot and injured himself and must default out of the tournament. (I will not go into detail of the injuries out of respect to the guys, but let's just say they are not little bumps or bruises.) Top those off with a season ending injury/surgery to 174-pounder Rick Renzi and an injury that has been nagging freshman Jason Robbins and you could say we've had our share of downs! Anyway, we are just trying to make it out of December. Maybe the band Green Day can re-write their recent hit naming it 'Wake Me Up When December Ends', because this has been ridiculous!

Now, I do not want to delve into the negative because we had some awesome performances in Reno by some key individuals. Let's start with former walk-on Jeremy Mendoza. Jeremy is a fourth-year senior who did not utilize a red-shirt. He has been one of the hardest and smartest workers on the team and one of the most serious about the sport. Remember when I told you about him wanting to work out with Eric the day after his loss to Troy Nickerson from Cornell in Las Vegas? Well, he did that and more. He rebounded with a Reno Tournament title and defeated two guys that are ranked ahead of him. One was NCAA All-American Coleman Scott from Oklahoma State. Jeremy was on fire. He dominated John Velez (Northwestern) in the semi's putting him on his back twice! In the finals, he wrestled a smart match winning just 1-0. He is now ranked No. 6 in the country by Amateur Wrestling News, but I can assure you that sixth would be a disappointing placing for him in March. What a stud we have at 125!

Next was Brian Stith. Everyone was asking if Brian was going to finish the tournament. I am not sure what people were thinking. Some internet rankings moved him as far down as No. 14. He has one loss to NCAA finalist Joe Johnston (Iowa), yet they had no faith. We, on the other hand, know better. Brian put on a butt-kicking performance rolling up Penn State's star Nate Galloway in the semi's then using his blinding speed to embarrass Oklahoma State's Kevin Ward. With the time winding down, Brian lowered his level and moved in two different directions (much like a running-back would when he is trying to juke a defender) before securing a single leg and finishing for two. I have one thing to say about Brian Stith: 'He's back!'

Now, on to our heavyweight. I do not think anyone was more disappointed in their performance in Reno than Cain Velasquez. He is his own biggest critic, especially when he knows he should be the one getting his hand raised. Cain simply looked awesome. He is attacking better than ever. He has gotten that much better since Las Vegas. Cain dominated each match heading into the finals of Reno against two-time NCAA champ Steve Mocco from Oklahoma State. Most would say this would be an easy match for Mocco. I don't think Mocco thinks that. Cain came out hard (as always) and Mocco brought down some heavy hands, at one time dropping Cain to a knee. But Cain battled back. Mocco scored on an under-hook throw-by that kind of caught Cain off guard. Cain stood up and escaped at the end of the first. Mocco was getting tired and Cain was not. Mocco chose down in the second and Cain did his best to hold the 285-pounder down. Not an easy feat. Mocco escaped and Cain went to work on Mocco's head. Mocco stayed in there and battled, but you could see he did not like being pushed so hard. Once again, he caught Cain off guard and scored off an under-hook and foot-sweep. Cain battled to get on his feet and escaped (score 5-2). In the third period, Cain chose down and escaped making the score 5-3. He continued his relentless pursuit of taking down Mocco, but Mocco was still hanging in there. He was now completely exhausted. Cain was not. Cain just could not figure out how to score offensively on the big Cowboy. The time ran out and both shook hands, both out of great respect.

The best part of the match was what took place after. Both Cain and Mocco walked to the back mats and start doing sprints. Now, if you know anything about great wrestlers, they will exhaust themselves, then, once they know they can go no more, they go harder! Well, we saw that out of the two heavyweights (the scene was Cain on one mat doing sprints and Mocco on the other doing the same). I was standing there in somewhat awe and made a little comment to Eric Larkin that the two wanted to finish it by having a sprint off. Well, some of the high school kids working the tournament heard me and thought I was serious. They began to tell the others. Eric and I had to laugh. My story about Cain will finish with this. The tournament finished Sunday. We returned to Tempe on Monday and Cain lifted hard. Tuesday, I met Cain in the room and he drilled hard for about 45 minutes. Then, after that, he went to strength coach Ben Hilgart and did a gut busting conditioning lift that involved pulling a weighted sled and throwing some iron around! Cain is not resting until after he is standing on top of the podium in March looking down upon Mocco and the rest of the country who said he could not win...

I cannot count how many people (coaches, fans and referees alike) came up to me and talked about how impressed they were with Stith, Mendoza and Velasquez. One referee told me that Cain will beat Mocco when 'HE' finally realizes he can beat him. They were impressed with Mendoza's relaxed style and scrambling ability and one even compared his style to that of Coach Larkin's. I thought that was a nice compliment since a lot of Jeremy's success is a direct reflection of the time spent with Eric in the room. Others spoke of Brian's speed and technique. All in all, we had several great individual performances. We did not fair as well as a team, but we believe that will come. We have given the guys the week off. Many went home to be with their families. We will reconvene on Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. in the new Riches Family Wrestling Complex.

Have a wonderful holiday and, as always, GO DEVILS!


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