WRESTLING JOURNAL #12: This Week in ASU Wrestling with Aaron Simpson

March 1, 2006

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/1/06 - Pac-10 Champions!
It is great to be a Sun Devil! Yes, this past weekend, we waged war on the Pac-10 and came home victorious. I must say, there were times when we (the coaching staff) felt a little pressure. Our guys exchanged leads with Cal Poly throughout the tournament. Heading into the finals, we were behind by a point and a half. We had known we could pull it out, but things would have to go our way. We had five in the finals to Cal Poly's three. We matched up only once and that was at 197, with Ryan Bader wrestling CPU's Matt Monteiro. Cal Poly's wrestler at 125 pounds had a good win in the finals, giving them a three and a half point lead. We did not get to any of our finalists until Brian Stith at 157. I will talk about Brian later in this journal, but for now, let's just say we didn't agree with the quick pin that was called.

So, Brian's loss was unexpected, which meant we really needed a win from Patrick Pitsch at 165. Pat was wrestling like a man possessed. He looked awesome throughout the tournament. My biggest compliment to Pat was his mental focus. He was talking positive, remaining calm and getting himself ready. His confidence stemmed from great preparation in the weeks before the tournament. He was what we like to call 'coachable'. He was willing to do whatever we said to get better. As the third seed in the tournament, he had a tough road to win it all. He was going to have to beat some guys he had lost to earlier in the year. He did that in a dominating way. He exploded on three takedowns in the first period, extending his lead to 6-2 going into the second period. In the end, he walked off the mat a Pac-10 Champion.

With his win, we received two points and were now within a point and a half of being in first. C.B. Dollaway was next. We were confident in C.B.'s ability to wrestle with Oregon's defending Pac-10 champion, Shane Webster. C.B. put on a dominating performance in the semi-finals, avenging an earlier season loss to Cal Poly's Ryan Halsey. If you remember back, C.B. was choked out by Halsey in the match and had to default the match. C.B. wrestled the smartest I have seen him this year. He was in control to entire match. So, now in the finals, he would have to beat Webster. C.B. gave up several early takedowns and let the match get away from him. He tried to battle back and actually put Webster to his back for near-fall points, but it was too little too late. C.B. lost and would once again place second.

Now, we would have to rely on someone we have relied on all season long, Ryan Bader. Bader was set to wrestle Monteiro in a match that would determine the outcome of the team race. If Bader wins, we are crowned the Pac-10 champs. If Monteiro wins, then Cain Velasquez would have to have a pin for us to win by half of one point. Needless to say, we needed Bader to win.

The match was heated. Bader took a good shot, Montiero defended. Monteiro took a good shot, Bader defended. The score was 0-0 heading into the second period. Bader chose down and earned a quick escape taking a 1-0 lead. They kept battling and you could see they were both getting a little fatigued, but Bader looked stronger. No takedowns were scored in the second period and it was Monteiro's choice in the third. Monteiro knows Bader, having wrestled him six previous times over the last couple of years. He knew if he chose down, he may not get up. I would've chosen neutral also (I don't know how many matches Bader and I have wrestled in practice where I choose neutral for the same reason. If Bader gets on top, you can pretty much expect to be on your face to the entire period). So, with that being said, Monteiro chose neutral and tried hard to get a takedown. Bader wrestled smart with a 1-0 lead. He still took calculated shots, but not dangerous ones. It was Monteiro who took the first time out. We all suspected it was to get a breather and gather himself for one last attempt. Coach Ortiz warned Bader of this telling him he is going to go hard after this break for about 20 seconds. Bader needed to be ready. Ortiz was right. Monteiro reeled off several hard shot attempts, but Bader met each one with strong positioning. Once Bader saw his opening, he shot in on Monteiro and ended up on Monteiro's left leg, in a position he is unaccustomed to. He will tell you he had a split second of worry, but then in an equal amount of time, decided to go for it. He lifted Monteiro off the mat, put him to his side and jumped across to secure the takedown. We all went nuts. I looked over at Ortiz and he was pointing to his heart. He was proud. We were all proud. Bader showed great composure. Like Coach Ortiz was gesturing, he showed a tremendous amount of heart. Bader could've tried to run and stall it out for a one point win, but he chose to win by attacking. That is the only way to win. We were now Pac-10 champions for the second year in a row!

We could now sit back and enjoy Cain's final Pac-10 match. This would be his last as a senior and Cain wrestled a god match. He did not dominate like he normally would like. It is hard when guys will not wrestle him. They back up and wrestle defensively. It happened throughout the tournament. I guess that is a sign of respect. They know they cannot hang with his intensity or conditioning, so they will run and try to keep it close. You could tell Cain was not too happy with his win, but I imagine it was nice to stand on top of that podium for the last time in the Pac-10's.

Now, back to Brian Stith's match. Brian wrestled a very tough senior, Ben Cherrington from Boise State, in the finals. Brian was actually the second seed behind Cherrington and felt as though he had something to prove. The match was a little slow placed with a lot of battling for position and hand fighting. The controversy took place in the third period with the score tied at one. Cherrington shot in on Brian's ankle and Brian spun and grabbed Cherrington's ankles. They were each on a leg with Brian over top of Cherrington. Cherrington did what we all teach and tried to stack Brian on his back as Brian was now wrapped around Cherrington's back. Brian rolled across one shoulder to the next, but never really stopping and being held on his back. It was a continuous rocking motion. This is where it gets tricky. Brian rolled across his shoulders one more time and the mat was slapped for the fall. Brian's momentum took him all the way through and ended up getting out of the move, but the damage was already done. We did not totally agree with the call because Brian was not held there for any length of time. It was almost like a touch fall in freestyle wrestling, but what can you do? The referee made the call and there was no way of reversing it. Brian was hurt. He wanted this bad. If you know anything about Brian Stith, you would know he is all about wrestling. He is constantly thinking about it. He is almost always the last one off the mat when practice is over. When Coach Ortiz says he wants everyone to wrestle three matches in practice, Brian wrestles four. Then he stays after and drills his technique over and over. We still know Brian is capable of winning the national championships in a couple of weeks. Now, Brian has a little more incentive. We told him this loss is just more fuel to the fire. Do not count him out in Oklahoma City!

Speaking of not counting somebody out, let me talk about Jeremy Mendoza. If you kept up with the tournament this weekend, you saw that Mendoza lost a tough one to Tanner Gardner of Stanford in the semifinals. You were probably wondering what happened. Well, Jeremy just wrestled badly and Gardner wrestled great. I know Jeremy was stunned and maybe overlooked Gardner a bit. If anything, this was a good lesson for Jeremy. Hopefully he will take this loss and learn from it. He will use it to motivate him over the next couple of weeks of training to push and get better. Jeremy has a tremendous amount of natural ability, but if he does not use it, he will not win. When we head to Oklahoma City later this month, he will need to put it all on the line. He will need to wrestle each match like it is his last. Jeremy can place as high as he wants. It is not out of the question to see him in the finals Saturday, March 18. It will be entirely up to him.

We had some other good victories and not-so-good losses in the tournament. John Espinoza at 133 started with a tough draw and loss to No. 2 Darrell Vasquez from Cal Poly and Chris Remsen at 174 started with a loss to top seeded Jeremy Larson from Oregon State. They both dropped down into the consolation bracket and lost close matches to b put out of the tournament. They both suffered from lack of mat time. They each saw little action throughout the season, so when it came time to actually compete, they were behind the ball experience-wise. They need to make some decisions before next season and see how dedicated they wish to become.

Pat Payne wrestled in arguably the toughest weight (or most balanced weight at least) in the Pac-10. Pat had two pins and scored nine team points for us, which was huge. But, it was his losses that really hurt. Pat has had a long season, kind of resembling the cliché 'roller-coaster' season (filled with a lot of ups and downs). Last year, he sat out the entire season from surgery that repaired his meniscus. Then, earlier this year, he had some tough losses, then put together a great Las Vegas tournament where we thought he had it all figured out. Then, there was the mid-season knee injury that required another surgery that sidelined him once again. He had to start over and again lost some close ones. This eventually led to the final losses at the Pac-10's. Pat has seen it all and will hopefully have time to re-evaluate and get ready for next year. I have no doubts that Pat will reach his goals in his time here. He just needs to stay healthy and get better. He will get better. He is a fighter.

Jason Robbins was the surprise of the tournament for us. He sat out most of the season with injury after injury and a bit of the flu. He put it all together and won some key matches for us placing fifth and winning the true fourth match that counted only for voting of the wild-card qualifiers for the NCAA's. Jason's team points were crucial in our winning the Pac-10 title. Had he not stepped up and won those matches, we would not have won it all. Although he did not receive a wild card into the tournament, he wrestled tough and really showed us he could compete at this level. We will look for bigger things out of him in the future.

Next up is the NCAA's, March 16-18, at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. If you are not already going, then you can keep up with the action on www.intermatwrestle.com or most all the other wrestling sites. I will also try to do a re-cap of after each night on www.thesundevils.com, depending on how tired I am from the day's matches.

Of the six guys who will represent the Sun Devils, all six are All-American contenders. This is the best NCAA qualifying team since the 2003 fifth-place team that featured National Champion Eric Larkin, All-Americans Curtis Owen and Kellan Fluckiger, and qualifiers Rocky Smart, Dana Holland, Mike Simpson, Nick Frost and Ryan Bader. Now, we take Jeremy Mendoza, Brian Stith, Patrick Pitsch, C.B. Dollaway, Ryan Bader and Cain Velasquez. I like the odds!

Special thanks go out to Senior Associate Athletic Director Don Bocchi for his support at the Pac-10's. From knowing nothing about wrestling to now being one of biggest fans, I think he really likes, respects and enjoys the sport of wrestling. Thanks Coach Bocchi for all that you do. We would also like to thank Both Lance Patrick and Bobby Williams for making the trip to Stanford to support us and the guys. We are really lucky to have such great people surrounding this program that genuinely care about how we compete. Thanks guys. Lastly, we would like to thank some of the families, former wrestlers and current wrestlers, who came to support us. Current wrestlers Marc Rizio and Quinton Pruett were there, along with former wrestle Curtis Ray and his wife and new baby. It was great to see the Pitsch family there with their half orange and black, half maroon and gold t-shirts on if support of the Pitsch boys. The Bader nation was there getting it going in the stands with the Cal Poly fans. The Mendoza's were there as always. And it was cool to see Cain Velasquez's family make it all the way from the great city of Yuma! Jason's Robbins parents made it out all the way from Florida along with Pat Payne's from San Diego. We have some great parents who we can always count on to be in the stands cheering us on. We have one last hurrah! We hope to see everyone in Oklahoma.

We'll be training hard and getting focused. This is it ... what we have all been working so hard for. Wish us luck and GO DEVILS!

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