NCAA Championships Await Sun Devil Wrestlers

March 13, 2006

TEMPE, Ariz. - Following the defense of its Pac-10 Championship, the Arizona State University wrestling team heads to Oklahoma City, Okla., for the NCAA Wrestling Championships as the 2005-06 collegiate season comes to a close. Six Sun Devils will compete in the national meet inside the Ford Center from March 16-18 as the two-time Pac-10 champions set out to for national titles and All-America honors.

ESPN and ESPNU will broadcast some of the later action of the 2006 NCAA Championships with ESPNU bring live coverage of both sessions Friday while ESPN will broadcast the championship finals on Saturday night. Check local listings to times.

The six Sun Devils headed to Oklahoma City will not only look for individual national titles and a high team finish, they also will seek the highly-saught distinction of being an All-American by placing among the Top 8 in their individual weight classes.

Six individuals qualified for the NCAA Championships by placing in the Top 3 of their respective weight classes at the Pac-10 Championships. Those wrestlers are Jeremy Mendoza (3rd at 125), Brian Stith (2nd at 157), Patrick Pitsch (1st at 165), C.B. Dollaway (2nd at 184), Ryan Bader (1st at 197) and Cain Velasquez (1st at 285).

Of the six Sun Devils headed to the NCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend, four will be competing in their final collegiate bouts. Jeremy Mendoza (125), C.B. Dollaway (184), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (285) will look to conclude their senior campaigns with strong showings at the national meet.

Arizona State's NCAA contingent holds a combined record of 51-32 this season against those foes that have qualified to compete this weekend. Jeremy Mendoza (125) leads the way with a 12-3 mark while Brian Stith (157) is 7-3. Ryan Bader (197) is 10-4 with Cain Velasquez (285) standing 8-5 (all five losses have come to the Top 3 in the nation). C.B. Dollaway (184) and Patrick Pitsch (165) stand 8-7 and 6-10, respectively.

Three Sun Devils will be competing for the second All-America honors of their careers, including Brian Stith (157), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (285). Stith, who finished sixth one year ago, and Velasquez, who placed fifth, each attained their first national honor last year in St. Louis while Bader, who placed fourth, garnered the honor in 2004. If the trio reaches the Top 8, they would become the 28th, 29th and 30th Sun Devils to earn the honor twice in a career.

Arizona State has had one of its wrestlers earn All-America honors each of the last 30 years in a row with six Sun Devils heading to Oklahoma City this weekend to try and continue that streak. During the 30 year span, which began with Roye Oliver finishing fifth at 150 in 1976, 54 different wrestlers have combined to earn 95 All-America honors. Under Thom Ortiz, seven different Sun Devils have secured eight honors, all of which finished the tournament in sixth place or better.

As the Sun Devils look to continue to extend its current run of All-America honors attained, three of the wrestlers headed to nationals will not only look to earn their first honor, but also end a drought for the honor at three different weights. The last time a Sun Devil was an All-American at 165 was Steve Blackford in 2001 (fifth place) while the last time a Sun Devil attained the honor in the 184 weight class was current assistant coach Aaron Simpson (fourth at 177 pounds) in 1998. The 125 weight class (also was 118) has not had an All-American from ASU since the 1995 season when Danny Felix took seventh at 118.

The 2006 tournament will mark the fifth time Oklahoma City has played host to the event with the last time coming in 1992 when the Sun Devils finished sixth overall on the strength of four All-Americans and two national runners-up. The previous tournaments included a second-place team finish in 1989, sixth place in 1985 and a tie for 14th in 1983. Individually, five All-America honors were earned by Sun Devils in both 1989 and 1985 while just one, Gary Bohay, was attained in 1983. Of the 15 All-America honors earned by ASU athletes in Oklahoma City, two were NCAA Champions (Dan St. John at 158 in 1989 and Eddie Urbano at 150 in 1985) while three were national runners-up (Shawn Charles at 126 in 1992, Ray Miller at 158 in 1992 and Townsend Saunders at 142 in 1989).

Arizona State had two All-Americans and finished in 13th place with 39 points at the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Championships held in St. Louis, Mo. Brian Stith (157) and Cain Velasquez (285) each earned their first career Division I All-America honor by placing sixth and fifth, respectively. Velasquez was a NJCAA national champion at Iowa Central in 2003.

All six Sun Devils headed to the NCAA Championships this weekend have competed in the national event before, but only Ryan Bader has competed in more than one previous tournament as he will be making his fourth appearance. As a freshman, Bader went 1-2 at the 2003 tournament and did not place. He returned in 2004 to go 4-2 and place fourth to earn his first All-America honor. Last year, he went 2-2 and did not place.

Arizona State sent five of its wrestlers to the finals of the Pac-10 Championships with three winning their respective titles. Sophomore Patrick Pitsch was victorious at 165 for the first title of his collegiate career while seniors Ryan Bader at 197 and Cain Velasquez at 285 won their third and second Pac-10 crowns, respectively. Velasquez was the lone Sun Devil to defend his crown from last year as Brian Stith (157) fell in the finals after winning his first title last year. The fifth finalist was C.B. Dollaway (184), who lost to Shane Webster of Oregon for the second year in a row.

With his championship at 197, Ryan Bader became the 12th Sun Devil to win three or more Pac-10 titles in a career and the 16th to win three or more conference crowns (includes Arizona State's time in the WAC). Bader is the first Sun Devil to join this list since the 2002 season when Eric Larkin won his third in a row (133 in 1999, 141 in 2001 and 149 in 2002). Larkin would add his fourth crown one year later.

It came to the second-to-last bout of the championships to be determined, but thanks to a 3-0 victory by Ryan Bader in the finals of the 197 division, the Sun Devils pulled out slim margin of victory (118-115.5) over Cal Poly to win the Pac-10 team title for the second year in a row. The Mustangs held the team lead at the start of the finals by 1.5 points, but Bader's win gave the team two points (116-115.5) heading into the final bout of the night.

With their team victory, the Sun Devils now have captured 16 Pac-10 crowns since joining the conference 28 years ago and tied Oregon State for the most team titles won in conference history. Finishing a close second in 2006 was Cal Poly, who was trying to win their first Pac-10 title and join the short list of schools to have done so. In the history of the conference (44 years dating back to 1963), only eight schools have won titles with 18 total schools have been members in the Pac-10 at one time or another. Three schools are tied for the third-most titles in Pac-10 history as Boise State, Oregon and Washington each hold three crowns. The other schools to earn titles are Cal State Bakersfield (2x), Washington State and UCLA.

In those 28 championships the Sun Devils have competed, the team has averaged sending three of its wrestlers to the top of the podium each season, including each of the past five years under Thom Ortiz. In 2005, 2004 and 2002, Ortiz has seen two of his wrestlers win Pac-10 titles while the 2003 squad had six champions and this year's team had three.

In five years at the helm, Thom Ortiz has led his teams to three Pac-10 titles, tying him with Lee Roy Smith for the quickest to three titles in a coaching career at Arizona State. Legendary former coach Bobby Douglas needed eight years in the Pac-10 to attain three titles. Ortiz also won back-to-back conference titles the earliest of any of the coaches.

Eight of Arizona State's 10 competitors placed in the tournament as the Sun Devils accumulated 118 points to win its 16th Pac-10 title. Patrick Pitsch (165), Ryan Bader (197) and Cain Velasquez (285) each won titles while Brian Stith (157) and C.B. Dollaway (184) each took second. Other place winners included Jeremy Mendoza (125) in third, Jason Robbins (141) in fifth and Pat Payne (149) in sixth. Robbins, although listed as the fifth-place finisher for point-scoring purposes, finished as the true fourth-place winner.

The final regular season individual national rankings were released by the NWCA and Intermat on March 8 and all six of the Sun Devils headed to Oklahoma City are ranked in the Top 10. According to the poll, Cain Velasquez (285) is fourth, Jeremy Mendoza (125) is eighth, both C.B. Dollaway (184) and Ryan Bader (197) are ninth and both Brian Stith (157) and Patrick Pitsch (165) are 10th. The team is ranked 14th.

With its 30-15 defeat of Stanford on Feb. 12, Arizona State finished a perfect 8-0 in Pac-10 duals for the second year in a row. With Thom Ortiz at the helm of the program, the Sun Devils have enjoyed solid dual success at home against Pac-10 foes as his team is 19-0 during the past five seasons with a 33-2 record in all conference duals.

Individually this weekend, heavyweight Cain Velasquez enters with the longest current winning streak on the team as his 12-bout winning streak has seen him dominate his foes to the tune of seven falls, two technical falls and two major decisions. At the Pac-10 Championships, he pinned his first two opponents before winning his semifinal bout by major decision and the title with a 5-1 decision.

With a 28-4 record so far this season, Ryan Bader has improved his career record to 116-38, giving him 10th-most in school history after passing current assistant coach Aaron Simpson and his 110 victories. Bader also is closing in on his two other coaches, needing two more victories to tie head coach Thom Ortiz for eighth all-time and needing seven total victories to tie for sixth place with assistant coach Eric Larkin.

Ryan Bader's career victory total is not the only number to watch. Bader, Jeremy Mendoza and Cain Velasquez also are in the hunt for placements on other record boards. Bader finished with 55 career dual wins, the eighth-most in program history while Mendoza's 42 rank 19th all-time. On the season ledger, Bader's 18 dual wins ranks as the 15th-most. Heading into the weekend, Velasquez has 34 wins on the year while Mendoza has 32 and Bader 28. Reaching 34 wins will tie for the 20th spot on the list.

In their final campaigns for the Sun Devils, four seniors have fared quite well on the mats this season as the quartet has combined for an 107-19 overall record. Cain Velasquez leads the way with a 34-5 mark while Jeremy Mendoza stands 32-3. Ryan Bader is 28-4 with C.B. Dollaway, who just returned to the starting line up one month ago, is 13-6.

So far this season, four Sun Devils have won 20 or matches and absorbed no more than five losses. Those wrestlers are Jeremy Mendoza at 125 (32-3), Brian Stith at 157 (27-3), Ryan Bader at 197 (28-4) and Cain Velasquez at heavyweight (34-5).

Before the turn of the New Year in 2005, Cain Velasquez had built a 14-3 overall record with two of his losses coming to Greg Wagner of Michigan at the Las Vegas Invitational and Steve Mocco of Oklahoma State in the final of the Reno Tournament. After that loss to Mocco, Velasquez would run off 18 victories in a row to win the Pac-10 title before finishing fourth at the NCAA Championships. This season, Velasquez holds a 34-5 record with his losses coming at the hands of Wagner in Las Vegas and the National Duals, Mocco in the finals of the Reno event and the National Duals and Cole Konrad of Minnesota. For his career, Velasquez is 80-15 with 12 of those losses coming against the Top 3 wrestlers this year (five to Wagner, four to Konrad and three to Mocco). Velasquez also has not fallen to a member of a Pac-10 team.

Jeremy Mendoza, a senior walk-on starter from Temecula, Calif., has made the most of his senior season so far as he has climbed to No. 7 in the final national rankings with a 32-3 record and the championship title at the 2005 Reno Tournament of Champions. Mendoza also built a 16-1 record in dual competition this season. His lone loss outside of dual competition came in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational to Cornell's Troy Nickerson, currently ranked No. 5 in the nation while he lost his first dual bout, falling 8-2 to No. 8 Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State. Mendoza entered the season with a career mark of 52-39 and is now 84-42 in his career following a third-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships.

With the team enjoying success at home under Thom Ortiz, its no wonder this year's senior class also enjoyed strong showing on its home mat. Jeremy Mendoza, C.B. Dollaway, Ryan Bader and Cain Velasquez have combined to go 72-16 in home duals in 13 combined seasons-worth of wrestling. Velasquez leads the way with a 19-0 home record while Bader (29-3) and Dollaway (10-4) each sustained only three losses with Mendoza going 14-9. At the end of the season, both Bader and Velasquez led the charge with perfect 7-0 records at home this season while Mendoza also was perfect, going 5-0.

Since becoming a varsity program in 1962, Arizona State has competed in the NCAA Championships all 43 years and scored at least one point in 38 of those tournaments, including each of the last 31 in a row. During this time, the Sun Devils have had 60 different student-athletes secure a combined total of 102 All-America honors while helping the team place in the Top 10 on 18 occasions and in the Top 5 seven times, including a NCAA title in 1988 and runner-up finishes in both 1989 and 1990.

Since 1928, the NCAA has conducted a wrestling championship with 11 different schools claiming the crown. In 1988, Arizona State won the title and still is the only Western team to have done so in the history of the event. Based on geographical location, when removing ASU from the list, the most western team to win a title would be Oklahoma, who has won seven. The schools that have won crowns include Oklahoma State (33), Iowa (20), Iowa State (8), Oklahoma (7), Minnesota (2) and the following schools with one each: Arizona State, Cornell College (of Iowa), Indiana, Michigan State, Northern Iowa and Penn State.

Each week throughout the 2005-06 season, Sun Devil Assistant Coach Aaron Simpson will provide an inside look at the team as he submits journal entries to Visit the wrestling page on the official athletic web site of Arizona State Athletics to see what Coach Simpson has to say about a previous meet, the team's preparations and other interesting facts and stories about the Sun Devils.

ASU finished the dual season 14-7 overall with all seven losses coming at the hands of teams ranked in the Top 10. Arizona State lost duals to then No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 5 Iowa, No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 Iowa State, No. 8 Lehigh and No. 10 Oklahoma. Only Lehigh (No. 15 this week) has fallen out of the Top 10 since taking on ASU.

Arizona State, who entered the 2006 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals unseeded and ranked No. 18 in the national polls, went 3-2 at the national event and finished seventh overall. The Sun Devils twice upset No. 9 Missouri, the tournament's eighth-seeded team, and also knocked off No. 13 Northwestern in the consolation rounds. ASU's losses came at the hands of top-ranked and top-seeded Oklahoma State and fifth-ranked and fourth-seeded Michigan.

Prior to the Pac-10 Championships, Jeremy Mendoza (125) and Brian Stith (157) won the second and third, respectively, individual crowns this season for the Sun Devils by taking first place at the Reno Tournament of Champions. The duo joins Cain Velasquez (285) as the only individual champions on the year after the Sun Devil big man won the season-opening East Stroudsburg Open. The Sun Devils would add crowns from Patrick Pitsch (165), Ryan Bader (197) and Velasquez at the Pac-10 event.

On Saturday, January 7, the Sun Devils dedicated their new training facility in a joint celebration with the gymnastic team. The Riches Wrestling Complex, the John Spini Women's Gymnastics Training Center and the Cavanagh/Dickey Olympic Sports Plaza were dedicated and showcased as fans and over 200 supporters toured two of the premier training centers in the nation while both teams showcased their teams by holding practices. The facilities are located off Sixth Street behind the Kajikawa Football Practice Fields and beyond the outfield wall at Farrington Softball Stadium.

The 2006 NCAA Wrestling Championships mark the end of the 2005-06 collegiate season.

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