NCAA Wrestling Championships Await Sun Devils

March 13, 2007

Championship Notes (pdf)

TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona State University wrestling team will hit the road for its final competition of the 2006-07 season this week as four members of the team will head to Michigan to compete in the 2007 NCAA Wrestling Championships. The event will be held Thursday through Saturday inside the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.

As with all national tournaments, the stakes will be high this week as each competitor will look to win individual national crowns while also helping their respective teams to a title as well. The Top 8 finishers in each weight class will earn All-America honors as well.

Arizona State will have four of its own on the mats in Michigan this week with Brian Stith (157), Patrick Pitsch (165), Greg Gifford (184) and Jason Trulson (197) all set to compete. John Espinoza (125) qualified for the event as one of the Pac-10 Conference's wild card selections, but will be unable to compete due to injury.

Of the four Sun Devils set to compete this weekend, three will be looking to earn their first All-American honors, led by senior Greg Gifford (184). Juniors Patrick Pitsch (165) and Jason Trulson (197) will also battle for their first as Pitsch was one bout from the honor last year and Trulson will try for his first accolade in his first national appearance. The final Sun Devil competing this weekend, Brian Stith (157), is a two-time honoree.

If Brian Stith attains All-America honors this weekend, he will become just the 13th Sun Devils in program history to earn the national accolade three times in a career. The last member of the program to do so was Eric Larkin, who earned his third in 2002 as the national runner-up at 141 pounds before becoming the fourth, four-time honoree by winning the 149 crown in 2003. The last Sun Devil to finish his career with three All-America honors was the late Steve Blackford in 1999 (fourth), 2000 (third) and 2001 (fifth).

ESPN and ESPNU will provide several hours of television coverage this week, including another prime time showing of the championship finals. ESPNU will air three sessions of competition, including Session II starting Friday at 11 a.m. EST and Session III starting Friday at 7 p.m. EST. ESPNU will then televise the medal matches (third place through eighth place) starting at 10 a.m. EST Saturday before the original station airs the finals at 8 p.m. EST.

Fans that do not have ESPNU are still in luck as three computer updates will also be available all week long. will stream live footage of the tournament all week while brackets and results will be updated on For those wanting to tune in for a play-by-play and commentary on the action of the 77th national tournament, fans can also tune in to all three days for live coverage.

The brackets for the NCAA Championships were released Monday with two Sun Devils earning seeds in the their respective weight classes. Brian Stith, the returning national runner-up from one year ago, will enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed at 157 pounds while Patrick Pitsch, a two-time defending Pac-10 Champion, will enter as the No. 11 seed at 165.

As with any national tournament, there are no easy bouts and the Sun Devils are no exception as the opening round pairings were announced. No. 2 Brian Stith will open his national title quest by facing Newly McSpadden of Oklahoma State while No. 11 Patrick Pitsch will meet Mike Miller of Central Michigan. Greg Gifford drew a very tough opening bout as the senior will face undefeated and top-seeded Jake Herbert of Northwestern at 184 while Jason Trulson will open his first NCAA appearance by facing No. 10 Wynn Michalak of CMU. Of the four opening bouts, only Trulson has had a prior meeting with his opponent with that bout ending in a 3-1 loss in the quarterfinals of the Reno Tournament of Champions this year.

Three of the Sun Devils set to compete this weekend all will represent the Pac-10 Conference as its champion at that weight class. Brian Stith (157), Patrick Pitsch (165) and Greg Gifford (184) each won conference crowns during the tournament in Bakersfield, Calif., last month, while Jason Trulson heads to the national event after placing third at 197 pounds.

For just the second time, the Sun Devils placed outside of the Top 3 at the Pac-10 Championships, this time finishing fifth with 76.5 points as only eight weight classes had an Arizona State entrant (injuries at 149 and heavyweight). Brian Stith (157), Patrick Pitsch (165) and Greg Gifford (184) each won titles while Jason Trulson (197) placed third. John Espinoza (fourth at 125) and Robert Galvan (sixth 141) also placed in the event.

Six Sun Devils competed at the tournament in Oklahoma City with four earning All-America honors and one falling one victory short. Brian Stith (second at 157), Cain Velasquez (fourth at heavyweight), C.B. Dollaway (fifth at 184) and Ryan Bader (seventh at 197) all earned the national honor with Patrick Pitsch (165) advancing to the round of 12 where one more victory would have made him an All-American. Also competing in the event was Jeremy Mendoza (125), who went 1-2. As a team, the Sun Devils scored 61.5 points and finished sixth.

In its 44-year history of competing at the NCAA Championships, six different Arizona State wrestlers have won national titles, most recently with Eric Larking capturing the 2003 title at 149 pounds. In all, those six athletes earned eight championships with Dan St. John (1989 and 1990) and Markus Mollica (1993 and 1995) each winning titles. Overall, ASU has had 23 wrestlers reach the finals of their respective weight classes, most recently with Brian Stith taking second place in 2006 at 157 pounds.

During the same span the Sun Devils have competed at the NCAA Championships, the program has seen 62 of its grapplers earn 106 total All-America honors, including four awards secured last year. In 2006, Brian Stith (second at 157), Cain Velasquez (fourth at heavyweight), C.B. Dollaway (fifth at 184) and Ryan Bader (seventh at 197) all earned the national honor with Dollaway claiming his first while the other three earned their second.

At the 1976 NCAA Championships in Tucson, Roye Oliver finished fifth at 150 pounds to earn his first All-American honor and end a drought of three tournaments in a row that a Sun Devil had not earned the honor. Since Oliver's placement, the Sun Devils have had at least one All-American in each of the last 31 NCAA tournaments.

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.

The 2007 tournament will mark the third time the state of Michigan has played host to the NCAA event and the first since 1942 when Michigan State hosted (1934 at Michigan). The Sun Devils, which did not have a varsity team until the start of the 1962-63, will be making their first appearance in a national event held in Michigan.

Brian Stith has moved up on two career wins lists in Arizona State history, including overall wins and dual wins, and will look to climb higher this weekend in the overall category. Standing 112-31 overall in his collegiate career, Stith is now 13th on the all-time wins list. If he wins the national title (five bouts), he move into the Top 10 all-time. Following his 3-1 victory at Stanford (Feb. 16), Stith concluded his dual career with a 55-16 record and tied Ryan Bader (2002-06) for eighth on the all-time dual wins list.

Brian Stith pinned Beau Fisher of Virginia in 1:18 of the Sun Devils' opening dual at the Virginia Duals on January 12 to record the 100th victory of his career, becoming just the 22nd Sun Devil to reach the milestone in a career and first since Ryan Bader did so last year. Stith, who is a native of Hampton, Va., the site of the Virginia Duals, closed out his stay in his hometown with three wins by major decision to reach the century mark.

When the first days of January hit, not only did it usher in a new year, it apparently ushered in an improved Brian Stith. Prior to the new year, Stith was 8-1 with only two wins by something other than decision (won two tech falls). Since a 4-3 loss on January 2 in Minnesota, Stith has recorded 16 wins in a row with. In that span, he has recorded seven major decisions (five in a row at one point), one technical fall and two pins, with his quickest fall (1:18) securing his 100th career victory.

After opening his senior campaign with a 2-0 record, No. 1 Brian Stith headed to the 41st NWCA All-Star Classic presented by the United States Marines Corps in Dallas. In a bout that featured No. 1 Stith and No. 2 Travis Paulson of Iowa State, neither man scored in the first period with Stith winning the flip and deferring. Paulson started the second period down and quickly escaped for the only scoring in the period. Stith, however, could not escape quickly and when he did to tie the match, Paulson had accumulated over one minute of riding time to secure the win, 2-1.

With Stith's 2-1 setback in Dallas this week at the All-Star Classic, the Sun Devils are now 10-12-1 all-time as 23 different wrestlers have competed in the event.

Patrick Pitsch will look to follow Brian Stith's blueprint for success from last year and become another double-digit seed to reach the finals. At the 2006 Championships, Stith was seeded 10th at 157 pounds and reached the finals before taking second place. Pitsch enters the 2007 tournament as the No. 11 seed.

After a two-week hiatus following an injury, Patrick Pitsch returned to the mats and has competed in three duals since then, winning all three. His first pitted him against No. 11 Shane Seibert of Oklahoma and saw the unranked Sun Devil take a 9-7 victory. After moving back into the national rankings, Pitsch (at No. 15) pinned Evan Barbe of Cal Poly in 4:13 before scoring a tough 6-0 decision over Scott Loescher of Stanford (Feb. 16). From there, he went to the Pac-10 Championships as the No. 2 seed and successfully defended his 2006 title.

Senior Greg Gifford has been on a tear as of late, winning seven of his last 10 bouts in convincing fashion. Over that stretch, Gifford has won four majors, two falls and one technical fall while adding a 9-6 decision and two more decisions in the Pac-10 Championships. Against Pac-10 foes during (including the tournament) that time, Gifford has won four majors, one technical fall and one fall. Currently on a 10-bout winning streak, Gifford is set to compete in his third NCAA Championships this weekend.

When Greg Gifford won the 184-pound title at the Pac-10 Championships, it marked the second year in a row he advanced to the NCAA Championships as a champion. Last year, while competing for Fresno State, Gifford won the NCAA Western Regional title by pinning Eastern Illinois' Greg Perz in the finals in 3:36.

Jason Trulson will be making his first appearance in the NCAA Championships after the junior placed third in the Pac-10 Championships at 197 pounds. Competing in the most bouts of any Sun Devil this season (35), Trulson has compiled a 22-13 record in his first season as a starter after walking on to the team. A product of Fountain Hills High School in near by Fountain Hills, Ariz., Trulson has won three bouts by major decision and three by fall.

Of those three falls Jason Trulson recorded this year, one was quite fast as he pinned Josh Moore of Liberty in 15 seconds. The pin was the fastest for a Sun Devil since Ron Renzi stuck his opponent, Marshall Marquardt of Dana College, in the first round of the 2003 Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational in a school record-tying seven seconds (shared with Dave Severn, who pinned Mark Erickson of New Mexico in seven seconds during the 1976 season).

With their 31-16 defeat of Liberty in the consolation rounds of the Virginia Duals on January 13, the Sun Devils recorded the 450th win in program history. After taking an early 3-0 lead with John Espinoza's win at 125 pounds before dropping three straight bouts to fall behind, 10-3. Brian Stith cut the deficit to three points with his major decision win at 157, but a fall at 165 put the Sun Devils behind, 16-7. From there, however, the Sun Devils pinned down the win as Alex Pavlenko (174), Greg Gifford (184) and Jason Trulson (197) earned falls before Thor Moen won the heavyweight bout by forfeit to close out the scoring, 31-16.

The Sun Devils scored a 26-18 defeat of Cal Poly at home February 11, giving the program its 200th career home win. The previous milestone marker, win No. 175, came on January 9, 2003, when the Sun Devils handed Embry-Riddle a 46-0 defeat inside Wells Fargo Arena.

When the Sun Devils and No. 13 Sooners met on February 2, it marked the seventh ranked foe Arizona State had faced this season and just the second time the Sun Devils have faced a ranked foe in Tempe. During the 2007 season, the Sun Devils have wrestled at No. 2 Minnesota, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Iowa State and No. 11 Cornell while the two home duals were against No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 23 Lehigh.

Looking at the preseason team rankings released by the NWCA and InterMat, the Sun Devils will face at least seven of the teams ranked in the Top 25, including five of the Top 9 teams in the nation. Those teams include No. 1 Minnesota, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Iowa State, No. 9 Cornell, No. 20 Cal Poly and No. 21 Lehigh. The Sun Devils will meet Oklahoma, Cal Poly and Lehigh at home with the others taking place on the road.

Head Coach Thom Ortiz and the Sun Devil wrestling program have received National Letters of Intent from three high school seniors that have chosen to continue their education and wrestling careers at Arizona State next academic year. The trio of signees include Vincent Varela (Rio Rancho, N.M.), Kyle DeBerry (Tucson, Ariz.) and Jesse Robbins (Oviedo, Fla.) with all three ranked in the Top 150 according to InterMat's Recruiting Rankings with Varela ranked No. 18, DeBerry No. 45 and Robbins No. 101. Varela is a three-time state champ and ranked second in the nation at 135 pounds, DeBerry is a three-time state champion and ranked third in the nation at 160 while Robbins is a two-time Greco-Roman national champion and ranked fifth nationally at 171.

On Saturday, January 7, 2006, 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 NCAA Wrestling Championships concludes the 2006-07 season.

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