Prestigious Midlands Championships Awaits Wrestling

Dec. 26, 2008

Sun Devil Mat Notes (pdf)

TEMPE - One of the toughest tournaments in the nation each year awaits the Arizona State University wrestling team this week as the Sun Devils will travel to Evanston, Ill., for the 46th Midlands Championships on Monday and Tuesday (December 29-30) inside Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Northwestern campus. Five of the nation's Top 10 teams will be on hand to compete in a 32-team field that also features numerous nationally ranked individuals.

The Midlands released its annual tournament pre-seeds with one Sun Devil making the cut as Anthony Robles is seeded No. 5 at 125 pounds. The tournament will release the actual seeds for each weight class on Sunday (December 28).

There are 32 teams that are scheduled to compete with 12 of those squads ranked in the NCAA Division I InterMat/NWCA Top 25 that was released on December 23, including five of the nation's Top 10 teams. No. 1 Iowa, No. 2 Iowa State, No. 5 Missouri, No. 8 Illinois and No. 10 Wisconsin lead the way with other ranked teams including: No. 12 Central Michigan, No. 18 Indiana, No. 20 Northwestern, No. 21 Old Dominion, No. 22 Northern Iowa, No. 23 Penn and No. 25 Pittsburgh. Adams State, ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division II, also will be on hand to compete.

No less than six wrestlers in each weight class are ranked among the Top 20 nationally in the NCAA Division I with the most ranked competitors coming at 141 pounds (13 total) and 125 (11 total). Sun Devil Chris Drouin, ranked No. 5 at 141 pounds, is in the toughest weight class as his national ranking didn't even earn him one of the Top 8 pre-seeds. The weight class features 12 Division I Top 20 wrestlers, including the Top 3 individuals and eight of the Top 10. Anthony Robles, No. 8 at 125, also has a tough task as nine Division I entrants and both of the NCAA Division II's Top 2 wrestlers are in the tournament, including the entire Division I Top 6.

While the Sun Devils will be making their 23rd appearance at the Midlands this year, it is the first time since the 2001 tournament that Arizona State has competed in the annual event. Prior to that, the Sun Devils were regulars as they competed in eight in a row (2001-1994 events) after entering 13 in a row between 1990 and 1978.

In Arizona State's previous 22 trips to the Midlands, the program has placed among the Top 10 on 10 occasions with its highest finish coming in 1984, 1988 and 1989 when ASU was third overall. Along with those three finishes, the Sun Devils also have placed in the Top 5 three other times, including fourth-place showings in 1987 and 1997 and fifth in 1996. The last time ASU competed in the Midlands was in 2001 with the team finishing ninth overall to earn its 10th Top 10 finish.

At the 2001 tournament, the Sun Devils had three place-winners, including Eric Larkin capturing the crown at 141 pounds with a perfect 5-0 record. Mike Simpson placed third at 125 pounds and Erik Gladish finished eighth at 197 pounds to round out the placers for the Sun Devils. Overall, eight Sun Devils completed with Simpson leading the way with six wins while both David Douglas (2-2 at 133) and Kellan Fluckiger (2-2 at heavyweight) each falling one win short of placing in the Top 8 of their respective weight classes.

Since 1997 (five tournaments), the Sun Devils have had at lease two placers in the Midlands with 1997 producing a haul of six wrestlers finishing in the Top 8. Of those placers, ASU has had one victory (Larkin in 2001) and one other finalist (Steve Blackford, second at 165 in 1999) while also seeing six others place third and three others placing fourth.

Both Anthony Robles (125) and Chris Drouin (141) were the No. 1 seeds at the Reno Tournament of Champions (December 18) and both advanced to win their first collegiate tournament titles to lead the Sun Devil team to sixth-place overall. As a team, the Sun Devils scored 63 points and was 16 behind Navy (79) for a spot in the Top 5. No. 13 Oklahoma State won the team title with 146.5 points and was followed in the Top 5 by No. 17 Edinboro (132.5), North Carolina (94), CS Bakersfield (87) and Navy. Overall, the Sun Devil individuals combined to post a 28-20 record in their bouts with 16 of those victories producing bonus points. Of those 16 victories, five come from medical forfeits, five came from pins, three came from technical falls and three came from major decisions.

As the top-seed at 125 pounds, No. 8 Anthony Robles dominated his foes en route to the individual crown and Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament honors. Robles, who went 5-0 in the one-day tournament, opened with a fall at 2:13 over CS Fullerton's Andre Gonzalez before scoring a 17-5 major decision over another Pac-10 foe, Jake Gonzales of Oregon State. In the quarterfinals, Robles turned it up another notch as he scored a 17-0 technical fall over The Citadel's Richard Alarcon before winning an 18-1 technical fall over Edinboro's Kyle Fluke in the semifinals. In the final, Robles scored a 9-2 decision to defeat Oklahoma State's 15th-ranked Obenson Blanc for the crown. With his two technical falls coming in the first period, Robles wrestled past the first three-minutes of action just twice on the day.

Arizona State's other individual championship came at 141 pounds with top-seeded and fifth-ranked Chris Drouin scoring six wins en route to the title. Drouin's first three wins did not take long as he opened with a pin of Jacub Bassett of Wyoming in just 1:28, won his second-round bout by medical forfeit and then scored a 17-0 technical fall over Derek Royster of The Citadel to reach the quarterfinals. There, the road got tougher as Drouin won a 5-2 decision over Buffalo's Andrew Stella before winning a 6-2 decision over Pac-10 foe Adin Duenas (CS Fullerton) in the semifinals. In the final, Drouin trailed Jamal Parks of Oklahoma State, 5-2, late in the third period before escaping (5-3) and earning a takedown (5-5) with just two seconds on the clock to force overtime. In the extra session, Drouin fought-off two shots and scored on a shot of his own for the 7-5 sudden victory and the tournament crown.

Two Sun Devils were very close to placing at 197 pounds with Nick Williams needing one and Jake Cranford needing two wins to reach the medal rounds (Reno only places out to sixth instead of eighth). Williams, who was making his debut in his hometown, went 4-2 and fell in the consolation quarterfinals, 7-4, to No. 19 Pat Bradshaw of Edinboro (had the tournament placed to eighth, Williams would have wrestled for seventh). Cranford, moving up in weight from 184, went 3-2 on the day.

All five of Arizona State's wins by fall at the Reno Tournament of Champions were recorded in the first period of action and all five rank among the Top 10 fastest of the season, ranking No. 5-No. 9. Vicente Varela (1:17 at 149), Chris Drouin (1:28 at 141) and Jake Cranford (1:40 at 197) each picked up falls within the first two minutes of action while Anthony Robles (2:13 at 125) and Jake Meredith (2:53 at 184) won by fall after the two-minute mark. Robles' fall placed him on the Top 10 list for the third time this year, adding to his wins at 32 seconds (fastest of the year for ASU) and 1:10 (No. 4) from Las Vegas.

While several Sun Devils have won bouts with bonus-point scores, Anthony Robles is far and away leading the team once again this year as he has scored 54 points already this year (Chris Drouin is second with 35). Robles has won one major decision (four points), four technical falls (20 points), four falls (24 points) and one forfeit (six points). While Robles has scored 19 more points than Drouin, he is 36 ahead of third-place Kyle DeBerry, who has scored 18.

InterMat released its Division I national team and individual rankings on December 23 with both Chris Drouin (No. 5 at 141) and Anthony Robles (No. 8 at 125) remaining at their same rankings from the week before. The team, not ranked in the overall poll, remained No. 25 in the tournament strength index rankings.

According to this week's USA Today/InterMat/NWCA national team and individual rankings (December 23), the Sun Devils have duals remaining against two nationally ranked foes in No. 7 Minnesota and No. 11 Oklahoma, but also will see many of the top teams at the Midlands this week. Those teams scheduled to compete at the Midlands include current No. 1 Iowa, No. 2 Iowa State, No. 5 Missouri, No. 8 Illinois, No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 12 Central Michigan, No. 18 Indiana, No. 20 Northwestern, No. 21 Old Dominion, No. 22 Northern Iowa, No. 23 Penn and No. 25 Pitt.

The coaches at CS Fullerton (hosts for the 2009 Pac-10 Championships) have begun releasing Pac-10 individual rankings this month with Anthony Robles (125) and Chris Drouin (141) both holding the top spots in their respective weight classes. Both Thor Moen (197) and Erik Nye (285) are ranked fifth with all other Sun Devils ranked sixth or lower in the December 20 release.

Similar to last year, several Sun Devils have made their collegiate and/or Arizona State debuts on the mats this season with one more joining the list in Reno. In his hometown, Nick Williams went 4-2 at the Reno Tournament of Champions and was one victory shy of placing in the Top 6. Williams' debut in Reno marked the 10th debut so far this season and is the seventh redshirt freshman to compete, joining Sal Musto, Anthony Morales, Jeff Cappellini, Vicente Varela, Michael Swigart and Kyle DeBerry. Other debuts this year include true freshmen Eric Starks and Jake Meredith while junior college transfer Erik Nye also has seen mat time.

With debuts come first victories and another name added to the list following the Reno Tournament of Champions as Nick Williams went 4-2. Of those 10 Sun Devils that debuted so far this season, seven have won at least one bout this season: Vicente Varela (149), Kyle DeBerry (165), Eric Starks (174), Jake Meredith (184), Jeff Cappellini (197), Nick Williams and Erik Nye (285).

With their 38-6 defeat of Embry-Riddle on Sunday, the Sun Devils improved to 3-0 on the year in home duals. The win also marked the 17th time in program history -- as well as the second year in a row -- the team has opened a season 3-0 or better at home. In the program's history, eight Sun Devil teams have gone undefeated at home with the last time coming in the 1992-93 season (8-0-0). For this year's team to join that list, they will have to win five more duals inside Wells Fargo Arena, including three Pac-10 duals and a pair of meetings with Top 20 teams in No. 8 Minnesota and No. 20 Oklahoma.

With their 40-0 win over Portland State, the Sun Devils not only recorded their 12th victory in a row over the Vikings (12-1-0 all-time in the series), they also posted the 25th shut out victory in program history. The last time ASU shut out an opponent came in a 46-0 defeat of intrastate rival Embry-Riddle on December 5, 2002, in Tempe. Conversely, the last time the Sun Devils were shut out came this year as ASU fell at Iowa, 41-0.

Last season, the Sun Devils, at various points, had up to seven redshirt freshmen in their starting 10 with two or three seniors. This year, the team will continue to be young as 27 of the 36 athletes on the roster are freshmen or sophomores, including 12 redshirt freshmen and six true freshmen. Also, the team has two seniors (Kelsey Campbell and Preston Pruett) along with seven juniors.

Kelsey Campbell, one of the two seniors on the squad this year, is set to defend the two U.S. Women's College Wrestling National Championships that she has won in 2007 (63kg) and 2008 (59kg). The No. 1 college wrestler in the nation at 59kg last year, Campbell competed in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials over the summer and has placed among the Top 4 in several national events throughout the past year.

Twenty-five wrestlers from the 2007-08 roster return this year and are led by starters Anthony Robles (125), Orlando Jimenez (133) and Chris Drouin (141) along with several veterans that have moved up to a starting position, including Thor Moen (197) and Jake Cranford (184). Several freshman that redshirted last year also figure prominently into the starting line-up, including Vicente Varela (149), Michael Swigart (157) and Kyle DeBerry (165).

The program welcomed 11 new members to the team this fall, including two immediate starters, one possible starter and several others with impressive credentials. Heavyweight Erik Nye (2x undefeated California junior college champion) and Eric Starks (174; 2x state placer in California) both look to have the edge in the starting line-up while Eric Starks (184; 2x Washington state champion) also could see action. Ben Ashmore, a four-time Texas state champion, could see action at 125 or 133 after transferring in from Oklahoma State while true freshmen Te Edwards (157) and Michael Hawkins (285) will add depth to a young, but talented roster.

The coaching staff also made an addition as Al Fuentes was brought on to replace Eric Larkin, who left to pursue other career aspirations. A two-time NAIA All-American at 142 pounds (1997 and 1998) for Findlay (Ohio), Fuentes also was a three-time Academic All-American and will play a vital role in helping the program both on and off the mats. Like head coach Thom Ortiz, Fuentes was a member of a national championship team as UF captured the 1995 NAIA Championship title.

Arizona (12) and California (nine) provide wrestlers for more than half of the Sun Devil roster this year with other western/southwestern states adding 11 more, including two each from Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Three eastern states are also accounted for on the Sun Devil roster, including two wrestlers from New York and one each from New Jersey and Virginia.

During the month of September, two former Sun Devils competed on the international stage and returned with bronze medals. First up was the 2008 World Beach Championships in Durres, Albania, on September 21 with Jeff Funicello winning a bronze medal in the Under 85kg/187.25 classification for the second year in a row. Funicello also competed in the World Grappling Championships one day earlier and earned a bronze medal at the same weight class. Then, on September 26 in Perm, Russia, John Hughes competed in the 2008 Veteran World Championships and captured the bronze medal in Division E (56 years +) freestyle at 69kg/152.

Over the weekend, former Sun Devil All-American Ryan Bader stepped into the Octagon inside the Palms in Las Vegas, Nev., and won the light heavyweight division of the eighth season of the Ultimate Fighter. 'Darth' Bader, as he is known in the world of MMA (mixed martial arts), kept the fight on its feet in the opening minutes of action and exchanged punches and kicks with his opponent, Vinny Magalhaes, before landing a huge overhand right that dropped the world champion jiu-jitsu fighter from Brazil. Bader moved in with some more punches on the ground before the referee stepped in and called the fight for Bader at 2:18 (TKO). The former three-time Pac-10 Champion at 197 pounds will now receive a contract with the UFC.

In the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), the Sun Devil wrestling program has produced some top talent both now and then. While former Sun Devils have held championship belts in the past, including UFC Heavyweight Champion Dan 'The Beast' Severn and Pride Welterweight and Middleweight (at the same time) Champion 'Dangerous' Dan Henderson, the current crop of talent is already turning heads. That trio (all of which were All-Americans in 2006) include up-and-coming UFC heavyweight Cain Velasquez, TUF Season 7 runner-up (middleweight) C.B. 'The Doberman' Dollaway and TUF Season 8 light heavyweight winner Ryan 'Darth' Bader.

C.B. Dollaway has a fight scheduled for December 27 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against Mike Massenzio at UFC 92 - The Ultimate 2008... Dan Henderson will fight in Dublin, Ireland, on January 17 against Rich Franklin in UFC 93 - Franklin vs. Henderson.

The team will be led by a trio of captains this season, including junior Thor Moen (197) and sophomores Anthony Robles (125) and Chris Drouin (141).

Wells Fargo Arena serves as the home of Arizona State's home wrestling duals, as well as basketball (men and women), women's gymnastics and women's volleyball. Opened in the spring of 1974, the 14,198-seat arena has been the home venue of some of the Sun Devil greats with all 16 Pac-10 team titles and one of the two Western Athletic Conference crowns attained by ASU. Since its opening, 57 Sun Devils have captured 109 individual conference titles while 67 different athletes have earned a total of 98 All-America honors. The Sun Devils stand 169-56-2 all-time inside Wells Fargo Arena (207-92-2 all-time at home). With its 36-3 defeat of Utah Valley on Jan. 10, 2005, ASU recorded its 150th victory at WFA.

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. Since the opening, the facility has hosted numerous practices for the Sun Devils and Sunkist and was a two-week training home for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Freestyle Team before it headed to Beijing. One of the wrestlers that trained at the facility along side the Sun Devils was Henry Cejudo, who won Olympic Gold this summer.

Since becoming a varsity program in 1962, Arizona State has competed in the NCAA Championships all 46 years and scored at least one point in 41 of those tournaments, including each of the last 34 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.

Arizona State will ring in 2009 with a pair of duals in the Valley of the Sun next weekend, first traveling down the road into Phoenix for a 5 p.m. dual on Saturday, January 3, at Grand Canyon University. The next day, Sunday, January 4, the Sun Devils will play host to Pac-10 foe CS Bakersfield in a 6 p.m. dual inside Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

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