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ASU wrestling returns to the mats against UC Davis

November 04, 2008

With the highs and lows of the off-season behind it, the Arizona State University wrestling team (0-0, 0-0 Pac-10) returns to the mats this weekend as the Sun Devils are set to host UC Davis (0-0, 0-0 Pac-10) in both teams' conference opener at 2 p.m. Saturday inside Mesa High School in Mesa, Ariz. The Sun Devils, who saw their program eliminated in May only to be reinstated 10 days later, will be opening their 47th varsity season of competition.

On May 13, 2008, the wrestling program was cut from the ASU Athletic Department due to budget constraints (along with men's tennis and men's swimming). Despite the devastating news, the wrestling community pulled together and on May 23, 2008, a mere 10 days later, the program was revived with the promise of endowment. While the team is back on the mats and ready to open the season this week, the efforts to endow the program continues and needs your help. The wrestling program's goal of becoming the first endowed program in ASU Athletics is in need of financial contributions that will help to ensure the survival of one of the top western teams in the history of the sport. For more information and/or to contribute to the fund, please visit

Many of the wrestling publications/web sites have announced their preseason rankings with a pair of Sun Devil individuals finding their names listed highly at their respective weight classes. In the InterMat/NWCA/NWMA Individual Top 20 preseason rankings (October 16), Anthony Robles is ranked No. 8 at 125 pounds while Chris Drouin is No. 7 at 141. Both men are ranked in the Top 15 of the two other polls, including Robles ranking No. 5 and No. 6 in the Wrestling International Newsmagazine and Amateur Wrestling News rankings, respectively, while Drouin was selected No. 9 and No. 15, respectively.

While not set in stone, the Sun Devils' starting line-up looks like this for the UC Davis dual: No. 8 Anthony Robles (125); Orlando Jimenez or Tyler Bowles (133); No. 7 Chris Drouin (141); Vicente Varela (149); Michael Swigart or Jerrad Trulson (157); Kyle DeBerryEric Starks (174); Jake Cranford or Jake Meredith (184); Thor Moen (197); and Erik Nye or Imanibom Etukeren (heavyweight). (165);

The UC Davis Aggies, who open their season at Embry-Riddle on Friday night before traveling to Tempe, are coming off a 2007-08 season that saw the team post a 4-8 overall record (2-7 Pac-10) before finishing eighth at the Pac-10 Championships and tied for 63rd at the NCAA Championships. Lennie Zalesky's Aggies return eight of their 10 wrestlers from the 2008 Pac-10 event, including seven that placed in the Top 8. Marcos Orozco (125) is the lone nationally ranked Aggie (No. 11) and placed fourth at the Pac-10 meet last year along with Nexi Delgado (141). Tyler Bernacchi took second at 174 last year and has been nationally ranked, as has Dustin Noack (165), who placed eighth last year after taking second in 2007.

The Sun Devils hold a 3-0-0 advantage in the all-time series with UC Davis that began during the 2004-05 season with ASU taking a 22-14 victory in Davis. ASU also won on the road last year, 20-17, to open the 2007-08 season after securing a 25-18 victory at home in 2005-06.

The bout at 125 pounds will feature a pair of nationally ranked foes as the Sun Devils' No. 8 Anthony Robles will take on the Aggies' No. 11 Marcos Orozco at the lightest weight of the dual. The competitors met last year in Davis with Robles scoring a 7-5 decision in his first collegiate bout before both placed at the Pac-10 Championships at the end of the season with Robles finishing second and Orozco taking fourth. Robles finished the year one victory shy of All-America honors at the NCAA Championships while Orozco went 1-2 at nationals.

The Robles-Orozco bout is not the only rematch from last year. At 141 pounds, Arizona State's Chris Drouin, ranked No. 7 nationally, will face Nexi Delgado, an opponent he defeated twice last year. Drouin, like Robles, opened his college career at the UC Davis dual and scored a 9-4 decision over Delgado. Drouin then won, 9-7, in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Championships after both men upset higher ranked foes in the quarterfinals, including six-seed Drouin taking down three-seed Elijah Nacita (CS Bakersfield), 8-6 in overtime, while seven-seed Delgado scored a 10-5 overtime upset of two-seed Teddy Astorga. Drouin would go on to finish second in the tournament while Delgado placed fourth overall.

According to the InterMat rankings for teams (ASU is unranked), the Sun Devils will face five teams currently ranked in the national Top 20 in dual competition while also facing opponents from most of the other Top 25 teams at several individual tournaments during the season, including the Las Vegas Invitational, the Reno Tournament of Champions and the Midlands Championships (all of which are in December). On the schedule this year, the Sun Devils will travel to No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Iowa State in the same weekend (November 21 and 23) and also will host No. 20 Oklahoma (January 18) and No. 12 Minnesota (January 23). Along with always tough conference duals, the Sun Devils will also play host to Embry-Riddle, who is currently ranked No. 5 in the NAIA rankings.

For the second year in a row, the Sun Devils will wrestle against two schools hailing from the state of Arizona, which, prior to the 2007-08 season, had not happened since 1981 when ASU won, 34-12, at Arizona and 43-6 at home against Northern Arizona. This year, the Sun Devils will once again face Embry-Riddle (November 30) at home before traveling into Phoenix to face Grand Canyon (January 3), marking the first time ASU has visited an Arizona school since it won, 40-0, at Phoenix College on December 17, 1993.

In its previous 46 seasons of varsity competition, Arizona State has opened the year with a victory in dual competition 32 times compared to 14 losses. The Sun Devils have won the last three season openers in a row, including a 20-17 decision at UC Davis (2007-08), a 38-12 home victory over Portland State (2006-07) and a 38-6 neutral site win over Pacific (Ore.) at PSU (2005-06). The last time ASU lost its opening dual of the year came in a 29-10 setback on the road at Iowa (2004-05).

Arizona State's contest with UC Davis this weekend (November 8) will mark the earliest dual the Sun Devils have held in program history, surpassing last year's November 9 starting date. Prior to that, ASU had opened the dual season on November 12 in each of the last two seasons with the only two other times it opened the dual slate prior to November 20 coming in the 1991-92 season (November 16) and 1990-91 season (November 17).

The Sun Devils have only a three win difference in their home opener compared to their season opener as the team stands 29-17 all-time in its first home competition. Arizona State has won its last two home openers, including a 35-9 decision over Embry-Riddle last year and 38-12 decision over Portland State (2006-07 season). The last time ASU lost its home opener came during the 2005-06 season when Iowa came to Tempe and won, 26-13.

While it is not too usual for the team to wrestle one of its duals at high school gymnasium, the Sun Devils have done so three times in recent years and will do so twice again this year. The dual with UC Davis at Mesa High School marks the second time the Sun Devils have held a dual at MHS in as many years after falling to Oregon State, 27-14, last year and is the fourth different local school ASU has held a dual. In 2004, the Sun Devils defeated Fresno State, 32-12, at Raymond Kellis HS in Glendale before wrestling at Mesa and Copper Canyon HS (Glendale) last year. ASU also will hold a dual at Maryvale High School in Phoenix next week against Portland State.

Since Thom Ortiz took over coaching duties in time for the 2001-02 season, the Sun Devils have been very impressive at home, posting an overall mark of 39-18-0. Ortiz' teams also have been nearly perfect against Pac-10 foes as the Sun Devils stand 23-3-0 against league opponents after going 1-2 last year.

Arizona State has competed in the Pac-10 for 30 years and holds a 24-4-1 record in its first conference dual of the year and is 20-4-1 all-time in its first Pac-10 home dual of the season (ASU did not hold a home Pac-10 dual four different times). The Sun Devils also are 7-0 in their Pac-10 openers under head coach Thom Ortiz.

The Sun Devils have competed in the Pac-10 Conference for 30 seasons, starting in the 1978-79 season. During that time, Arizona State has won nearly 87-percent (.869) of its Pac-10 duals, recording a mark of 109-16-1 against 13 different schools. Of those 13 teams, eight are still competing in the Pac-10 Conference with the Sun Devils holding a 76-16-1 record against those teams.

Arizona State holds a 41-9-0 record against Pac-10 foes since Thom Ortiz took over the program eight years ago, including a 23-3-0 home record and an 18-6-0 road mark. The Sun Devils also hold identical 6-1-0 records in their first Pac-10 home dual and first Pac-10 road dual of the year under Ortiz after winning at UC Davis (20-17) and falling to Oregon State (27-14) at home last year.

Head Coach Thom Ortiz enters this weekend's Pac-10 dual with UC Davis with a career coaching record of 74-52-1 and needs one more victory to record the 75th of his coaching career.

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 VarelaMichael Swigart (157) and Kyle DeBerry (165). (149),

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.

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. Of the probable 10 starters this week against UC Davis, the Sun Devils will send out four freshmen (one true freshman), three sophomores and three juniors. Three weight classes list another possible starter, and those include two sophomores and one true freshman.

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.

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.

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 current TUF Season 8 light heavyweight contestant Ryan 'Darth' Bader.

Over the past several seasons, the Sun Devil wrestling program has been active in the community and lending a hand where they can. Last year, the wrestlers visited with children and handed out dinner and dessert to those in attendance the day before Thanksgiving and also read to numerous children at the UMOM New Day Center in Phoenix one week later, just two name two events. This year, the Sun Devils participated in the Wilson Neighborhood Cleanup (helping the neighborhood remove debris around the elementary school in Phoenix) while also talking to children at Lomas Elementary School as part of Sparky's Tour (teaching children about the importance of education).

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).

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.

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.

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.

The Sun Devils will play host to Pac-10 rival Portland State at 7 p.m. Friday night (November 14) inside Maryvale High School in Phoenix. Admission is free for the dual between the Sun Devils and Vikings and fans can pick-up their free 2008-09 Sun Devil Wrestling poster featuring Robles and Drouin.