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Premier wrestling tourney awaits Sun Devils in Vegas

December 03, 2008

The Arizona State University wrestling team, coming off a 38-6 defeat of intrastate rival Embry-Riddle over the weekend, will travel to its first tournament of the season this weekend as the Sun Devils are set to take part in the 27th Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational on Friday and Saturday inside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Invitational features many of the top teams in the nation as well as highly ranked individual competitors, all of which will be looking to improve their resumes in hopes of earning berths into the NCAA Championships at the end of the season.

The Sun Devils' trip to Las Vegas this weekend will mark the first of three tournaments the team will compete in this month, all of which will bring about tough foes on the mats. After the Cliff Keen event this weekend, the Sun Devils will compete at the Reno Tournament of Champions (Dec. 18) that will feature several top-ranked teams before closing out the month in Evanston, Ill., at the prestigious Midlands Championships (Dec. 29-30) that also will be filled with numerous top-ranked teams and world-class international wrestlers.

This weekend's Clif Keen/Las Vegas Invitational will feature wrestlers from 48 different teams, including 35 in NCAA Division I, seven in NCAA Division II, four in NAIA and two in NJCAA. Of those 48 teams, 17 are nationally ranked in their respective divisions, including 10 in Division I. While the Sun Devils are not among the ranked teams, five of those 10 ranked teams are currently in the Top 10 while eight of the 10 are ranked in the Top 15. No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Cornell, No. 7 Illinois, No. 8 Minnesota and No. 10 Lehigh lead the way in the event that also features six of the Pac-10 Conference's nine programs: ASU, Boise State (14), Cal Poly, CS Bakersfield, CS Fullerton and UC Davis.

With a 4-1 record, including all four wins earning bonus points, sophomore Chris Drouin made a big jump in the 141-pound national rankings this week, moving up from No. 8 to No. 4 according to the December 2 InterMat/NWCA poll. Drouin, who's only loss on the year is a 3-2 set back at Iowa against current No. 3 Alex Tsirtsis, stands behind only No. 1 J Jaggers (Ohio State), No. 2 Gallick (Iowa State) and Tsirtsis. Drouin and Jaggers could meet in Vegas as they are the two-highest ranked wrestlers entered in the tournament this weekend.

Drouin is not the only ranked wrestler on the Sun Devil squad this week as Anthony Robles moved up one position to No. 7 in the 125-pound Top 20 listing released by InterMat/NWCA. Robles has been ranked in the Top 9 all season and stands 3-2 on the season with his two losses coming to the current No. 2 and No. 5 wrestlers.

USA Wrestling began releasing its updated Senior National rankings this week with current Sun Devil Kelsey Campbell finding her name high on the list once again. According the rankings on, Campbell is ranked No. 4 at 59kg (130 pounds), sitting behind No. 1 Deanna Rix (NYAC), Sally Roberts (Gator WC) and Samantha Fee (Missouri Valley College). The men's freestyle rankings are set to be released on Friday with assistant coach Brian Stith figuring to be ranked high after knocking off 2008 Olympian Doug Schwab at the NYAC Invitational last week.

Starting with the 1985 Las Vegas Invitational, the Sun Devils have been a part of the tournament for 23 years in a row with the 2008 event marking their 24th appearance in the 27-year-old event. Arizona State has posted Top 3 team finishes nine times at the Las Vegas Invitational, including wins at the 1987, 1989 and 1992 tournaments while also finishing as the runners-up in 1988 and 1997. Overall, ASU has placed among the Top 6 in 18 Invitationals.

The Sun Devils scored 22.5 points and finished 25th as a team last year in Las Vegas with one wrestler placing in the Top 8 of the tournament as Patrick Pitsch finished fourth at 165 pounds. Pitsch went 5-1 in the event as the No. 2 seed with his lone loss coming in a 5-0 decision in the quarterfinals. He advanced to the third-place bout, but an injury forced him out of the bout.

Prior to Patrick Pitsch taking fourth last year, several other Sun Devils have placed among the Top 8 in recent years, including five in 2005 and two in 2006. At the 2006 Las Vegas Invitational, Arizona State won its most recent individual crown as current assistant coach Brian Stith captured the title at 157 pounds while Pitsch took fifth at 165. One year prior to that, the team took fourth on the strength of five placers, including runners-up Jeremy Mendoza (125) and Cain Velasquez (285), third-place finisher Ryan Bader (197), fourth-place finisher Pitsch (165) and fifth-place finisher Pat Payne (149).

Of the 10 Sun Devils that competed last year, only four are back this year. Anthony Robles went 2-2 at 125 pounds last year; Chris Drouin went 1-2 at 141 pounds; Jerrad Trulson went 0-2 at 149 pounds; and Jake Cranford went 0-2 against two nationally ranked foes at 184 pounds. Robles, Drouin and Cranford are each slated to compete in those same weight classes again this year with Trulson listed as a possible entrant at 157 for ASU.

Arizona State improved to 9-0-0 all-time against intrastate rival Embry-Riddle after winning 8-of-10 bouts for a 38-6 victory over the Eagles on Sunday in Tempe. The dual opened and closed with pin falls as No. 8 Anthony Robles stuck his opponent in 5:46 in the 125-pound bout before heavyweight Erik Nye needed just 53 seconds to win his bout by fall. Overall, the Sun Devils scored bonus points in six of their wins, including two falls, two forfeits and two major decisions. Winning Sun Devils included Robles (by fall at 125), Orlando Jimenez (by decision at 133), No. 8 Chris Drouin (by major decision at 141), Jerrad Trulson (by major decision at 157), Kyle DeBerry (by forfeit at 174), Jake Cranford (by decision at 184), Jeff Cappellini (by forfeit at 197) and Nye (by fall at 285).

Chris Drouin is 4-1 on the year and recently won his third bout by major decision over the weekend to secure the 25th victory of his collegiate career (25-17). Drouin has been very dominant so far this season with his one loss coming by a 3-2 score to the current No. 3 wrestler at 141 pounds (Alex Tsirtsis of Iowa) on the road. In his wins, Drouin has won by fall once and added three major decisions with an average margin of victory of 10 points in those majors.

The Sun Devils have won four bouts by fall this year with one coming in quick fashion as heavyweight Erik Nye pinned his foe from Embry-Riddle in 53 seconds, one of the fastest falls recorded by a Sun Devil in recent years. The previous fastest fall of the season for ASU came at 141 pounds with Chris Drouin's fall at 2:59.

Similar to last year, several Sun Devils have made their collegiate and/or Arizona State debuts on the mats this season with two more joining the list over the weekend. Against Embry-Riddle, Sal Musto made his debut at 165 pounds and dropped a tightly contested 9-7 sudden victory decision to No. 8 (NAIA) Eli Arismendez. The second debut came at 197 pounds with Jeff Cappellini winning by forfeit in his first collegiate bout. Musto and Cappellini are both redshirt freshmen and are joined in debuting this season by fellow redshirt freshmen Vicente Varela (149), Michael Swigart (157) and Kyle DeBerry (165), true freshmen Eric Starks (174) and Jake MeredithErik Nye (285). (184) and junior college transfer

With debuts come first victories and another name added to the list as Jeff Cappellini joins the group with his forfeit victory against Embry-Riddle. Of those eight Sun Devils that debuted so far this season, five have won at least one bout this season: Vicente VarelaKyle DeBerry (165), Eric Starks (174), Cappellini (197) and Erik Nye (285). (149),

So far this season, the Sun Devils are a combined 27-23 in individual bouts with all matches contested in duals. Of those 27 victories recorded by the team, 16 have earned bonus points toward the team score. Overall this season, the Sun Devils have won seven major decision, four pin falls and added five wins by forfeit/injury default. Conversely, the Sun Devils have allowed only seven bonus victories, including three by major decision, one by technical fall and three by pin fall.

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.

According to this week's USA Today/InterMat/NWCA national team and individual rankings (December 2), the Sun Devils have duals remaining against two nationally ranked foes in No. 8 Minnesota and No. 20 Oklahoma, but also will see many of the top teams at tournaments this month. In Reno, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 14 Boise State and No. 15 Edinboro will be on hand to compete with the always tough Midlands Championships will see entries from No. 1 Iowa, No. 2 Iowa State, No. 5 Missouri, No. 7 Illinois, No. 11 Wisconsin and several other Top 25 teams.

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, on November 21.

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.

Bader has reached the semifinals of the Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV and fights for a spot in the finals on Wednesday night (December 3). If he wins, he will fight in the finals on December 13 at the Pearl in Las Vegas... 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).

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.

The Sun Devils will take 11 days off from competition to focus on their final exams before returning to the mats on Thursday, December 18, at the Reno Tournament of Champions in Reno, Nev. The one-day tournament will feature numerous nationally ranked individuals and top-ranked teams competing in the annual event in Nevada.