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Sun Devil wrestlers face tough road

November 19, 2008

or the first time this season, the Arizona State University wrestling team will leave the friendly confines of the Valley of the Sun and travel to face an opponent as the Sun Devils will take on No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Iowa State this weekend. The Sun Devils and defending NCAA champion Hawkeyes will meet at 3:30 p.m. Central on Friday in Iowa City, Iowa, before the Sun Devils and Cyclones meet at 7 p.m. Central on Sunday in Ames, Iowa.

The Sun Devils won all 10 bouts with decision victories in six of those wins while adding one major, one fall, one forfeit and one injury default. No. 8 Anthony Robles (125) and No. 8 Chris Drouin (141) won their second bonus-point bouts in as many tries with Robles adding a win by forfeit to his fall in the first dual of the year while Drouin recorded a fall in 2:59 to go along with a win by major decision one week earlier. Redshirt freshman Vicente Varela (149) recorded the first win of his collegiate career while junior transfer Erik Nye (285) picked-up his first Division-I victory (was undefeated in junior college) with an injury default win at 6:09 (was ahead 6-1).

Of the 16 wins the Sun Devils have recorded individually this year (16-4 overall record), bonus point victories have been recorded in half of those wins with four each coming from each dual. Arizona State has recorded three wins by major decision, two by fall, two by forfeit and one by injury default, recording 12, 12, 12 and six points, respectively, towards the team's scores.

Arizona State is 2-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Pac-10 after defeating Portland State, 40-0, last weekend at Maryvale High School in Phoenix. The perfect start marks the 26th time in program history that Arizona State has opened a year at least 2-0 and the fourth year in a row it has done so. Last year, the Sun Devils began the season 8-0 with records of 2-0 and 3-0 the seasons prior to that. A win at Iowa would push ASU to 3-0 for only the 19th time to open a campaign.

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 the last time ASU faced Iowa State in Ames. The Sun Devils, who face No. 2 Iowa State in Ames this weekend, dropped a 40-0 decision to the Cyclones in 2006 (Nov. 26).

One dual after recording the 75th victory of his coaching career, head coach Thom Ortiz added another milestone to his mantle as the 40-0 defeat of Portland State was the 40th home victory for the eighth-year head coach.

Both Anthony Robles (125) and Chris Drouin (141) remained highly ranked again this week as both currently stand No. 8 in their respective weight classes according to the November 18 rankings released by InterMat/NWCA. Amateur Wrestling News and Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine also released their rankings Tuesday with both Sun Devils highly regarded. Robles is ranked No. 7 on both lists while Drouin is ranked No. 13 by AWN and No. 7 by WIN.

While the Sun Devils have a pair of wrestlers ranked nationally, the opposite is true for Arizona State's foes this weekend as Iowa has two wrestlers NOT ranked in the Top 20 while Iowa State has just one. All told, Iowa has eight wrestlers ranked among the Top 20 with five in the Top 3, including the top-ranked individual at 133 (Joe Slaton) and 149 (Brent Metcalfe). Iowa State has nine in the Top 20, including four in the Top 3 with one top-ranked wrestler at 197 (Jake Varner).

Chances are this weekend that Arizona State's wrestlers will face at least one ranked foe with three Sun Devils looking to have a tougher road than then others. The toughest road could come at 133 pounds where Tyler Bowles or Angel Alegre is scheduled to face No. 1 Joey Slaton of Iowa and No. 5 Nick Fanthorpe of Iowa State. Two other Sun Devils also find themselves facing a pair of foes ranked in the Top 10, including No. 8 Chris Drouin at 141 and Eric Starks at 174. Depending upon the line-ups used by ASU's opponents, Drouin could face No. 7 Alex Tsirtsis (UI) and No. 2 Nick Gallick (ISU) while Starks could face No. 2 Jay Borschell (UI) and No. 9 Duke Burk (ISU).

Arizona State holds a 31-15-0 all-time record in its first road dual of the season and has split the last four road openers. Last year, the Sun Devils defeated UC Davis on the road, 20-17, to open the season after falling at Iowa, 39-3, to open the 2006-07 season. The dual with the Hawkeyes will mark the fourth time the Sun Devils have traveled to Iowa for their first road dual of the season (0-3-0 all-time).

When Arizona State heads to the state of Iowa this weekend, it will mark the sixth time the Sun Devils have faced both Iowa and Iowa State on the same weekend at their respective home venues and the ninth time in ASU history that the Sun Devils have taken on both in the same weekend. The first time the Sun Devils took part in the back-to-back event was the only time ASU has defeated one of the two schools in recent years as ASU knocked off ISU, 19-15, in Ames on February 10, 1989. In four different instances, the Sun Devils faced this weekend's foes on consecutive days, including road swings during the 1992-93, 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons. The fourth time came at the NWCA National Duals hosted by Ohio State during the 2001-02 season. The Sun Devils lost to Iowa State one day before falling to Iowa on January 19 and January 20, respectively.

The Hawkeyes and third-year head coach Tom Brands are opening their dual season this weekend after opening the year last weekend at the Harold Nichols/Cyclone Open in Ames. The dual with the Sun Devils will be the fourth of the day for the defending national champions as the Hawkeyes also will face Coe at 9 a.m., Iowa Central at 10:30 a.m. and Minnesota State-Mankato at noon.

Arizona State is 1-23-1 all-time against Iowa in the series and is 0-10-0 in the series when the dual is held at Iowa. The Hawkeyes won the last meeting, 36-3, on February 8, 2008, at Copper Canyon High School in Glendale.

Led by 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and four-time undefeated NCAA Champion Cael Sanderson, the Cyclones are 1-0 on the year after blanking Utah Valley State at home, 39-0, two weeks ago. ISU sent nine wrestlers to the finals of the Harold Nichols/Cyclone Open in Ames last week, capturing seven individual titles. ISU will have one other dual this week as it travels to No. 12 Wisconsin (Friday).

Arizona State is 6-20-0 all-time against Iowa State with a 1-10-1 record in duals held in Ames. The Cyclones won the last meeting, 32-3, on February 10, 2008, inside Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

Against UC Davis, both Kyle DeBerry (165) and Eric Starks (174) secured the first victories of their collegiate careers. Last week, against Portland State, newcomers Vicente Varela (141) and Erik Nye (285) each picked up victories after dropping their debuts against UC Davis in the season opener.

With the Sun Devils trailing, 6-3, after three bouts to UC Davis (Nov. 8), Erick Starks took to the mat and soundly won his match with a major decision, giving the Sun Devils a 7-6 lead; a lead they would not surrender. Arizona State took that team lead as Starks scored a barrage of takedowns, bringing his opponent to the mat eight different times in the 17-9 major decision, the first bonus-point victory of the young season for the Sun Devils.

In the lone Top 15 battle of the dual with UC Davis, No. 8 Anthony Robles remained undefeated on the mat inside Mesa High School's gymnasium as he worked a takedown into a touch-fall of his opponent, No. 11 Marcos Orozco, in the 125-pound bout. Leading 2-0 after the first period, Robles chose neutral and worked for the takedown early in the second and, with nearly one minute remaining in the stanza, stacked his Aggie foe to pick-up the fall at 4:05. The victory is Robles' third in as many tries against Orozco, including a 2-0 mark last year.

Chris Drouin, like Robles, finished as the Pac-10 runner-up last year and one win shy of All-America honors. And, like Robles, Drouin opened his season in impressive fashion as the sophomore, who is ranked No. 7 nationally at 141 pounds, stalked his opponent the entire bout for a 12-3 major decision. Drouin's win was the fourth that produced bonus points for the Sun Devils in the dual with UC Davis (two majors, one fall, one forfeit).

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.

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.

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 face its first of two intrastate foes on November 30 when the Eagles of Embry-Riddle come to Tempe from Prescott, Ariz., for a 2 p.m. dual. Later in the season (January 3), the Sun Devils also will face Grand Canyon in Phoenix.