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Div. I college post-season begins with Pac-10 Championships at Oregon, Feb. 25-26



The 2001 NCAA Div. I college wrestling post-season has begun, with the PAC-10 Wrestling Championships at the Univ. of Oregon on Sunday, February 25 and Monday, February 26. With 43 berths in the NCAA Div. I Championships at stake (4 in each weight, plus 3 wildcards), this event plays a major factor in the college national scene. It could be one of the most tightly contested Pac-10 Championships ever, with four closely-bunched teams in the Top 20 of the NWCA/TheMat.com rankings. Arizona State enters the meet with the No. 11 NWCA/TheMat.com ranking, followed by Boise State at No. 16, Oregon State at No. 17 and Oregon at No. 20. These rankings are based on the regular dual meet season (plus the in-season tournaments). The dynamics of an individual tournament could throw these rankings out the window, as each team will attempt to place athletes in the medal rounds to score team points. A year ago, it was Boise State that captured the Pac-10 title, scoring eight more points than runner-up Arizona State. Rounding out the top five teams were Oregon State, Bakersfield and Oregon. If recent history mattered, Arizona State would have an edge, as the Sun Devils have captured 14 conference titles including 11 of the past 16 Pac-10 crowns. The coaches of the teams in contention all truly believe that their teams can win it this year. "We've got to stay focused on the Pac-10 Championships," Oregon head coach Chuck Kearney said. "Our goal all along has been to win the Championships on our home court." "We need to put guys in the finals and we need to win championships," said Joe Wells, Oregon State's head coach. "We just need to wrestle aggressively and make sure we take advantage of the opportunities presented us. If we do that, we'll be in the driver's seat." Only four 2000 Pac-10 individual champions return this year: Steve Blackford of Arizona State (165), Doug Lee of Oregon (184), Rusty Cook of Boise State (197) and Jason Cooley of Oregon State (Hwt). You can toss out the rankings when these teams come together this weekend. There are numerous athletes who are ranked in the Amateur Wrestling News individual rankings, but the final results are not expected to follow either the AWN rankings or the pre-tournament seeds at each weight class. Post-season is often upset season. 125 pounds - This weight is loaded, and included five wrestlers ranked nationally by Amateur Wrestling News. Ironically, Ruben DeLeon of Bakersfield is ranked No. 4 by AWN, but may not receive a top seed among the PAC-10 athletes. Shaun Williams of Oregon, a native of Australia, holds the No. 1 PAC-10 ranking at this weight, although his AWN ranking is No. 13. Other nationally ranked competitors include No. 7 Nathan Navarro of Oregon State, No. 18. Ben Vombaur of Boise St and No. 19 John Fasana of Portland State. At least one of these athletes won't place in the top four at the weight, and may be considered for a wildcard berth at the NCAA Championships. 133 pounds - The top two ranked wrestlers on the national level are No. 10 Brian Watson of Oregon and No. 11 David Douglas of Arizona State. Ben Richards of Oregon State and Charlie Griggs of Boise State are not ranked by AWN, but have legitimate shots at being finalists in this PAC-10 tournament. Richards beat Watson in the OSU/OU "Civil War" match just a week ago, which should boost his confidence going in. 141 pounds - Arizona State's super sophomore Eric Larkin is the only nationally ranked PAC-10 wrestler, with a No. 3 ranking by AWN. Shane Cunanan of Oregon State, Gabe Vigil of Boise State and Casey Hunt of Oregon will aim for the finals, with hopes of upsetting Larkin for the title. Larkin has legitimate NCAA title hopes, but has to escape the conference meet with his record intact. 149 pounds - The only nationally ranked wrestler in this division is No. 13 Cedric Haymon of Cal Poly. His top challengers could include Tony Overstake of Oregon, Dana Holland of Arizona State and Colin Robertson of Boise State. There are opportunities for wrestlers from other schools to make a name for themselves at this weight class. 157 pounds - This is another weight class that has major national implications. Former NCAA champion Kirk White of Boise State is ranked No. 3 nationally by AWN, but is expecting a tough challenge from No. 6 ranked Eric Jorgenson of Oregon State. Jorgenson and White have split their matches this year. White is down one weight class from 165 pounds, where he won his national title. Others with gold-medal hopes are No. 10. Rocky Smart of Arizona State and No. 19 Eugene Harris of Oregon. Smart, who came to ASU as a transfer this year from BYU, would give the Sun Devils a boost in the team race with a strong performance here. 165 pounds - Defending PAC-10 champion Steve Blackford of Arizona State is ranked No. 4 nationally, and Ian Nelms of Bakersfield holds a No. 15 national ranking. However, a top favorite could be freshman Jed Pennell of Oregon State, who is ranked No. 1 in PAC-10 rankings and holds a 7-6 overtime win over Blackford in a dual meet. Blackford was Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year last year, and hopes to complete his college career with another conference title. 174 pounds - Amateur Wrestling News lists three PAC-10 wrestlers in its rankings this week: No. 7. Nathan Coy of Oregon State, No. 13. Steve Strange of Cal Poly and No. 14 Curtis Owens of Arizona State. Pat Owens of Boise State is another top challenger. 184 pounds - Gunning for a third straight conference title is Doug Lee of Oregon, who is ranked No. 7 nationally by AWN. Close behind is No. 8 ranked Cash Edwards of Boise State, who Lee has beaten twice this year. Hoping to make the finals is No. 12 ranked R.D. Purcell of Arizona State. 197 pounds - Returning conference champion Rusty Cook of Boise State holds a No. 5 national ranking, followed by No. 7 Chael Sonnen of Oregon. Cook has won 14 straight matches, with his last loss in December. Sonnen, a Greco-Roman specialist who redshirted last year to compete at the Olympic Trials, is dangerous in major events. David Schenk of Cal Poly is not nationally ranked, but holds a No. 2 ranking in the PAC-10 poll. Heavyweight - Flip a coin. This one could be anyone's to win. Amateur Wrestling News has three of these athletes in the national rankings, No. 9 Eric Webb of Oregon, No. 10 Jason Cooley of Oregon State and No. 12 Kellan Fluckiger of Arizona State. Cooley is the defending champion, but Webb has two wins over him this year. Fluckiger holds a win over Webb this year. Bart Johnson of Boise State is also in the mix, with the potential to win at this weight class. The team race may be determined by the squads not expected to challenge for the title. If athletes from team like Cal Poly, Bakersfield, Portland State, Stanford and others are able to knock off ranked wrestlers from the contending teams, it could be the difference. Oregon hopes that its home-field advantage will inspire the Duck athletes to win the close matches. Expect a lot of close matches, and a see-saw battle that could see many lead changes as the tournament progresses. It could all go down to the heavyweight match of Monday night's gold-medal finals. Fans in the region should not miss this year's event. Tournament passes good for all four sessions cost $25 for adults and $21 for children and senior citizens; they can by purchased by calling the Oregon athletic ticket office at (541) 346-4461. Tickets for the individual sessions will go on sale just prior to each session and are $7 for adults and $6 for children and senior citizens. PAC-10 Wrestlers in the AWN Individual Rankings of February 19, 2001 125 - 4. Ruben DeLeon-Sr,Bakersfield; 7. Nathan Navarro-Jr, Oregon St; 13. Shaun Williams-Jr, Oregon; 18. Ben Vombaur-Soph, Boise St; 19. John Fasana-Sr, Portland St 133 - 10. Brian Watson-Soph, Oregon; 11. David Douglas-Jr, Arizona St 141 - 3. Eric Larkin-Soph, Arizona St 149 - 13. Cedric Haymon-Jr, Cal Poly 157 - 3. Kirk White-Sr. Boise St; 6. Eric Jorgensen-Sr, Oregon St; 10. Rocky Smart-Soph, Arizona St; 19. Eugene Harris-Jr, Oregon
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