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Northwest powers wrestling with the Devils for Pac-10 title



They call it The Pit. One of college athletics' most venerable and storied arenas, McArthur Court, on the University of Oregon campus plays the perfect host to the 2001 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships. Featuring three balconies that stack boisterous fans right on top on the action, it is not unlike Thunderdome. Four NWCA/TheMat.Com Top 25 teams entered on Sunday morning, hoping to leave with the team trophy Boise State took home a year ago. When the last whistle blew to break the furious action of the first day, 11th-ranked Arizona State, 17th-ranked Oregon State, 19th-ranked Oregon and the 14th-ranked defending champion Broncos had barely put 11 points between themselves. No surprise, really-especially not to the league's coaches. All were most diplomatic when asked to say a few words at the pre-meet banquet on Saturday night, proclaiming it a toss-up. Well, all except for Cal Poly coach, Lennis Cowell, who boldly stated he thought the Sun Devils had too many horses to be denied. With five strong title contenders advancing to Monday night's finals, ASU made Cowell's prediction look pretty solid. Top seeds David Douglas(133), Eric Larkin (141) and Kellan Fluckiger (285) were joined by semi-final winners Steve Blackford (165) and Dana Holland. Although Holland barely held off Oregon's very game #2 seed, Tony Overstake, who scored two takedowns in the last 30 seconds despite limping badly on a bum knee to pull within a riding time point. Together, they amassed the bulk of ASU's 92 points. Breathing down their necks with 86 points and four finalists are the Beavers of Oregon State. The team race could easily go down to the last match, where OSU's Jason Cooley meets ASU's Fluckiger in the 285-pound finale. The Beavers also knock heads with ASU at 141 where Shane Cunanan hopes to upset the Sun Devils' super slick Eric Larkin. OSU's other two finalists are top-seeded Nathan Coy, who eked past ASU's Curtis Owen 8-7 in one semi at 174, and Eric Jorgensen, a 5-2 victor in a heated battle with another Sun Devil, Rocky Smart, at 157. Jorgensen's next challenge is Boise State's 165 pound NCAA champ from two years ago, Kirk White, who seems to be feeling better after a horrible past season of injuries. Oregon holds down third place by a half point over Boise State, 81.5 to 81. Each team has three finalists as well as five wrestlers alive in Monday morning's consolation semi-finals. Each team hoped to fare better. Oregon's title hopes took a big hit before any matches were wrestled, when their surprising sophomore sensation at 285, Eric Webb, bonked heads with 184-pound All-American teammate, Doug Lee, when they shot on each other during warm-ups. Webb suffered a concussion--his third of the season-and was held out of the tournament by the team doctor. The Bronco's hard luck also involved their 184 and 285 pound wrestlers. BSU's ever tactical All-American, Cash Edwards, found himself in the second overtime trying to hang onto PSU's equally athletic Jeremy Wilson, only to be reversed to his back and pinned with 12 ticks to go in the 184 pound semi. The Bronco's contender for best-built heavyweight, Bart Johnson, looked nothing like his 18-5 record or national ranking in losing two listless matches and being eliminated by unseeded wrestlers. Then again, it's silly to dwell on the disappointments when there was just so much good. Like Boise's #5 ranked Rusty Cook and Oregon's #6 ranked Chael Sonnen, who laid waste to their sides of the 197 pound bracket. Cook recorded three pins, while the Duck's most dangerous man scored a technical fall and two major decisions in typical high-flying style. Not far behind the lead pack is Cal Poly SLO with 68.5 points. The Mustangs advanced two into the finals, Steve Strange at 174, and the top seed at 149, Cedric Haymon. Both looked very impressive, with Haymon seemingly invincible on his feet and Strange turning opponents at will. The rest of the junior and sophomore-dominated squad is probably a year away from challenging the leaders. Then again, they'll have plenty of competition. The Pac-10 is young and talented. Among the 100 wrestlers entered, only 22 are seniors, and six of them belong to UC Davis. Speaking of the Aggies, they provided perhaps the tournament's most surprising performance, scoring several upsets on their way to 46 first-day points with Burt Pierson knocking off OSU's #1 seeded frosh, Jed Pennell, to make the finals at 165. The Aggies also have five alive in consolation, which further demonstrates the value of experience and the strides the UC Davis program has made since Mike Burch arrived with his first recruiting class four years ago. So, there's more than a little justification for the general feeling among the conference's coaches that the Pac-10 has become a hard ticket to the big show. The first day here in Eugene was a war. If anything, expect things to heat up even more on Monday, when the team title, individual hardware and NCAA bids will be awarded to the survivors. The fans are already buzzing about the many great championship final match-ups. Of course, the hometown crowd is most eager to see Doug Lee win his third consecutive title at 184. But you can probably expect an equally loud cheer if the Beavers from nearby Corvallis manage to catch and overcome the Sun Devils. It could happen. Team Scores through the first day of competition: Arizona State - 56 Oregon State - 51 Boise State - 50.5 Oregon - 48.5 Cal Poly - 26 Cal-Davis - 22.5 Cal-Bakersfield - 22.5 Portland State - 18 Cal-Fullerton - 2 Stanford - 0
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