Perhaps Arizona State redshirt freshman Blake Stauffer was a bit overlooked entering this weekend's 31st Cliff Keen Invitational at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For those that didn't know about him, that's all about to change.
Stauffer, a 174-pound Neosho native, entered the NCAA Division-1 tournament ranked No. 25 in the nation by D1collegewrestling.net with a 6-0 record and continued making waves by going 5-1 in the tournament to capture third place in his weight class. Stauffer's only loss came against University of Michigan redshirt junior Dan Yates, who entered the match ranked No. 11, in a 3-1 decision.
Stauffer, however, closed out the weekend with victories over University of Wisconsin's Scott Liegel and a medical forfeit over national No. 14 Matt Miller from Navy. He helped the Sun Devils wrap up 13th place as a team.
Stauffer's biggest win, which came on Friday, was a big one, too. He knocked off the No. 9 ranked wrestler nationally in University of Virginia redshirt junior Jon Fausey, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals.
Stauffer also defeated Army's Travis Mello, 16-0, and Cornell's George Pickett, 6-2. The former Wildcat entered the Invitational having outscored opponents 51-10, which included a pair of pins.
Not a bad way for the 2011 NHS graduate to make his entrance on the big stage.
"Last year I came down and redshirted and I just wanted to take advantage of that experience for a year, and get a year of practice in to get prepared for this year," Stauffer said. "It was tough not getting to compete much last year, and it kind of wore on me a little bit. But it's been nice to go out there and compete in the maroon and gold this year. Everything's been going great so far."
Stauffer, who stands at 5-foot-11, was named the 2011 Missouri Wrestler of the Year and picked up second place at that year's FloNational Championships. Stauffer completed his standout career for the Wildcats with a 193-9 mark where, while under coach Jeremy Phillips, the two-time state champion also stood out in class, earning academic all-state three times at NHS.
At 11-1 so far this season, Stauffer said his only loss will help him get better.
"You never want to lose, but it kind of puts your weaknesses out there, whereas you might overlook them if you keep winning all the time. It lets me realize that there are guys out there who can beat me and helps me to work to overcome that.
"I always feel like I learn a lot from losses. When it does happen I want to use them to my advantage and learn from it."
The top-eight wrestlers in the nation are recognized as All-American's, and Stauffer says he's striving to reach that goal by season's end. The results from Vegas further proved to him that, with hard work, that goal could be achieved.
Page 2 of 2 - "I knew going into the weekend that there was going to be some high-ranking opponents there," Stauffer said. "So I was itching to get the opportunity to wrestle those guys. I beat some of them just like I knew I could, but I just hadn't had that opportunity to wrestle those kinds of opponents yet."
Part of Stauffer's success, he says, is aided by the comfort and support he feels from friends and family who continue to support him. He's never short on encouraging messages of support from folks back home.
"I just want to let everyone know how nice it is to have so much support," Stauffer said. "The community support I still get from Neosho is awesome. It just makes it that much better knowing that's there and that so many people are supporting me."
Stauffer and the Sun Devils are back in action on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., against the University of Nebraska.