The Eagles will be in Findlay on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 25-26, for the Super Region 2 championships. Wrestling both days will begin at 10 a.m. This is the final step before the NCAA Division II national championships, Mar. 11-12, at Nebraska-Kearney.
The top four finishers from each weight class will advance to nationals. A year ago, AU sent three wrestlers to nationals – Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry), Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page) and Tommie Graszl (Mansfield, Ohio/Madison). AU senior Kyle Kanaga (Greensboro, N.C./Ragsdale) has also advanced to nationals during his career.
The region is home to the nation's top-ranked team, Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks have won the last two national championships. UNO has the region's top-ranked grappler at six weight classes. Three UNO wrestlers are ranked first in the nation – Mario Morgan at 141 pounds, Esai Dominguez at 149 and George Ivanov at 157.
Central Oklahoma is ranked fifth in the country, AU is 12th and Findlay is 15th.
The team regional rankings can be found below
1 – Nebraska-Omaha 8 – Belmont Abby
2 – Central Oklahoma 9 – Lake Erie
3 – ASHLAND 10 – Ouachita Baptist
4 – Findlay 11 – Truman State
5 – King 12 - Tiffin
6 – Central Missouri 13 – St. Andrews Presbyterian
7 – Limestone
"This is exciting, I'm glad they're in the region," said AU head coach Tim Dernlan, when asked about the presence of Nebraska-Omaha. "It gives us a good look at these teams before nationals. Because we have the toughest region in the country, guys who make it out have a great chance to be All-Americans."
Since he arrived at AU three years ago, Dernlan has tried to construct schedules that send the Eagles up against the best teams from around the country. This year, AU has met nationally ranked teams such as Pitt-Johnstown (sixth), Findlay (15th), Gannon (16th) and Mercyhurst (20th).
"We've done as much as we can," said Dernlan. "We've seen the best competition around. I'm excited to get over to Findlay. I want to see where we stack up. From Indiana west, we haven't seen those teams."
The Ashland Lineup
125 – Dan Mandara (JR, Canadaigua, N.Y.) – is 16-7 and ranked second in the region.
133 – Scott Meyer (JR, Ravenna, Ohio) – Owns a 20-11 mark and is ranked fourth regionally.
141 – Kyle Kanaga (SR, Greensboro, N.C./Ragsdale) – Senior is 22-9 and third in the region.
149 – Dan Genetin (SO, Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) – Genetin is 21-10 and fourth in the region.
157 – Mark Hoff (JR, Liberty Center, Ohio) – Hoff is 17-6 and third in the region.
165 – Brandon Kelley (SR, Fort Myers, Fla./Newberry) – Kelley is 15-3 and third in the region.
174 – Ryan Thatcher (SO, Loudonville, Ohio) – Local product is 23-8 and ranked third in the region.
184 – Caleb Marsh (FR, Marysville, Ohio) – True freshman is 3-2 and ranked seventh in the region.
197 – Corby Running (FR, Wilmington, Ohio/Clinton Massie) – Is 13-17 and ranked seventh in the region.
285 – Jacob Southwick (JR, Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego) – Dominating junior is ranked first in the region and fifth in the nation. Southwick is 29-2 with 16 pins. The school record for pins is 17.
More Regional Talk
Ashland is in Super Region 2. This region is humongous, taking in teams from South Carolina to Nebraska. There is talk that next year, Nebraska-Kearney could be added to the region. While that team comes in, teams like Indianapolis and Wisconsin-Parkside, which were once included in this region, are sent elsewhere.
Part of this has to do with realignment and the fact that more teams around the nation have added wrestling.
"It's good that we have this problem," said Dernlan.
Dernlan also admits that for the Eagles, having the regional in Findlay is a major plus. The Eagles will drive 90 minutes west. They won't have to worry about airline flights, loss of sleep and finding places to eat.
"For the last two years we had to fly," reminded Dernlan. "We're driving just down the road to Findlay. We wrestled well at Findlay this year, we did well in that environment."
Wrestling in a Crowd
Over the last few weeks of the regular season, Dernlan talked about his team and asked himself a question – "Is this team one that can thrive in dual meets but will struggle in a tournament setting?" He's about to get an answer to that question.
"If you look at the rankings we only have one guy nationally ranked (Southwick)," said the AU head coach. "A lot of people around the country may look at that and think we're a good solid team in dual meets. They might think we don't have the horsepower to stand out in a regional. I'm hoping we can prove them wrong. Our guys are wrestling well and they believe in themselves and their teammates. That's what it takes in a tournament. You have to believe in your teammates and care, because you don't want to let them down. Guys want to step up and wrestle at a higher level.
The tournament format is different for wrestlers and coaches from the dual meet portion of the schedule and that may cause some wrestlers to change their approach in preparing for action.
Dernlan said that when he wrestled in high school and college, he was notorious for working out for an hour before he took the mat. Dernlan was trying to burn off nervous energy. This comes from a guy who was favored to win over 90 percent of the time. Imagine what the nerves could be like for someone who was not at Dernlan's level.
"We have some guys like me, Kanaga and Kelley, who go for an hour before they wrestle," said Dernlan. "I'll talk to them. They've worked so hard and they're so excited."
The Eagles don't have a team with a lot of regional and national experience. Kelley probably has the most postseason experience, but as Dernlan pointed out, "It's been a couple of years for him."
Kelley transferred to AU from Newberry.
For those who advance, the NCAA Division II wrestling national championships will be held Mar. 11-12 at Nebraska-Kearney.