Wrestling is a sport filled with bumps, bruises and as anyone who's watched the sport knows, timeouts to wipe up a little blood.
If any blood is spilled on Friday (Jan. 27, 2012, 7 p.m.) when Pitt-Johnstown wrestles Ashland at Kates Gymnasium, it might be interesting to check the hue of the fluid. Is it the standard red, or is it blue?
Ashland and Pitt-Johnstown could be considered bluebloods in Division II college wrestling. On Sunday, Jan. 15, during the Wendy's Mid-Atlantic Duals, the Eagles posted the 500th victory in school history. At that point in January, AU, Pitt-Johnstown, Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Omaha were the only four Division II schools with 500 wins.
UPJ coach Pat Pecora began this season with 489 wins on his own, all at Pitt-Johnstown. He's also won two national titles (1996, 1999). There may not be any gated community in college wrestling, but the Eagles and Mountain Cats are certainly in an elite neighborhood.
"Coach Pecora is a legend," said Ashland's fourth-year head coach Tim Dernlan. "He's obviously a great coach. That has a lot to do with it (continued success). That part of the country has some of the best wrestling in the nation. They value wrestling at that school. The fans support it, the community supports it and the administration supports it."
A year ago at UPJ, the Eagles won, 18-15. That's just the second time in the series the Eagles were able to topple the Mountain Cats. AU is 7-1 and has won six consecutive duals. The Eagles are tied for 12th in this week's NCAA Division II national poll. That's a move forward of six spots. Over the last two weeks, the Eagles have defeated three teams that are ranked in the nation's Top 20. AU is ranked second of 11 teams in the Midwest Region, trailing only Central Oklahoma which is ranked sixth in the nation.
Pitt-Johnstown is making a similar type of push. UPJ has won four of its last five duals and is 7-2. The Mountain Cats are ranked eighth this week. In the last poll they were 13th. UPJ is ranked second in the East Region, trailing only Newberry, which is ranked second in the country.
The Eagles lost to Gannon on Jan. 6, 22-14 and since then have been on a tear.
"It focused the coaching staff, the wrestlers," explained Dernlan. "We have a lot of unknown wrestlers stepping up for us. They just step up and wrestle their best every time. Their best has been good enough so far. It's nice to see Adli Edwards, who's paid his dues for three years, get in the lineup. Tommie Graszl was out all of last year. He's another guy who's paid his dues. We have a true freshman – Clarence Longley - who's gone in the lineup since we moved Dan Genetin up a weight."
AU has two nationally ranked wrestlers – senior Marc Hoff (Liberty Center, Ohio) is ranked seventh at 149 pounds and senior Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio) is ranked third at 285 pounds. Hoff is 9-2 and Southwick is 16-2 with a team-high eight pins. Graszl, a senior, is ranked third in the region at 165 pounds and is 15-9.
The Mountain Cats aren't lacking for highly decorated wrestlers either. The match at 125 should be one of the most entertaining of the evening. AU will send out senior Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page) who is ranked first in the region with a 19-7 record. He will be opposed by sophomore David Fogle, who is ranked second in the East region with a 13-4 mark. Fogle is 9-0 in dual meet action. When he was an assistant coach at Lehigh, Dernlan was recruiting Fogle, who is from Summerhill, Pa. There's only one reason Dernlan got off the Fogle recruiting trail – he took the job at Ashland.
Edwards, a sophomore who is 9-4, figures to get one of his biggest challenges of the season on Friday. UPJ's 133-pounder is Ryan Link, who's ranked third in the country and first in the East region. Link, who was fourth at nationals last season, is 15-2 with six major decisions and two technical falls.
At 141 pounds, the Mountain Cats have another returning All-American in sophomore Jack Backman. He's 13-4. Backman was eighth at nationals a year ago.
The Eagles have gotten great mileage out of several youngsters and it will be interesting to see how they fare in a match of this caliber. At 174, true freshman Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) is 19-6. Another true freshman, Kurt Schaefer (West Salem, Ohio/Northwestern), is 17-12 at 184 pounds. He's expected to see sophomore Gary Lantz, who is 10-2 and ranked eighth in the nation.
Friday's match is Alumni Night and prior to the start of the match, all the former AU wrestlers in attendance will be introduced. Ashland is celebrating its 50th year of wrestling and a number of activities on Friday night will center around that theme.
NCAA Top 20 Poll – Jan. 26
Rank School Points
1 St. Cloud State 160
2 Newberry 152
T3 Upper Iowa 135
T3 Augustana 135
5 Nebraska-Kearney 129
6 Central Oklahoma 120
7 Grand Canyon 107
8 Pitt-Johnstown 100
9 Adams State 97
10 Mercyhurst 85
11 Wisconsin-Parkside 72
T12 Ashland 68
T12 Limestone 68
14 West Liberty 55
15 Fort Hays State 39
16 King 38
17 Maryville 20
18 Western State 19
19 Findlay 18
20 San Francisco State 16