By the time Tuesday night's (Feb. 14) West Liberty-Ashland wrestling match at Kates Gymnasium concluded, bodies were worn out and nerves were wrung out.
Tuesday night (Feb. 14) the Ashland University wrestling program said good-bye to six seniors.
The Eagles also said hello to a style of wrestling, practiced by their freshman class, that could be the staple of one of the top wrestling programs in the country for years to come.
On this night, 16th-ranked West Liberty took an 18-8 lead. Three AU freshmen – Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) at 174 pounds, Kurt Schaefer (West Salem, Ohio/Northwestern) at 184 and Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) at 197 won decisions to get the Eagles back into the match. Thanks to that trio, the Eagles were behind by a point, 18-17 entering the heavyweight bout.
That matchup will be remembered by fans of both schools. WL's J.D. Ramsey, ranked eighth in the country, was a 3-2 winner over AU's Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego), ranked seventh in the nation in overtime. Not just one overtime either. This match went as long as a college match can go – 11 minutes. Ramsey got the decisive point thanks to riding time and that sealed a 21-17 West Liberty win.
As AU head coach Tim Dernlan pointed out, this night didn't have to come down to the last match. Some better wrestling on AU's part early in the match would have prevented that. But this night also emphasized what the future could hold. Those three freshmen, in a pressure situation, against the 16th-ranked team in the nation, pulled the Eagles back into the match.
"It's too bad that on Senior Night our freshmen had to lead the way, but sometimes that happens," said Dernlan, chewing on his words after spending much of the night munching on his fingernails.
AU, ranked 10th in the country, overwhelmed the Hilltoppers, 34-7 on Jan. 15, in the finals of the Wendy's Mid-Atlantic Duals. This is obviously a much-improved West Liberty team. Dernlan talked about WL's defensive falls. He also talked about the grit the visitors showed.
"From our film study, we came up with some good game plans,' remarked the AU head coach. "It wasn't so much that they beat us technically, but they out-fought us."
The night got off to a great start for AU. After the introductions of the seniors, one of those honorees, 125-pounder Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page), posted a 16-5 major decision over Joe Wagstaff. As Davis was quick to point out post-match, he had seven takedowns in raising his record to 25-8. No one has more wins on the team this year than Davis.
All the momentum AU garnered from that match was gone in the next five minutes. West Liberty got pins at the next two matches – Dillon Nolte at 133 and Nick Wykoff at 141- and AU was staring at a 12-4 deficit. Steady senior Marc Hoff (Liberty Center, Ohio) got the Eagles to within 12-8 with a major decision over A.J. Gavin at 149 and those bonus points would be big down the road.
"Hoff did a great job coming back and getting the major," praised Dernlan. "He had it, lost it, then got it."
Following that Hoff victory, WL won the next two weights by decision and at that point, the Eagles had no margin for error. This is the time when freshmen can shrink under the pressure and glare of the spotlight. Instead, on this night, the AU rookies seemed to thrive in the atmosphere. With the crowd gaining momentum with every positive turn for the Eagles, Hall stopped junior Matt Littleton, 7-5, Schaefer held off junior Derrick Williams, 4-1 and Brandt outlasted senior Jacob Donley, 3-2. That's three true freshmen beating two juniors and a senior with the match on the line. Littleton was 12-7, Williams was 13-5 and Donley was 13-9. No easy pickings there for sure.
So many times in his career, Southwick, a senior, has been able to carry the Eagles on his back in this type of situation. But Ramsey is a tough customer and these two know each other so well.
"They've wrestled at least nine times," said Dernlan. "That (11 minute match) is the only time I've seen it this year. It's not surprising, two warriors like this going at it so often."
Dernlan wasn't sure that the riding time advantage of 11 seconds was correct, but as he so often points out, whatever decision is rendered, it's up to the wrestler to forge ahead. This tension-filled match had plenty of twists and turns and Ramsey was able to hold on – barely.
Ashland is 12-3 in dual meet action and West Liberty is 10-5. This was AU's final match before going to the NCAA Region 2 Championships on Feb. 24-25 at Central Oklahoma. A year ago, AU finished second at the regional championships. West Liberty, at one time, was in the same region as the Eagles. Now, WL is in Super Region 1. That means that another Ramsey-Southwick battle can't occur until the national championships.
A lot can happen before then. The first step in getting ready for regions begins early on Wednesday.
"We'll be back at it at 8 a.m. tomorrow," promised Dernlan. "We'll stick with our training schedule. I think we'll peak at the right time."
West Liberty 21, Ashland 17
125 – Brandon Davis (AU) maj. dec. Joe Wagstaff (WL), 16-5 4-0, AU
133 – Dillon Nolte (WL) pins Adli Edwards (AU), 2:09 6-4, WL
141 – Nick Wykoff (WL) pins Dan Mandara (AU), 3:34 12-4, WL
149 – Marc Hoff (AU) maj. dec. A.J. Gavin (WL), 15-7 12-8, WL
157 – Jarrod Shaw (WL) dec. Dan Genetin (AU), 11-5 15-8, WL
165 – Jordan Nolan (WL) dec. Tommie Graszl (AU), 8-5 18-8, WL
174 – Bryson Hall (AU) dec. Matt Littleton (WL), 7-5 18-11, WL
184 – Kurt Schaefer (AU) dec. Derrick Williams (WL), 4-1 18-14, WL
197 – Joe Brandt (AU) dec. Jacob Donley (WL), 3-2 18-17, WL
285 – J.D. Ramsey (WL) dec. Jacob Southwick (AU), 3-2 (OT) 21-17, WL