Every wrestling team that is represented at this week's NCAA Division II national championships in Pueblo, Colo., is doing everything possible to peak at just the right time.
There are a number of obstacles wrestlers and teams encounter as they strive to reach that goal. Outsiders normally think the biggest foe is the opponent on the mat. Coaches and wrestlers often identify another enemy. That is known as down time.
One of the biggest challenges in making a climb to a national championship is figuring out how to handle down time. That includes travel to the championship site, practicing and preparing in an unfamiliar venue and then mentally dealing with so much time to sit and think about the road ahead.
"In a lot of ways, you don't say anything," said AU head coach Tim Dernlan, when asked how he will approach this issue. "The kids know what's at stake. They know it's the last chance to win a national championship. We don't talk about what's at stake. We remind them how tough they are, what they've been through, how many tough wrestlers they've beaten and how many tough teams we've beaten."
AU, ranked 12th in the country, has eight wrestlers who will compete at this year's championship meet, which will take place Mar. 9-10. Four members of this traveling party have been here before – seniors Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page), Tommie Graszl (Mansfield, Ohio/Madison) and Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego) and junior Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry). Of the group going to the national championship meet Southwick is the only one to earn All-American laurels. He was fourth at last year's championships.
There is no sure way to predict how each wrestler will react on this giant stage. AU has two true freshmen – Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) and Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) – at this meet. Will they hit the wall and freeze or will they take a nothing-to-loss attitude? Time will certainly tell.
"There is a lot of down time," conceded Dernlan. "Not just with the travel, but we're in spring break. There are no classes to go to, no papers to focus on. It's nice that this always comes spring break week, but there is down time."
Dernlan has scheduled some side events to help with all the free time. The Eagles are going to tour the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs once they land in Denver. That should take their minds off of what lies ahead.
Of course not everyone wants to forget. Years ago, before the birth of the internet and social media, it was a little more difficult to accumulate all the championship information. Now, that's a click away. It's easy to over-think championship week.
"We can't shelter them from it," Dernlan said. "If they want to know who they're wrestling, what their records are, they can find it. They can use it to encourage them or discourage themselves. We just keep working on the mindset and put positive signs in their minds. We have a nice mix of kids. It's fun. It will be interesting to see how they work together."
Dernlan hasn't tried to introduce a lot of different ideas since the regional tournament in late February. He believes that would be counter-productive.
"For the past three weeks we've worked on fundamentals," explained Dernlan. "We've worked on five or six key things and we've drilled every day. They did a lot of those things down at regionals. We really worked on a couple of new things with several individuals. That's because of matchups with several individuals."
Most of Ashland's first-round matchups will come with wrestlers they have not encountered this season. The exception to that is Genetin, who has lost twice this season to his first round foe – West Libery's Jarrod Shaw (20-5).
Among AU's other first round matches, Hall may have the most difficult draw. At 174 pounds he gets top-ranked man in the field – senior Luke Rynish of Wisconsin-Parkside. Rynish is 41-4.
At 197 pounds, Brandt will open against Grand Canyon's Celic Ball. The junior is 24-4 and ranked third in the country.
Davis is a senior and he'll open on Friday against freshman Joshua Kieffer of Indianapolis. Kieffer is 21-8. At 133 pounds, sophomore Adli Edwards (Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) is ranked eighth in the country. This is his first trip to nationals. His championships journey begins against Newberry's Matt Oliver. Oliver is 18-11 and is unranked, but he's part of a Newberry team ranked second in the nation.
At 149 pounds, senior Marc Hoff (Liberty Center, Ohio) will face off against St. Cloud State's Jacob Horn in the opener. Horn is ranked fourth in the country with a 17-7 mark.
Southwick is ranked fourth in the nation at 285 pounds. His first match on Friday will be against Upper Iowa's Zach Rosol, who is 22-7 and ranked sixth in the country.
As Dernlan has emphasized throughout his four-year tenure at AU, that first match on Friday is of the utmost importance. Win that and you know you are going wrestle at least two more times. Lose that opener and the pressure is as high as the Sears Tower.
One positive which can't be overlooked from the AU perspective is that for two straight years now, the Eagles have sent a large contingent to nationals. Ashland wrestlers expect to be competing over spring break.
"Fans expect it, our guys working out expect it," said Dernlan. "No one on our team was surprised when we had eight qualifiers. When you walk into our wrestling room you're working to win a national championship. That's the way we're thinking. You need to get guys there to get experience, that's one of the steps."
Ashland University's National Qualifiers
125 – Brandon Davis (SR, Greensboro, N.C./Page)
Finished third at the regional championships…has a 28-9 record and is the team leader in victories and takedowns (82)…was redshirted last season…this is his second trip to nationals, also went in 2009-10.
133 – Adli Edwards (SO, Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington)
Placed third at the regional championships….won a GLIAC championship and was named first team All-GLIAC…owns a 17-6 record and is ranked eighth in the country….missed all of last season due to injury and entered the lineup midway through this season….is at nationals for the first time.
149 – Marc Hoff (SR, Liberty Center, Ohio)
Placed third at the regional championships….has a 17-5 record….has been nationally ranked for part of this season…is making his first trip to nationals.
157 – Dan Genetin (JR, Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry)
Got to nationals by finishing fourth at regionals….is making his third trip to the national championship meet….won a GLIAC championship and was tabbed first team All-GLIAC…is 18-10 with six pins.
165 – Tommie Graszl (SR, Mansfield, Ohio/Madison)
Finished third at the regional championships….brings a 23-12 record to nationals…missed last season due to injury…this is his second trip to nationals.
174 – Bryson Hall (FR, Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa)
One of two true freshmen in the AU lineup…finished fourth at the regional championships…has a 26-10 record with eight pins…second on the team in wins and tied for second in pins.
197 – Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio)
One of two true freshmen in the Ashland lineup….was fourth at the regional championships…has a 23-10 record.
285 – Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego)
Has won two straight regional championships….has compiled a 24-4 mark with a team-high 13 pins….set the school single-season record for pins last season…ranked fourth in the country…was an All-American last season when he placed fourth at nationals…won a GLIAC championship this year and was first team All-GLIAC.