AU head wrestling coach Tim Dernlan has always maintained that he looks to build as demanding a schedule as possible. His goal is to get the Eagles battle ready for nationals in mid-March.
Ashland's first dual meet of the season will be held on Friday (Nov. 30, 7 p.m.) at Kates Gymnasium and this is no soft touch that's coming to town. AU will oppose Mercyhurst, annually one of the top teams from the East Region.
"Mercyhurst is going to fight and scrap," acknowledged Dernlan, who is in his fourth season at AU. "Pennsylvania wrestling is known for being hard-nosed. It will be good to see our guys up against a different look from a Pennsylvania team."
Speaking of different looks, that's what this Ashland team has. Three of the four wrestlers who earned All-America honors last spring are gone. Injuries have also opened up several holes in the lineup. This season is still in its infancy so no sense of panic should accompany a result this early in the campaign. What a match like this does is give a coaching staff a sense of what needs to take place in the coming weeks and which wrestlers are on schedule and which ones are behind.
"It will be fun to see how our young guys do," said Dernlan. "It will be fun to see how they do when the lights go on and it's a dual. Some guys like a tournament better than a dual. It will be interesting to see what we need to work on."
One of the most interesting bouts of the night figures to be at 133 pounds where AU freshman Michael Labry (Twinsburg, Ohio) will meet Mercyhurst freshman Dylan D'Urso. D'Urso won tournament championships at Mercyhurst's Laker Open and the Washington and Jefferson Invitational. Labry is 9-0.
At 165 pounds, the 'Hurst will send out Clint Schaefer, who is 8-0 with a pair of tourney championships. Jake Piatt (Medina, Ohio) will try to saddle Schaefer with his first loss of the season. Piatt is 5-4.
AU freshman Brandon O'Neil (Ashland, Ohio/Clear Fork) is 10-3 with four pins at 174 pounds. He leads the Eagles in victories. Sophomore Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) had an outstanding rookie season and has picked up where he left off a year ago. Hall is 7-1 with three pins at 184 pounds.
After Friday night's match, the Eagles will not wrestle at home again until Jan. 15 against Lake Erie.