Before the NCAA Super Regional 2 Wrestling Tournament began at Kates Gymnasium this weekend, there was concern that maybe AU's talented, yet young, wrestlers would hit, "The Wall." This is the time of the year when the legs and the mind get heavy even as the process of cutting weight to stay light continues for a sixth month.
Well, those young wrestlers made the wall seem like a snow fort partition subjected to a heat lamp on Saturday (Feb. 23). Three AU grapplers – two freshmen and a sophomore – are undefeated in this tourney and have reached Sunday's championship bout. All three of those wrestlers will advance to the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.
Four other AU wrestlers still have a shot at reaching Alabama. That quartet will compete in the wrestle backs on Sunday. To clinch a berth at nationals, a wrestler has to finish in the top four of the region.
As a team, 15th-ranked AU sits in third place with 79.5 points entering Sunday. Second-ranked Notre Dame leads the 12-team pack with 116 points and Central Oklahoma, ranked third, is second with 103.5 points. Findlay, ranked ninth, is right behind the Eagles in fourth place with 76 points.
"Tonight was much better than this morning," reviewed AU head coach Tim Dernlan. "That's a testament to our guys. A couple of them got knocked down in the morning and they got back up. We can still advance seven guys to nationals."
AU's trio in the finals consists of freshman Max Byrd (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle) at 125 pounds, freshman Michael Labry (Twinsburg, Ohio) at 133 pounds and sophomore Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) at 197 pounds. Brandt reached nationals a year ago by placing fourth at regionals.
Those in the bottom half of the bracket are senior Adli Edwards (Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) at 141 pounds, senior Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) at 149 pounds, sophomore Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) at 174 pounds and redshirt junior Tyler Houska (Wadsworth, Ohio/Highland) at 285 pounds.
Genetin has reached the national meet three times. Edwards and Hall went last year for the first time.
Byrd was sensational on Saturday. He was coming off a 17-5 loss to Notre Dame's Johnny Papesh in his final match of the regular season. Byrd went 3-0 Saturday with a pair of technical falls. Byrd is 24-4 and he is the top seed in this bracket. He will oppose Findlay's Ben Sergent in the championship. When the two wrestled in a dual meet at UF this season, Byrd was a 4-0 winner. Sergent is the second seed in the bracket. Byrd is ranked seventh in the country.
In Saturday's semifinals, Byrd defeated fourth-seeded Ian Ross of Lake Erie, 7-1.
"His semifinal match was the best I've ever seen him wrestle," Dernlan said. "He wrestled so well the guy didn't know what to do with him."
Labry got some revenge in working his way to the final. The third seed in the bracket, he won an 8-5 decision over Notre Dame's Marty Carlson in the semifinals. When the two met in the regular season, Carlson pinned the AU freshman in 5:32. That's the only loss Labry has this season. He is 31-1 and ranked sixth in the nation. Carlson is the second seed in this event.
"Great offense for him in the semifinal," remarked Dernlan. "He made a couple of minor adjustments and blew the match wide open. He showed great focus. Sometimes in that situation it's tough because the guy's beaten you once. It was a tremendous effort."
Up next for Labry is Central Oklahoma's Casy Rowell. He is the top-ranked wrestler in the country at 133 pounds.
Brandt went 3-0 on Saturday is 31-3 and ranked fourth in the country. He will square off against Notre Dame's Brandonn Johnson in Sunday's title bout. Johnsonn defeated Brandt, 9-3 when the two met in dual late in the season at Kates Gymnasium. In the semifinal match, Brandt had to go to double overtime to defeat Znick Ferrello of Central Oklahoma, 4-3.
"Joe Brandt wrestled a great, great match," exclaimed Dernlan. "The guy kept backing up. When a guy keeps backing up for 11 minutes, two overtimes, that's hard. Joe Brandt wrestled with the heart of a champion. He remained focused, offensive and won the match in the last few seconds. All the guy could do to beat Joe was stall. Joe was better. He showed how tough he is."
Genetin is seeded fifth at 149 pounds and he will start on Sunday against Marc Smith of Ouachita Baptist, who is unseeded. Hall is the third seed in this tournament and on Sunday his first match will be against the fourth seed, Tiffin's Jacob Cramer.
Houska will begin on Sunday with a match against Central Oklahoma's Cody Dauphin. Dauphin is the third seed in the tournament. On Saturday, he took a 2-0 decision from Houska. Houska stayed alive by taking a 3-2 decision from fifth-seeded Zotaih Tuaquoi and pinning Ryan Ward of Truman State in 3:52.
AU sent eight wrestlers to nationals a year ago and six in 2011. The Eagles had one regional champion last year – Jacob Southwick at 285 pounds.
The final day of the regional championships will begin at 11 a.m.