March isn't quite ready to come in like a lion - one more day if you believe the National Weather Service. However, on the first day of the month, the Ashland University Eagles came in like birds of prey.
Six AU wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Divison II national meet on Saturday (Mar. 1) at Tiffin. To reach the national championships, which will be held Mar. 14-15 in Cleveland, a wrestler had to place in the top five at this Super Region II Championship Tournament.
Sophomore Michael Labry leads the AU brigade. He won a regional title for the first time in his career and returns to nationals for the second straight season.
Junior Joe Brandt was second at 197 pounds and senior Tyler Houska was the runner-up at 285 pounds. Brandt will be after his third straight All-America award in Cleveland. Houska is at the big event for the first time.
Junior Bryson Hall placed third at 184 pounds to wrap up a spot at nationals and Kyle Burns was third at 157. Hall is going to nationals for the second time in his career, he made the trip as a freshman and did not place.
Burns, a redshirt freshman, put on a phenomenal rush to get out of the region and he may be the most pleasant surprise of this group. He's wrestling as well as anyone in this group at the present time.
At 149 pounds, redshirt freshman Brent Fickel was fourth. That will send him to Cleveland and that figures to be a huge thrill for him because he is from the Cleveland area.
Indianapolis won the regional title with 125.5 points. McKendree (106) was second, Newberry (105.5) was third and Ashland (100) was fourth. Maryville (99) finished fifth. A total of 17 teams competed in this regional.
Newberry came to Tiffin with the highest ranking, the North Carolina school is fifth. McKendree is ninth, Maryville is 13th, Indianapolis is 14th and the Eagles are 19th.
Labry was the top seed at 133 and he is ranked second in the country. He downed McKendree's Brenden Murphy in the semifinals, 6-4 and stopped Josh Keiffer of Indianapolis, 9-3 in the title bout. Labry is 31-4.
Brandt had to battle back from an injury midway through the season but since getting back on the mat he's been spectacular. On Saturday, he won his first match by major decision, 10-2 over Joe Grisko of Newberry. In the title match, he lost to McKendree's Julian Smith, 8-4. Smith is ranked third in the country and Brandt is sixth.
Houska had to work hard in his semifinal match on Saturday, outlasting Chris Giddens of UNC-Pembroke, 2-1 in double overtime. In the final, he lost, 8-5 to Maryville's Donnell Walker.
Hall is ranked first in the country at 184 pounds. In the semifinals, he was pinned in 4:49 by Jon Vogt of McKendree. That was just Hall's second loss of the season. Vogt went on to claim the regional crown.
Hall didn't rattle after that result. He bounced back to pin Lake Erie's Chevy Farris in 3:43 and in the consolation final, stopped Newberry's Jared Holliday, 8-4. Hall, the 2014 GLIAC wrestler of the year, is 22-2.
Burns has been getting better every week and he peaked at exactly the right time. On Friday, he lost to Newberry's Taylor Knapp, 6-5. Saturday, he defeated Knapp in the consolation final, 8-3. Burns won four matches in the consolation bracket to earn his ticket to nationals. That win string included a pin and a major decision.
Like Brandt, Fickel had to overcome an injury issue earlier in the year. When healthy, he's wrestled at a high level all season. In his first match on Saturday, he lost to Maryville's Joey Moorehouse, 3-1. He regrouped to defeat Dalton Nicely of Findlay, 9-2 and then lost in the consolation final, 5-1 to McKendree's Kyle Williams. Williams is ranked eighth in the nation.