2017-18 IN REVIEW: Two Eagle wrestlers – senior Luke Cramer (197 pounds) and sophomore Bret Romanzak (165 pounds) – won NCAA Division II national championships. It marked the first time in program history that two grapplers won national titles in the same season, and gives the program seven all-time. Ashland finished fifth nationally as a team, and coupled with the sixth-place finish in 2017, the Eagles had their best back-to-back team national placements since 1981-82 (also sixth, then fifth). Ashland also won the Midwest Regional championship.
ROMANZAK BACK FOR MORE: Now a junior, Romanzak will be the first Eagle to return as a national champion since Corey Kline, following his 1996 title at 134 pounds. In his first two seasons at Ashland, Romanzak has recorded 59 victories – including 39 last season, the second-highest single-season total in Eagle wrestling history.
"It's a good situation to be in, for sure," said Ashland head coach Josh Hutchens of having Romanzak back. "He's focused on improvement. He has been since he's gotten here. After winning a national title, that didn't change."
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018-19: Ashland loses two All-Americans in Cramer and Jordan Murphy, who placed third in the nation in 2018. Both Cramer and Murphy were two-time All-Americans as Eagles.
The cupboard, however, is far from bare. Ashland's other two returning 20-win grapplers are redshirt junior Christian Price (25) and senior Lawrance Dudgeon (24), although Dudgeon is a redshirt possibility for 2018-19. Three Eagles who competed at regionals – Dudgeon at 133 pounds, Romanzak at 165 and Price at 174 – are on the roster, and that number would be four, but senior 285-pounder Deaken McCoy will miss the upcoming season due to injury.
Add to that veteran group the return of junior Chandler Minnard (141 pounds), a two-time nationals qualifier, off redshirt, as well as yet another redshirt junior, Jerry Fenner III (133 pounds), and Ashland will have plenty of experience on the mat next season.
Despite that experienced group, the Eagles will have competition heading into the season.
"We'll have a lot of holes to fill, more than it looks like," Hutchens said. "We'll have basically seven weight classes that will have a new person there, most will be young guys. It'll be an interesting year for us, just to see how they develop, who steps up.
"Most of our returners that have the experience and are looking to be starters in the lineup are juniors. Then we'll have freshmen and sophomores trying to fill in the rest of those weights. We have a few guys coming in we expect to fight for a starting spot."
Among the top AU newcomers are redshirt sophomore Eric Fasnacht, a 157-pound Padua Franciscan High School graduate transferring from NCAA Division I Buffalo; junior Christian Wellman, a 125-pounder from Waynedale High School by way of NCAA Division III Baldwin-Wallace; and Bart Dalious, a redshirt freshman 149-pounder from Delaware.
Nationals always are exciting, but for the Eagles, they will be even more so in 2019. Ashland will play host to the 2019 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships, March 8-9 at The Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University.
"I am excited that we will be hosting the nationals again," said Hutchens. "The first time was my first season here, and it was a crazy time preparing while also getting to know my new team. I will definitely be able to enjoy the experience more this time around. The team loved it last time, and I am sure they will again this year."