Ashland University's wrestling team will compete for a shot at qualifying for the national stage in NCAA Division II on Saturday (Feb. 23).
The Eagles will travel to West Liberty, W.Va., to compete in a highly competitive Super Region Three tournament. By the time the Eagles hit the mats on Saturday, they will have had two weeks to prepare for the regional. Those weeks were spent trying to ensure that they're wrestling at their best.
"Our last two weeks have been similar to the two weeks building up to the Lake Erie dual," said Ashland's head wrestling coach Josh Hutchens. "We're seeing some guys a little rested and recovered. Hopefully, if the training worked out, they'll look the best they have all year on Saturday."
Ashland's wrestlers will need to be at their best, because they will have a tough test at the regional.
"If we have guys qualify for nationals out of this region, the expectation is that they are going to be All-Americans," said Hutchens. "Several weight classes you expect to be a high All-American, and heavyweight you expect to be a top-three in the country."
That, of course, because the top three nationally-ranked wrestlers at 285 pounds are also the top three ranked in the region - Kameron Teacher of Notre Dame, Terrance Fanning of Wheeling Jesuit, and Dylan Faulkenburg of Indianapolis.
At any weight class, getting out of the region bodes well moving forward.
"It's going to be really hard to get out, so if you do get out, that means you've already beaten guys who are expected to be All-Americans," said Hutchens.
Preparing for the competition is another test that the Eagles will face on Saturday, as they'll have limited time to prep for opponents due to the nature of the regional.
"We have the guys focus on who is right in front of them," said Hutchens. "As coaches, we go out and scout everyone else the best we can while they're sleeping, and make a game plan for the next round. It's hard to scout everybody, so you just have to go with your best bet."
The current regional rankings provide a challenge for Ashland, but certainly not one they aren't capable of overcoming.
"The challenges are huge. Right now, we only have one guy ranked in the top three in the region," said Hutchens. "That's a huge battle. We have a lot of guys that are in that fourth through seventh spots, which is out. We know the guys will have to wrestle their best, and on top of that, beat somebody who beat them earlier in the year usually."
Currently, only redshirt junior Bret Romanzak is sitting in a top-three spot in the region, as he sits in second at 165 pounds. The rankings won't deter the rest of Ashland's team from making a run at a top-three spot.
"There will be upsets for sure, and there will definitely have to be upsets to get more than one guy to the national tournament," said Hutchens.
Other than the difficulty of the region, the new format will make it even more challenging to qualify for nationals. The region now only advances three wrestlers per weight class, rather than four, and will take place in just one day, rather than two.
"One less spot, and a tougher regional," said Hutchens. "Obviously it changes a little bit, but not so much in our prep, because we always try to push our conditioning and keep our weight in check.
"Some guys coming in from other regions we're seeing cutting a lot of weight. Their hope is to make weight and keep advancing, then by the time you see them at the end of the day, they're 15 pounds heavier than they were at weigh-ins," said Hutchens.
The stage is set, and the Eagles will compete on Saturday to see how many wrestlers they can send to Cleveland, Ohio, for the NCAA Division II Championships, hosted by Ashland University.