Three of Ashland University's wrestlers will be traveling to Cleveland, Ohio, to compete in the NCAA Division II Nationals on Friday and Saturday (March 8-9).
Redshirt junior Bret Romanzak won his region at 165 pounds, redshirt junior Christian Price came in third at 174, and redshirt sophomore Tristen Weirich also came in third at 285 pounds, all to qualify for nationals out of one of the toughest regions in the nation.
"It helps us a lot coming out of our region. As we go into that first round, we're not overlooking anybody, but we can say, this is easier than our regional tournament," said Ashland head wrestling coach Josh Hutchens. "You don't match up with your region first round, so we've got another region first round guaranteed, and we feel good about that. After the first round, you never know who you have."
Since the regional on Feb. 23, everyone has been eager to get back on the mat to compete.
"Two weeks is a long time, the guys are already chomping at the bit," said Hutchens. "They're ready to start nationals now.
"The biggest thing in preparation is getting the soreness out from regionals, then getting your mind and body ready for nationals."
Three Ashland wrestlers have won a national title in the past two years – Michael Labry in 2017, and Luke Cramer and Romanzak in 2018.
Romanzak is aiming to become Ashland's first repeat champion, as well as the first to win more than one national title for the Eagles. His counterparts, Price and Weirich, are aiming to win their first national title. Price qualified for nationals for a second straight year, while Weirich is making his first trip to the biggest stage.
"When you get there, we tell them many, many times, we've had a lot of people on the wall in the room that were second place overall in our history here," said Hutchens. "There have been a lot of people that were close. In order to win a national title, you know that you have to do everything right. You have to have the training, the mental aspect, and you have to have a little luck. You have to be on that day. There are so many guys to almost won it or should have won it."
Weirich lost his first match at regionals and was able to come all the way back to qualify in third place, pinning three opponents along the way, including two-time defending regional champ, senior Dylan Faulkenberg of UIndy. To win a national title, you can't lose a match, so Weirich will have to come out of the gates ready to go.
"We're working on different ways to get his mind right. When we workout in the arena on Thursday, we will really try to get the nerves out," said Hutchens. "I think that if we can get him through the first round, we're in really good shape moving forward."
As for Price and Romanzak, they have been there before and will have experience on their side at the national tournament.
"You have to treat each round like its own tournament," said Hutchens. "Fortunately for the guys that have been there, they understand how that works. They'll be ready for it. They know. You have to be able to get your mind out of competition mode between rounds, get away, calm it down, then bring it back up when you get ready for that second round."
Ashland's three grapplers will begin their journey to capture nationals' glory on Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, in Day 1 of the tournament.
"All the guys that are going have the chance to win it," Hutchens said. "How many will have the perfect day? I don't know."