On Friday night (Jan. 27) at Kates Gymnasium, every fan who entered the premises received a glow stick.
And just think, two years ago, some wondered if a young, struggling AU wrestling team which finished 4-12, would every find the light at the end of the tunnel.
No one says that now. Friday, the 12th-ranked Eagles, who have grown up and have a mental edge as sharp as a butcher's blade, punished eighth-ranked Pitt-Johnstown, 29-6. This is the first time the Eagles have posted consecutive victories over the powerful Mountain Cats. It is the third time in the series the Eagles have defeated UPJ.
This victory was staged in front of one of the largest dual meet crowds the Eagles have seen in the past 10 years. Close to 500 fans sat on the edge of their seats to watch what AU head coach Tim Dernlan called the biggest win of his four-year Ashland career. That gathering included 25 former AU wrestlers who came back for Alumni Night.
"We wanted to make the alumni proud," said Dernlan. "This went pretty well. I thought we could have won the matches at 57 and 84. It came down to one move in each match. We'll make a couple of corrections there."
The Eagles are 8-1 in dual meet action and have won seven consecutive duals. During this string, the ranked teams the Eagles have bounced number UPJ (#8), Wisconsin-Parkside (#11), West Liberty (#14), King (#16) and Minnesota State-Mankato (#17 a week ago when the Eagles wrestled them).
Ashland won eight of 10 bouts against UPJ and emerged victorious at the first four weight classes. The AU crowd was mute with anxiety for much of the opening match, the 125-pound showdown between Brandon Davis (Greensboro, N.C./Page) and Dave Fogle. When Davis completed a 5-3 win the crowd roared with approval.
That sound was dwarfed by the ovation sophomore Adli Edwards (Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) got at 133 pounds when he took a decision from Ryan Link. This was a back-and-forth affair that finally went to Edwards, 13-9. Link finished fourth in the country a year ago and is ranked third in the nation this year.
"I've been waiting for this match for a while," said Edwards. "I'm glad to have it done with and win. We looked at a little bit of film. The game plan was to wrestle my style. No one really knows me. I've had two redshirts. The idea was to stay in the face, stay aggressive and work for the next point. It panned out."
With this win, Edwards figures to be banned from Wrestlers Anonymous. He's 10-4 and solidified what was a question mark at 133 pounds. Edwards is still getting the hang of this gig, he didn't start wrestling until he was a sophomore in high school and when he got to AU, he couldn't remain healthy. Link bounced him around the mat a couple of times on Friday and there were times when Edwards seemed to be bent back so far his body would break. He never broke, physically or mentally, and emerged with a win.
"I heard people in the crowd groan a couple of times," said Dernlan. "I'll see him in the wrestling room and I sometimes I'll stop him because I think he's going to get hurt. He'll say to me, 'Coach, I was going to score."
"I had the big guy on their team," Edwards said. "The dual didn't come down to that match, but it felt good. It was the turning point."
How true. The Edwards win energized the crowd and carried it through the middle weights. Senior Marc Hoff (Liberty Center, Ohio) earned a 14-3 major decision over Nathan Link at 149 and at that point AU led, 13-0. The next wave of cheers came at 165 pounds where senior Tommie Graszl (Mansfield, Ohio/Lexington) got a takedown with 40 seconds left to edge Logan Shirey, 4-3. That gave Ashland a 16-3 lead.
True freshman Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) stopped Keith Ryan with a 14-2 major decision at 174 pounds and the Eagles led, 20-3.
The Eagles closed out the proceedings with a bang when senior Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego) pinned Josh Krupa in 3:40 at 285 pounds. Southwick is 17-2 and the pin was his team-leading ninth of the season.
"It just made it real special," said Dernlan of the victory and the fact that the AU wrestling program is celebrating 50 years of competition. "I'm really proud of the guys. They're doing all the extra things on their own. They're watching film, pushing themselves in practice."
Ashland hosts the 12th Annual Simonson Open on Saturday (Jan. 28). The next dual meet comes on Feb. 3 at 10th-ranked Mercyhurst.
Ashland 29, Pitt-Johnstown 6
125 – Brandon Davis (AU) dec. David Fogle (UPJ), 5-3 3-0, AU
133 – Adli Edwards (AU) dec. Ryan Link (UPJ), 13-9 6-0, AU
141 – Clarence Longley (AU) dec. Tyler Chesney (UPJ), 1-0 9-0, AU
149 – Marc Hoff (AU) maj. dec. Nathan Link (UPJ), 14-3 13-0, AU
157 – Zach Lundgren (UPJ) dec. Dan Genetin (AU), 3-2 13-3, AU
165 – Tommie Graszl (AU) dec. Logan Shirey (UPJ), 4-3 16-3, AU
174 – Bryson Hall (AU) maj. dec. Keith Ryan (UPJ), 14-2 20-3, AU
184 – Gary Lantz (UPJ) dec. Kurt Schaefer (AU), 6-2 20-6, AU
197 – Joe Brandt (AU) dec. Jon Moore (UPJ), 8-2 23-6, AU
285 – Jacob Southwick (AU) pins Josh Krupa (UPJ), 3:40 29-6, AU