CLEVELAND - In wrestling, getting to the second day is a first rate achievement.
Three Ashland University wrestlers - Michael Labry at 134 pounds, Bryson Hall at 184 pounds and Joe Brandt at 197 pounds - advanced to the second day of the 2014 NCAA Championship in Cleveland. All three are guaranteed of earning All-America laurels.
Labry, a sophomore, is the only one of the trio to go 2-0 on Friday. That means he has a chance to win a national title. Labry finished fourth a year ago.
Hall went 2-1 and will be an All-American for the first time. This is the junior's second trip to nationals.
Brandt will be an All-America for the third consecutive season. He's a junior and he's finished seventh at the last two national meets.
Three other AU wrestlers lost twice on Friday and bowed out of the tournament. Brent Fickel went 0-2 at 149 pounds, Kyle Burns was 0-2 at 157 pounds and Tyler Houska was 1-2 at 285 pounds. Fickel and Burns are redshirt freshmen. Houska is a senior and this was his initial trip to the NCAA Championships.
"That's tough, real tough," said AU head coach Josh Hutchens of Houska. "Three All-Americans is a good day for us. Obviously, we had six wrestlers here. Still, getting three All-Americans is pretty good."
Labry is ranked second in the nation and after Friday's two victories, is 33-4. In his first match, he stopped two-time All-America Justin Reinsma of Southwest Minnesota State, 2-0. He followed that up with a 7-4 win over another All-American, eighth-ranked Marty Carlson of top-ranked Notre Dame.
In his first match on Saturday, Labry will tangle with the defending national champion, Daniel DeShazer of Nebraska-Kearney. He's 18-1 and ranked first in the nation.
"Honestly, I thought I got a good draw," said Labry. "You come to nationals and there is no easy draw, they're all good. If you're going to be the best you have to beat the best. I beat DeShazer over the summer. Now, it was freestyle which is different, but it still gives you confidence."
"He looks focused," said Hutchens of the sophomore. "He just gets out there and he gets in the zone."
Labry is attempting to become the first Ashland wrestler to win a national championship since Corey Kline in 1996. Kline, who was inducted into the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame here on Thursday night, is in attendance this weekend.
"I really wanted to win it last year, but I was happy to place," Labry said. "This year, I won't be satisfied with anything short of winning it."
Brandt opened his day by pinning Jalal Paige of Shippensburg in 6:25. In his next match, he lost a 3-2 decision to eighth-ranked Tanner Kriss of Fort Hays State. Brandt, who is 27-4 and ranked seventh in the nation, has been in this situation before, wrestling late on Friday night with his season on the line. He persevered again, pinning Andrew Reggi of San Francisco State in 6:00.
"Last year, I think he won in overtime," reminded Hutchens. "It was a battle of wills."
At one point this season, Hall was the top-ranked wrestler in the nation at 184 pounds. He came to Cleveland's Public Hall ranked fourth in the nation. In his first match he was a 3-2 winner over Nebraska-Kearney's Mark Fiala, who is ranked seventh in the land. He dropped an 8-3 decision to Western State's Kyle Piatt, the nation's second-ranked wrestler and stayed alive in the tourney with a major decision, 16-8 over Lindenwood's John McArdle. Hall is 24-3.
Even though Hall wrestled at nationals as a freshman and that experience helped him, getting his first win made this day special and different.
"It's a different experience every year," remarked Hutchens. "It's a totally different tournament. There are All-Americans going two and out. He could have shut down, a match not going the way he thought it would go."
Houska ends the year with a 28-11 record. He is ranked sixth in the nation. He won his first match on Friday, 3-1 over Mike Hill of Chadron State. Then, he was pinned in 5:41 by Steve Butler of Lindenwood. Butler is 20-1 and is ranked second in the country.
Houska's season ended when he was pinned by Newberry's Matt Wade in 6:07. Houska had beaten Wade at the regional tournament. He also has a victory over Evan Wooding of Indianapolis, who is still alive in the consolation bracket of the division.
Fickle and Burns should benefit from the experience they gained on Friday. Fickel was pinned in 4:10 by Colorado Mesa's James Martinez and dropped a 9-2 decision to Andrew Bannister of Notre Dame.
Burns was beaten by major decision, 9-1 by Clint Poster of St. Cloud State. He lost to Brady Bersano of California Baptist, 8-5 in his final match of the season. Bersano is ranked second in NCAA Division II.
The Eagles are in 13th place in the team standings with 23 points. Notre Dame is in first place with 44.5 points. Nebraska-Kearney is second with 41 points and Lindenwood is third with 36 points. UNK came into this tournament ranked second in the country and Lindenwood was third.