Ashland University's wrestling team is ready for its biggest showcase of the 2014-15 season to date, as the Eagles will compete in the NCAA Division II Super Regional II tournament on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 27-28) in Pembroke, N.C.
The Eagles, ranked fifth as a team in Super Region II, may be as well-positioned for the challenge as they have been all season.
"Right now, in general terms, we are as healthy as we've been," said Ashland head coach Josh Hutchens. "Hopefully, we will be at our most healthy point."
Ashland comes into the weekend with seven regionally-ranked grapplers. Junior two-time All-American Michael Labry continues to be the top-ranked wrestler at 133 pounds. Labry, named the 2014-15 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Wrestler of the Year earlier this week, is 35-1 with nine pins this season.
"He had a close match in the finals of the Midwest Classic against the kid from Indianapolis (Nick Crume, ranked second in the super region)," Hutchens said. "That guy will have watched a lot of film. He's not going to breeze through this one, but it will be the semis before he gets tested."
At 157 pounds, junior Zeb Beam (11-9) is ranked second in the super region.
"If he's on, he could qualify," said Hutchens. "He could be in the finals. From my perspective, we could have three to five guys in the finals, but that's not how their seeded and that's not how they're ranked."
Sophomore Luke Cramer (13-8) is ranked third at 174, junior Kurt Schaefer (25-9) is fourth at 184 and sophomore Brandon O'Neill (23-6) is fourth at 197. Sophomore Ty Davis (13-11) is ranked sixth at 141, while sophomore Brent Fickel (14-5) is eighth at 149.
"We've got a lot of guys that are going to be in that potential qualifying zone, where they can finish anywhere from third to sixth," Hutchens said. "The weight classes, for the most part, are pretty even. There's a few No. 1 guys that are way above, but most weight classes are pretty tight. It's going to be a challenge.
"It's about your performance that day. This is the time of the year where it becomes almost all mental – the motivation, the will to win – that's what's going to carry guys through."
The top four placers in each weight class will qualify for the NCAA Division II Championships, March 13-14 in St. Louis, Mo.
"As a team, we'd like to accomplish some things," said Hutchens. "Our focus is on the individuals, and helping guys reach their goals. We've got a lot of guys who haven't been to the national tournament who are in this lineup."