The Eagles haven't been home since Nov. 8, but this Saturday (Jan. 12) at 1 p.m., Ashland University's No. 18 wrestling team will march back into Kates Gymnasium for a showdown with one of the nation's best, No. 3 Notre Dame College.
"It'll be great to be home. To have our crowd and our alumni back supporting us will definitely give us a little bit of extra energy out there," said Ashland head wrestling coach Josh Hutchens.
The Eagles will look to draw on that extra energy from the crowd, but also from the fact that they are facing off with an in-state rival, and one of the premier wrestling programs in Division II. Notre Dame are coming off a runner-up team finish at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Division II national duals.
"They're one of our rivals, but also that one that you go into it just trying to knock them off because they have been on top of the hill for so long," said Hutchens.
Ashland will need a top-notch performance and execution to take the Falcons off the top of the hill.
"Everything has to go right," said Hutchens. "There will be close matches that we have to win. Every time we see them, there's a one-point match here, two-point match there, and if we win those that will put us in a good position to win the dual."
The Eagles will come into Saturday's dual in good form, having most recently beaten Mount Union 28-12 on the road coming out of Christmas break.
"The point of having the Tuesday dual after break is for the guys who let go over break and get a little heavy, to get back down," said Hutchens.
Ashland won seven of its 10 matchups Tuesday, and didn't show the rust that can build up from break.
Saturday's dual with Notre Dame may also be a glimpse into the future, as many matchups may be repeated in just over a month's time at the NCAA Super Regional on Feb. 23, when the top grapplers in the region vie for nationals qualification.
"When you get there, there are so many upsets you never know who you are going to get, so there are usually three or four guys in the bracket that you're looking at. With these guys almost, their whole team is within those three or four guys," said Hutchens. "When you go in there Saturday, you know that every match is going to be a potential seeding match, and there will be a potential rematch with a guy you have to beat to get to the national tournament."