On Saturday (Jan. 8), The Weather Channel described the weather in Ashland as partly cloudy.
No meteorologist took the time to consult with Ashland University third-year wrestling coach Tim Dernlan. Dernlan didn't see a cloud in the sky, or in the future of his wrestling team, after the Eagles went 3-0 and won the championship of the initial Mid-Atlantic Duals, held at Kates Gymnasium.
"Absolutely," replied Dernlan when asked if this is the best weekend he's enjoyed as Ashland's head coach. With a wide smile he started to say, "There were some tough times last year," then let the thought go. Who can blame him? In the future, maybe this will be the day when wrestling fans say the Eagles turned the corner and regained their spot among the dangerous teams in Division II.
In front of their home fans, Ashland defeated Belmont Abbey, 35-8, West Liberty, 26-10 and Adams State, 24-16. West Liberty is ranked 15th in the country and Adams State is 17th. Ashland is ranked 18th in the nation.
Adams State, thanks to the loss to the Eagles, finished the Duals as the runnerup. Gannon was third and West Liberty was fourth. A total of eight schools participated in this event, which is held on the same weekend as the National Duals. West Liberty's Mitch Knapp was named the outstanding wrestler of the tournament.
According to Dernlan, the Mid-Atlantic Duals could eventually attract a field to rival the National Duals.
"We received great feedback from the teams and coaches who came here," said the AU head coach.
Dernlan will certainly get positive remarks from his wrestlers. The Eagles' second match of the day was against West Liberty and it was a spirited contest. AU won the first four bouts to take a 14-0 lead. The Hilltoppers got as close as 14-6, then Brandon Kelly (Fort Myers, Fla./Newberry) pinned Matt Littleton at 174 pounds to put Ashland in front, 20-6. At 285 pounds, AU's Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego) took a 2-1 overtime verdict from J.D. Ramsey. It was Southwick's second victory this season over Ramsey, who is ranked sixth in the nation.
"Jacob Southwick is doing a great job," gushed Dernlan. "They'll have to start taking him seriously in the rankings. But we don't talk about rankings, we haven't talked about them all year. It's what you do out on the mat that matters most."
Ashland and West Liberty will meet again on Feb. 15 at WL's home. That should be another battle.
"Our guys got excited to wrestle a team of that caliber," noted Dernlan. "Sometimes when you wrestle a team like that your guys have some doubts. I didn't see that. They executed the way they've been training."
Against Adams State, the Eagles built a 6-0 lead thanks to a win at 125 by Dan Mandara (Canadaigua, N.Y.) and a decision by Scott Meyer (Ravenna, Ohio) at 133. Nebraska transfer Kenny Jordan got the Grizzlies started with a 14-2 major decision over Kyle Kanaga (Greensboro, N.C./Ragsdale) at 141. Adams State built a 10-6 lead before AU freshman Jake Piatt (Medina, Ohio), subbing for the injured Tommie Graszl (Mansfield, Ohio/Madison) at 165, stopped Darian Roberts, 9-3. That made it 10-9, Adams State.
"Some guys had to step up today," Dernlan said. "Jake stepped up and got us a big win."
Kelly followed Piatt's decision with a pin of Mark Mabry in 1:42. That was Kelly's third pin of the day and it gave Ashland a 15-10 lead. Ryan Thatcher (Loudonville, Ohio) added three points to that total with an 11-7 triumph against Aaron Heredia at 184 pounds. But at 197, Luke McPeek, ranked fourth in the country, provided the Grizzlies with some huge points with a pin of freshman Corby Running (Wilmington, Ohio/Clinton Massie). That made it 18-16 Ashland going into the last bout.
Southwick made sure the victory didn't get a way. He ran his record to 18-2 on the year and 3-0 on the afternoon with a pin of Taylor Sam in 6:03.
"This was a lot of fun," said Dernlan. "Guys were getting black eyes, but they were having fun and that's what you like to see. They were battling."
This is the first of three big weekends the Eagles have in January. Next Saturday (Jan. 15, 10 a.m.), they host the 22nd Annual Wendy's Big Classic Duals. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles plow through this demanding stretch. After the Duals, the Eagles have a dual meet at Gannon. Then comes a dual with Lake Erie and the Simonson Open (Jan. 22), followed by duals at nationally-ranked Pitt-Johnstown and Findlay.
That's looking far, far ahead. Dernlan would like to enjoy this weekend first.
"I'm pleased with where we are right now," said the AU coach. "I was glad we got to wrestle Adams State. That was exciting. They are a power from out west and you always like to test yourself against someone like that."