Supposedly, the wrestling off-season runs from mid-March until the middle of September.
At Ashland University last season, the wrestling team observed a different calendar. The months didn't change, but there was no off-season. And no matter what the calendar reads, this will forever be known as a leap year for the program.
Saturday (Feb. 26) at the NCAA Division II Super Region championships in Findlay, the 12th-ranked Eagles finished second among 13 teams. Two AU wrestlers won regional titles, three more were regional silver medalists and six wrestlers qualified for the NCAA national championship meet, Mar. 11-12 at Nebraska Kearney. Third-year head coach Tim Dernlan was named the Region coach of the year.
A year ago the Eagles went 4-12 and lost their last nine duals. Many of the members of that team are in the lineup this season and they are a year older, wiser and hungrier. But the Eagles didn't take a willy-nilly approach to this season, just plunging ahead blindly. Their coach had a calculated plan and as he emphasized at various points during the season, his team bought into it and stayed on task.
Dernlan promised that this season would be different and throughout the fall, he talked about the Eagles' commitment. Lots of team can talk like that, but obviously Dernlan saw something special. There were some who doubted him then. No one does today.
AU finished second in the team standings with 126 points. The regional title went to top-ranked Nebraska-Omaha with 156.5 points. Central Oklahoma, ranked fifth in the country, was third with 106 points. Findlay put a surge together on Saturday to finish fourth with 87.5 points and Central Missouri was fifth with 74 points.
AU's regional championships came from junior Dan Mandera (Canadaigua, N.Y.) at 125 pounds and junior Jacob Southwick (Bowling Green, Ohio/Otsego) at 285. For both, this is the first time they have been a regional champion. Southwick also set the school single-season record for pins (18). He had two pins at the regional tournament.
The trio of AU wrestlers who left Findlay with second-place awards includes senior Kyle Kanaga (Greensboro, N.C./Ragsdale) at 141, sophomore Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) at 149 and senior Brandon Kelley (Fort Myers, Fla./Newberry) at 165. At 174, sophomore Ryan Thatcher (Loudonville, Ohio) was fourth.
All of those wrestlers earned bids at nationals. This is the second straight year Genetin has advanced to nationals. It is the second time in Kanaga's career that he's earned a trip to the big stage. For the other four, this will be their first trip to nationals.
Mandara was ranked second in the region and in the title bout, he was a 3-1 winner over Findlay's Ben Sergent, the region's top seed. Southwick was the region's top seed at 285 and he showed why, going 4-0 with two pins. For the year, Southwick is 33-2 (.942 winning percentage). In the championship match, Southwick edged Central Missouri's Brandon Hayes, 3-2. Southwick is ranked fifth in the nation and Hayes is eighth.
At 141 pounds, Kanaga ran into Nebraska-Omaha's Mario Morgan. The UNO wrestler is ranked first in the nation. He earned a 9-5 win over Kanaga, who is 25-10 this season. Nebraska-Omaha had five wrestlers finish first, one finish second and three place third. Another UNO grappler was fourth. As for Morgan, he came to Findlay with a 22-4 record and he was 122-38 in his career.
At 149, Genetin lost by technical fall to UNO's Esai Dominguez. Like Morgan, Dominguez is ranked first in the country and he knows how to win, he was 32-3 entering the tourney. Dominguez was named the outstanding wrestler of the regional. Kelley, wrestling at 165, lost in the title bout to Findlay's Michael Lybarger, 3-1. This was Lybarger's second straight win over Kelley, on Jan. 29 at UF, he nipped the Ashland senior, 5-4. Kelley, who is in his first season at AU, earned All-America laurels earlier in his career while wrestling for Newberry.
Thatcher, who transferred to Ashland from Findlay, was ranked third in the region. He lost in the semifinals to the eventual champ, UNO's Ryan Pankoke, 2-1. Pankoke is ranked third in the nation and first in the region. He started the week with a 33-2 record (108-29 in his career). In the consolation finals, Central Oklahoma's Kelly Henderson defeated Thatcher, 2-1.
AU also posted three fifth-place finishes. Those were registered by junior Scott Meyer (Ravenna, Ohio) at 133, junior Marc Hoff (Liberty Center, Ohio) at 157 and freshman Caleb Marsh (Marysville, Ohio) at 184.
Freshman Corby Running (Wilmington, Ohio/Clinton Massie) was sixth at 197.