Midway through this wrestling season, when senior Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) wasn't cleared to wrestle by the medical profession, there were concerns about his heart.
Sunday (Feb. 24) at Kates Gymnasium at the NCAA Super Region 2 Wrestling Championships, Genetin proved that EKG's, X-rays, heart monitors and extensive checkups can't always reveal the entire picture. Genetin wasn't being doctored for an enlarged heart, but maybe he should be. What he demonstrated at the regional tournament would certainly make him a prime candidate for that diagnosis - in a good and healthy way.
On Sunday, Genetin beat back the nation's second-ranked wrestler, the doubts that come from trying to overcome an injury and the improbability of reaching nationals for a fourth time. Genetin finished third on Sunday to clinch his fourth trip to the NCAA Championships. That will come in Birmingham, Ala., in two weeks (Mar. 8-9).
Genetin is one of four Ashland wrestlers who will head south. Freshman Max Byrd (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle) won a regional title at 125 pounds. Another freshman, Michael Labry (Twinsburg, Ohio), was the runner-up at 133 pounds. At 197 pounds, sophomore Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) was second. To advance to nationals, a wrestler must place in the top four at regionals.
AU also got three other wrestlers to the awards stand, although that trio will not advance to Alabama. Senior Adli Edwards (Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) was sixth at 141 pounds, sophomore Bryson Hall (Doylestown, Ohio/Chippewa) was fifth at 174 and redshirt junior Tyler Houska (Wadsworth, Ohio) was sixth at 285 pounds. Edwards and Hall both made it the NCAA Championships last spring.
The 15th-ranked Eagles finished third in the 12-team region with 91 points. Second-ranked Notre Dame had 142 points to hold off second-ranked Central Oklahoma, which finished with 140 points. Lake Erie (82.5) was fourth and Ouachita Baptist (79.5) was fifth. Ninth-ranked Findlay (78.0) was sixth.
"To get third in this region is a good accomplishment," said AU head coach Tim Dernlan. "It took a total team effort. It's neat to see. If you get out of this region, you have a great chance to be an All-American or a national champion.
"We only advanced four," continued Dernlan, "and it's always disappointing to leave people at home. We were hoping to get more than that, but I'm confident in the four guys who have qualified."
That kind of confidence wasn't swirling around Genetin on Jan. 18 at Pitt-Johnstown. In his first match back after coming off the disabled list, he was manhandled by UPJ's Jack Bachman, 9-0.
"I got beat up real bad," recalled Genetin. "After that match, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it anymore. I didn't like it anymore. I talked to my parents and Coach and decided I'd stick it out. There's been a lot of hard work the last couple of weeks, but it paid off."
"It was touch and go," admitted Dernlan. "We had to have some talks in my office, work through some things. He's had injuries and he's down a weight class from last year. He said, 'Do I want to do this anymore?' We thought he might be done but he said, 'No, I want to finish."
What a finished product Genetin produced. Sunday, in the battle for third place, he defeated Notre Dame's Jonatan Rivera, 6-2. The NDC wrestler is ranked second in the country.
"I'm so proud of Danny," said Dernlan. "To beat a guy who beat him two weeks ago in this same gym and the guy's second in the country, that's neat. Danny imposed his will on that guy. He didn't try to hold on to win. He got a takedown in the third period to get even more points. It was nice to see that from a senior. That's the senior leadership we've been looking for."
Now, Genetin goes back to nationals for a fourth consecutive visit. His experiences this year have shown him that nothing should be taken for granted.
"It's a big thing, especially seeing this weekend and returning All-Americans not making it," said Genetin. "There are no guarantees you make it year in and year out. Making it is quite a feat in itself."
One freshman who realizes that is Byrd. He won a regional title on Sunday, beating Findlay's Ben Sergent, 5-2. Byrd, was the top seed in this tournament and Sergent was the second seed. Byrd is 2-0 against Sergent this season.
"I tried to go with about the same game plan," said Byrd, when asked about facing the UF wrestler for a second time. "After the way he wrestled the first match I got a feel for the way he set his shots up. I went in feeling good. I knew if I stayed ahead he'd break. I think he did."
Byrd, who's ranked seventh in the nation, led from start to finish.
"He's so fun to watch," said Dernlan. "He can score from any position – bottom, top or on his feet. He's hard to scout, he's so unpredictable. I'm proud of the way he battled through injuries and a couple of different bumps he had through the season. It's neat to see how he stayed focused and be rewarded with a first place trophy."
Before the tournament started, Byrd assured Dernlan that he would be at the top of his game, even though he had lost his final bout in the regular season. As the rookie proved, that wasn't just talk.
"It's a mental thing," said Byrd of the postseason. "To me, the season is practice, you get ready for the postseason. Going in as a Number 1 seed as a freshman, that can be intimidating. You have a target on your back. But if I wrestled my match, I thought I'd break guys and break it open."
At 133 pounds, Labry ran into a tough – and experienced – customer in Central Oklahoma's Casy Rowell. Rowell is ranked first in the country and Labry is sixth. Rowell took an early lead on a takedown and won, 7-3. This was Labry's second loss of the year.
"He got an early takedown and rode me out," said Labry. "I wanted to be on my feet, not on the mat. He wore me out on the bottom. I needed to be on my feet. I think I can do better if I see him in Alabama.
"He's (Rowell) one of the best guys on top in the nation," Dernlan said. "We knew that going into it. That early takedown changed the game plan a little bit. Michael got a takedown in the middle of the match but couldn't put enough together for a comeback."
Brandt lost in the regional championship to Notre Dame's Brandonn Johnson, 4-1. When the two met in early February, Johnson won, 9-3. Brandt is going to nationals for the second consecutive year. He was fourth in the region a year ago.
"Joe had a great tournament," said Dernlan. "He closed the gap. He made some adjustments and there are a couple of more he can make."
Both Notre Dame and Central Oklahoma had four regional champions. Notre Dame's 165-pound Joey Davis was named the region's freshman of the year and the most outstanding wrestler of the tournament. Lake Erie's Kevin Hoogenboom was named the region's coach of the year and Lake Erie's 285-pound Almonte Patrick won the award for the most falls in the least amount of time.