NCAA Championship Preview
NCAA Championships – Mar. 8-9, 2013
CrossPlex Complex, Birmingham, Ala.
Ashland University will have four wrestlers at the 2013 NCAA Division II Championships. This year's NCAA Division II wrestling championships are part of the NCAA Division II Sports Festival taking place in Birmingham, Ala. NCAA Division II championships in swimming and diving and indoor track and field are also taking place in Birmingham this week.
About the Eagles
AU is ranked 15th in the nation. The Eagles hosted the Super Region 2 Tournament (Feb. 23-24) and finished third. Of the four AU wrestlers going to nationals, three are underclassmen. Information on that quartet follows.
Max Byrd (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle) – Byrd is the lone AU wrestler to win a regional crown this year. The rookie is 25-4 and has eight pins and four technical falls. Byrd is ranked sixth in the country. In the first round, Byrd will tangle with Newberry's Joey Vesta (34-7). Vesta leads all of Division II in pins (14).
"They're both kind of funky," said AU head coach Tim Dernlan of the Byrd-Vesta bout. "It will be a fun match. If Max makes things happen it usually works out best for him. He can't let his opponent stand around."
If Byrd wins, he could see Kyle McCrite of Grand Canyon in the second round. McCrite is 16-12 and ranked fourth in the country.
Michael Labry (Twinsburg, Ohio) – Labry is ranked fifth in the nation with a 31-2 mark. The freshman has three pins, three technical falls and a load of quiet confidence.
"I'm feeling good about it," said Labry of his trip to nationals. "I was second at the regional and lost to the No. 1 guy in the country. I think I can do better if I see him again."
Labry's opening match will be against Martin Ramirez of Adams State. Ramirez is 20-10.
"We don't know much about Ramirez," admitted Dernlan. "Being out west, it's hard to get footage on him. The guys from Adams State are usually physically tough, they'll fight. They're willing to torque on your joints if they have to."
Labry is certainly battled tested. He was the runner-up at regionals, losing to top-ranked Casy Rowell of Central Oklahoma in the regional championship. The AU freshman has gone 1-1 this year against Marty Carlson of Notre Dame, who's ranked sixth in the country. If everything goes according to rank (huge assumption), Labry would see St. Cloud State's Andy Pokorny in the second round. Pokorny is 21-2 and ranked second in the nation.
Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) – Genetin is at nationals for the fourth time. He has never placed on the national stage. He enters this weekend with an 8-7 record. Genetin's first-round opponent is Nick Nichols of Seton Hill. He is 26-3. Nichols defeated Genetin, 9-7 earlier this year at Ashland.
"Dan's so much better now," emphasized Dernlan. "We're excited about this matchup."
Genetin was third at the regional championships. He's battled injuries all season and didn't get into the lineup until the midway point of the season.
"I'm still banged up," said Genetin after regionals.
"He's as good as a fifth-year senior is going to be," said Dernlan. "Mentally, he's in a good place. Emotionally, too."
Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) – Brandt was second at the regional championships and he's the lone returning All-American in this group. Brandt was seventh at last year's championships.
"He's much improved from last year," noted Dernlan. "He went in as the underdog last year and he liked that. He's in that position a little bit again. He'll rise to the challenge."
Brandt is 30-4 with six pins. He's ranked fourth in the country. Brandt's first-round foe is Jayd Docken of Augustana (S.D.). Docken is ranked fifth in the country with a 21-5 record.
Like Labry, Brandt will enter this bout without a full-scale scouting report. That's not out of the ordinary in a tournament such as this.
"We know tendencies for the schools," explained Dernlan. "For the most part, we focus on what we do. We focus on doing that and doing it better than anyone in the nation."
The Championship Picture
St. Cloud State is the nation's top-ranked team with 156 points and Notre Dame is second with 153 points. NDC won the regional championship at Ashland. Defending national champion Nebraska-Kearney is ranked third with 139 points. St. Cloud State, Notre Dame, Nebraska-Kearney and Central Oklahoma (ranked fourth) all have nine wrestlers at nationals. St. Cloud's Shamus O'Grady is ranked first in the country at 184 pounds and Jake Kahnke is first at 285 pounds. Central Okahoma's Rowell is first at 133 and Cory Dauphin is first at 157 pounds. Those are the only two schools with two wrestlers that are top ranked.
St. Cloud State has been the national runner-up each of the last two years. A year ago, Nebraska-Kearney won the national title by 12 points. From 2004-2011, Nebraska-Omaha won the national championship six times out of eight years. The last time a team east of the Mississippi River won the national championship was Pitt-Johnstown in 1999.
AU was 13th at last year's NCAA championships, which were held in Pueblo, Colo. The Eagles sent eight wrestlers to nationals in 2012 and six in 2011. AU's best finish last year was turned in by senior Jacob Southwick at 285 pounds. He was third. Adli Edwards (Gahanna, Ohio/Thomas Worthington), Hoff and Brandt were the other All-Americans. Edwards was eighth at 133 pounds and Hoff was eighth at 149.
Ashland's last national champion was Corey Kline at 134 pounds in 1996. He won gold as a true freshman. The three other AU grapplers to win national championships are Jim Guizotti (142, 1971), Jeff Freedman (158, 1979) and Jeff Esmont (190, 1982). Esmont attended the final day of the 2013 Super Region 2 Championships at Kates Gymnasium. Ashland has finished in the Top 10 at Division II nationals six times. AU's best finish since becoming an NCAA Division II institution is fourth (2002, 1985).