There are plenty of roads that lead to Birmingham, Ala. But at the NCAA Division II wrestling championships, the destination is really not Birmingham. It's a placement on the awards stand and no matter where nationals is held - North, South, East or West - the road to the podium is always a winding one.
Four AU wrestlers started that journey on Friday (Mar. 8) in Birmingham. Only two - freshman Michael Labry (Twinsburg, Ohio) at 133 pounds and sophomore Joe Brandt (Versailles, Ohio) at 197 pounds - are still alive in wrestling's version of a demolition derby.
Labry went 2-1 on Friday. In his opening match, he defeated Martin Ramirez of Adams State, 11-3. That put the AU rookie up against Andrew Pokorny of St. Cloud State. Pokorny is ranked second in the country. He got the better of Labry, 7-4. Pokorny is 22-2.
Facing elimination, Labry bounced back to take a 4-3 decision from Dylan D'Urso of Mercyhurst. Labry, ranked fifth in the nation, is 33-3. D'Urso entered this tourney with a 29-4 mark. This was the second time this season Labry nipped D'Urso. At Ashland on Nov. 30, Labry defeated the Mercyhurst grappler, 4-3.
Labry isn't the only AU wrestler on this trail. Brandt is on the same one. His day began with a 3-1 setback against Jayd Docken of Augustana, who is ranked fifth in the nation. Brandt rebounded from that loss to pin Justin Rockhill of New Mexico Highlands in 6:20.
That put Brandt into a battle with Samuel Mangum of Western State. Brandt, who is ranked fourth in the country, kept his All-America hopes alive with a 7-2 triumph. A year ago, Brandt finished seventh at nationals.
Two AU wrestlers saw their season end on Friday. At 125 pounds, freshman Max Byrd (Cincinnati, Ohio/La Salle) was pinned by Newberry's Jeffrey Vesta in 34 seconds. Byrd, who is ranked sixth in the country, then lost to Kyle Moorite of Grand Canyon, 18-8. Byrd is 25-6. Vesta has 15 pins, which leads all of NCAA Division II.
At 149 pounds, senior Dan Genetin (Navarre, Ohio/Massillon Perry) went 0-2. Seton Hill's Nick Nichols edged Genetin, 6-5. That's the second time this year that Nichols defeated Genetin. That loss put Genetin up against Marysville's John Hagerty. Hagerty won that bout, 16-3.
This was Genetin's fourth trip to nationals. He battled injuries for much of this season and ends his season with an 8-9 record.
The NCAA national meet runs through Saturday night.