Ashland University's wrestling team will look to go into the Christmas break on a strong note, as nine Eagles will compete Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 13-14) at the Midwest Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.
"It's run kind of like a national tournament, just a little bigger," said Ashland head coach Josh Hutchens. "Overall, we're expecting guys to compete, to not wrestle with any hesitation or fear. Just go out and put their best performance on the mat, no matter who they're wrestling."
There will be a different look for the Eagles at this year's Classic, as opposed to last, when they finished fifth as a team. Junior Michael Labry (15-1) is back to defend his 133-pound title in Indy, but last year's 184-pound champion (Bryson Hall) and third-place finisher at 197 (Joe Brandt) are redshirting this season.
Labry's role on the team, already big, now has increased given that Ashland doesn't have a healthy 125-pounder. That means in any team scoring scenario – duals, etc. – the Eagles are down 6-0 before one match is contested.
"When it comes to a dual or a tournament, we're going to be a looking for a lot of points out of him," Hutchens said of Labry, a two-time All-America who now sports a career mark as an Eagle of 82-8. "We're looking for him to not just win matches, but dominate them."
Three Eagles who could be key figures this weekend are redshirt junior Kurt Schaefer (12-3) at 184 pounds, sophomore Brandon O'Neill (8-2) at 197 and sophomore Luke Cramer (5-3) at 174. Another key contributor, sophomore Brent Fickel (9-3) at 149, is banged up, but is a threat to place at the Classic.
Sophomore Ty Davis (7-4) continues as the starter at 141 pounds, as does sophomore Tyler Shank (0-7) at 285. Two new starters for this weekend are sophomore Sean Houghton (3-5) at 157 and senior Michael Hummer (2-4) at 165.
"For them, whether it is 'this is what I really need to work on' or a confidence-booster…it's also a test for them mentally. We're finishing finals, people are mentally exhausted. It's a big mental test for us," Hutchens said. "When you get a chance to get in the lineup, this is your opportunity to show the coaches you have separated yourself from the pack. If you don't do that, someone else will get a chance.
"Last year, we had a few guys who stepped up and went the rest of the year, and they were the guy. It can go either way."
Ashland will be one of 28 teams at the Midwest Classic.
"This tournament is a good indication of where you're at with your national competitiveness," said Hutchens. "If you can place at this tournament, you have a chance to place at the national tournament."
This is the Eagles' last competition until Saturday, Jan. 3, when they play host to the Wendy's Mid-Atlantic Duals.