Ashland University will compete at the two-day Midwest Classic in Indianapolis, Ind. on Saturday (Dec. 17) and Sunday (Dec. 18), five days after staying put at No. 11 in the first regular-season Division II Wrestling Coaches Association national poll.
Eagles redshirt senior Michael Labry (No. 1 nationally at 133 pounds) will try to do something at the tournament that AU assistant coach Tony Guerra could not, win his fourth straight Midwest Classic title.
Guerra, a two-time NCAA D-II national champion (2007-08) at the University of Findlay, won the Midwest Classic as a freshman (149 pounds), sophomore (149) and junior (157), but he failed to do so as a senior (157), losing two of three matches.
"Every year," Guerra said, "it's a tough competition. Some of the best Division II schools are there. If you don't go into it with the right mental focus, things aren't always going to turn out your way."
Labry's record is 16-1 this season, with eight of his wins coming against D-I competition. He earned first-place at the Ohio Intercollegiates on Nov. 13 and at the Findlay Open on Nov. 19.
"We're hoping for Labry to go out there and compete hard," Guerra said. "If he's able to win it four times, that would be a great accomplishment. If anyone deserves it, it's him. He's put in work, he's had the results, and I'm hoping for the best."
Labry's situation is one of many that the Ashland coaching staff is focusing on this weekend.
Sophomore Colton Ullman (157) has far exceeded expectations at this point, earning a No. 7 national ranking in Monday's poll after being left out of the preseason regional rankings. Ullman placed first at the Findlay Open on Nov. 19, defeating a highly-ranked wrestler from Tiffin in the process.
"I think Colton's breakthrough tournament made him noteworthy of the ranking at this point," Guerra said. "I don't think he's been through this level of competition just yet, and I think this will be a good test for him to see if all the hard work he's put in pays off."
Guerra said the competition at this year's Midwest Classic is the toughest he's ever seen. He said he and AU head coach Josh Hutchens determined that almost every weight class features four or five of the top 10 guys ranked in the country.
"In my mind," Guerra said, "I'm looking at it as a mini midseason national tournament."
If that's the case, redshirt junior Jordan Murphy (184) is returning to the lineup just in time, as the Midwest Classic will be his first competition of the 2016-17 season.
"It will be a good gage for him," Guerra said. "I think he has one of the tougher weight classes in the whole tournament, but Jordan's a competitor. I think he's going to go out there and compete, and I think he should fare well."
"In my opinion," Guerra said, "(Kramer) is better than 12th. Hopefully, he goes out and shows the rest of the country that he's better than that."