It's hard to argue that the upcoming Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference duals mean more to any Ashland University wrestler than they do to 149-pound redshirt senior Brent Fickel.
Fickel was ranked seventh in the country at his weight and third in Super Region Two in the most recent Division II Wrestling Coaches Association Polls released on Thursday (Jan. 19) and Friday (Jan. 20). Fickel has qualified for nationals in each of his three active seasons as an Eagle, and he earned All-American status as a redshirt sophomore.
This Friday (Jan. 27), Fickel will face Lake Erie junior Nick Boggs. Boggs is ranked second regionally and fourth nationally at 149.
"Brent has been one of the better wrestlers since he's gotten here," Ashland head coach Josh Hutchens said. "This weekend is going to be a tough one for him. It's going to be a good test for him to see how far he's come since December."
Fickel has only wrestled against Boggs twice in his career, losing both matches at this year's Midwest Classic in Indianapolis, Ind., on Dec. 17-18, resulting in a sixth-place finish.
"He's definitely pretty tough," Fickel said. "It will be nice to wrestle him again and try to beat him."
The following Friday (Feb. 3), Fickel is prepared to compete against Findlay redshirt senior Nick Goebel, who is ranked No. 1 in the region and in the country. Fickel has lost to Goebel five times over the course of their five-year collegiate wrestling careers. He's never beaten him.
"He's beaten me every time by varying points," Fickel said. "I've lost by one, but I've also lost by eight. That will be a very big test."
Given that Fickel's record is 72-35 in his career, 20 percent of his losses have come against Boggs and Goebel.
As a team, No. 12-ranked Ashland is 4-2 in duals this season, and Fickel is 6-0 in his dual matches. Both of the Eagles' losses were against nationally-ranked opponents, and they've yet to face a GLIAC team. Findlay is ranked tied for seventh in the country, and Lake Erie is tied for 14th.
"It's definitely good that now we're going out and wrestling the good guys," Fickel said. "You get to see what they have, you know what to expect and it helps you get to that level. That's what you need to do if you want to get to the national tournament, place and maybe even win it."
Ashland will compete in the regional tournament in Indianapolis on Feb. 24-25, and the qualifying Eagles will advance to nationals in Birmingham, Ala., on March 10-11.
"Brent has the capability to win a national title," Hutchens said. "When he's on, he's unbeatable. He's one of those physically-gifted guys. Once he gets a hold of you, it's hard to get away."
Fickel credited his Ashland teammates for helping him get to the point that his head coach says he's at.
"I want to give credit where credit is due," he said. "My teammates have definitely been there to help me since I've come to Ashland. I've had a lot of quality workout partners. Having them push me has been nice. My goal at the beginning of the year and throughout this year has been to win nationals. If I wrestle my best, I can compete with the guys at the top."