Ashland University's wrestling team will honor its seven national champions on Saturday (Jan. 26), ahead of the Eagles' dual with Findlay at 7 p.m. at Kates Gymnasium.
National champions Jeff Freedman (1979), Jeff Esmont (1982), Corey Kline (1996), Michael Labry (2017), Luke Cramer (2018) and Bret Romanzak (2018) will be in attendance for the ceremony.
"I'm really excited about it, I think a lot of people are," said Ashland head wrestling coach Josh Hutchens. "We'll have Senior Night as well, so we will introduce our three seniors, then we'll introduce the national champs. I've heard from them that this will be the first time a lot of them have been back on campus in a long time."
The Eagles have just two home duals left on the season, Findlay being the final opportunity to watch Ashland's grapplers at home in 2018-19.
"It should be exciting. I think the guys are going to be pumped for it," said Hutchens. "I think the energy is going to be there, so the guys are going to walk out, and it will be that big-stage type of energy.
"This is not just an important match, but it's an important event."
The day will also serve as a special gathering for alumni who will be in attendance.
"It's crucial having that alumni support, that involvement really builds the base for what we're trying to do," said Hutchens. "They were the ones who got us to where we're at with their competition, but they're also the ones who are still feeding the program with what they tell people when the leave here. Their support really goes a long way with recruiting and getting things that you want for your program."
ASHLAND WRESTLING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Jim Guizzotti is the Ashland wrestling program's first national champion, having won the 142-pound title in the NCAA College Division in 1971. It was the first year for the 142-pound weight class, and it was the first year that wrestlers qualified for nationals through regional qualifiers. Guizzotti's effort as a freshman led the Eagles to a tied-for-ninth-place team finish at nationals.
Jeff Freedman is Ashland's wrestling program's only NCAA Division III national champion, having won at 158 pounds in 1979. Freedman was a two-time D-III All-American, having also placed third in the nation in 1977. Freedman led the Eagles to an eighth-place nationals finish in 1979, and that season, won 37 matches - tied for fourth-most in program history.
Jeff Esmont is the Ashland wrestling program's first NCAA Division II national champion, having won the title at 190 pounds in 1982. Esmont earned three D-II All-American honors as an Eagle, finishing fifth in the country at 190 in 1980, and second in the nation at 190 in 1981. His 110 career wins are ninth-most in Ashland wrestling history.
Corey Kline won the NCAA Division II 134-pound national championship as a freshman in 1996. Kline became just the second Eagle wrestler to earn four All-American honors, finishing sixth at 134 pounds in 1997, seventh at 149 pounds in 1998 and third at 149 pounds in 2000. His 127 career wins are second-most in Ashland wrestling history.
Michael Labry became Ashland's first national champion in 21 years, earning the NCAA Division II 133-pound title in 2017. Labry worked his way up the D-II 133-pound ladder, placing fourth as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second as a junior. Labry won an Ashland-record 147 matches in a career, and the most single-season matches at 42 in 2014-15.
Luke Cramer won the 197-pound national championship in NCAA Division II in 2018. Cramer was a two-time D-II All-American, having also placed third at 197 pounds in 2017. His national finishes helped the Eagles to sixth place as a team in 2017, and fifth place as a team in 2018, and his final record as a senior was 25-1.
Bret Romanzak won the 165-pound national championship in NCAA Division II in 2018. Romanzak earned his first D-II All-American honor last season, going 39-3 in the process - second-most single-season wins in Ashland wrestling history. So far in 2018-19, Romanzak is 24-5, and his career record is 83-22.
On Wednesday (Jan. 23) at 7 p.m., Ashland will grapple with Urbana, a first-year program.
"They're in a good area for wrestling, and they're going to have a lot of young guys on their team," said Hutchens. "Usually the benefit you get out of those young guys who are coming in with some talent is that they're motivated and are going to come hard."
While the Eagles should be favored in the dual, it's not an opportunity to let off the gas.
"We think that we should have the experience on them, and should have the advantage, but they're going to come hard and we've got to be ready for it," said Hutchens. "I expect some competitive matches that can push our guys."
The second dual of the week comes against Findlay, and will be another home test for the Eagle grapplers against a very strong in-state rival.
"Over the last three years, our duals have come down to one match, and that's been deciding the dual," said Hutchens. "Two years in a row, it was a tie and it came down to criteria. It's probably the most competitive dual that we've had over the years."
This year's matchup with Findlay should be no different than in years past.
"It should be a very competitive dual that will come down to two or three really close matches, and whoever wins those matches will win the dual," said Hutchens.
With only three duals left this season before NCAA Division II regionals, the Eagles are searching for consistency, and hoping to peak at the right time to have the most success when it matters most.
"We've got three chances, so it's not a lot of time," said Hutchens. "The most important thing is preparing ourselves for the regional competition. You can be the No. 1 seed and not make it out, so there are no guarantees.
"Our big thing for those matches is we're trying to replicate what we're doing in practice in those matches. We're trying to get that consistency to hit the same moves, the same intensity, and the same focus. We've got three competitions and three weeks of practice to get those things all clicking on all cylinders before the regional tournament."