Eagles Face Big Test Against Mountain Cats

Head coach Josh Hutchens
Head coach Josh Hutchens

That old line about "Does the cat have your tongue?" is normally applied to those who are shy and reserved.

That demeanor doesn't work well against the Pitt-Johnstown Mountain Cats, who if they have their way on the wrestling match, can take a team's tongue, heart and hopes in the space of 90 minutes or so.

For years, UPJ has been one of the top programs in the country. Friday (Jan. 10, 7 p.m.) at Kates Gymnasium, the Eagles will square off against UPJ. Ashland is ranked 16th in the country and UPJ is 14th.

The Eagles are 5-3 in dual meets this season. Pitt-Johnstown is 3-1.

"They have a lot of guys in the regional and national rankings," observed AU head coach Josh Hutchens. "They are solid from top to bottom. We'll have some real good matches."

The headline match figures to come at 184 pounds. AU junior Bryson Hall is 13-0 and ranked third in the nation. UPJ's Travis McKillop is ranked second in the nation. He's 14-3 and is a two-time All-American.

"The key for Bryson is wrestling his style," said Hutchens. "He doesn't need to try and wrestle like someone else. He's strong and he's fast and he's using those strengths. He's in shape now after an off-season injury."

AU went 2-1 last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Duals. AU defeated Belmont Abbey and East Stroudsburg and lost to fifth-ranked St. Cloud State. This has been a demanding stretch for the Eagles. In addition to the Duals, AU recently competed at the Midwest Classic and then made a lengthy trip to Campbellsville (Ky.). 

AU is a team showing some wear and tear. Last weekend, Joe Brandt, a two-time All-American at 197 pounds, didn't wrestle at all due to injury. Brent Fickel, AU's starter at 149 pounds, wrestled once. Brandt is 18-2 and Fickel is 22-4.

"We're a little beat up physically, but I think we're fine mentally," said Hutchens. "This is a difficult stretch, but we've had success."

There is no question the Eagles will have sophomore Michael Labry in the lineup at 133 pounds. Labry is ranked third in NCAA Division II and brings a 22-2 mark into Friday's match.

Pitt-Johnstown's Dave Fogle is 14-4 at 125 pounds. He was an All-American in 2012 and a national qualifier in 2013. Fogle is ranked fourth in the nation.

Dave Cawley, wrestling at 141 pounds, is 10-3 and ranked eighth nationally. He was a 2013 All-American.