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Twinsburg's Labry wins national title

By DOUG HAIDET Correspondent Published: March 21, 2017 12:00 AM
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ASHLAND -- Michael Labry swears he was ecstatic.

Anyone watching the video of the Ashland University wrestler capping off his NCAA Division II national championship would say otherwise.

It was March 11 -- almost exactly 21 years since the last time an Eagle grappler had won a national title -- and Labry softly pumped his right fist and pointed upward following a 7-5 win over Minnesota State-Moorhead's Blake Bosch at the national meet in Birmingham, Ala.

Subtle? Yes.

Ecstatic?

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"I promise you, if you look at every single match I've ever had, that's the most (emotion) you'll ever see -- that was a lot for me," Labry said with a laugh last week. "I'm not real emotional after my matches, but for this one, I was.

"You don't know what those emotions are like until you get there."

Getting there took time, and not just for the 133-pound, 22-year-old Labry. Sure, AU's redshirt senior from Twinsburg had gone from placing fourth to third to second to first in his four years on the national stage -- a countdown of a climb up the Division II podium -- but the program had been waiting, too.

The last time an Eagle came up gold at nationals was Corey Kline in 1996.

Kline was the fourth Eagle wrestler to win a title in 25 years, joining Jim Guizotti (1971), Jeff Freedman (1979) and Jeff Esmont (1982) as champs.

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After trading stories and strategy a few times with Labry in recent years, Kline said he was excited to see a fifth member finally join the group.

"His junior year, I knew it was just a matter of time," said Kline, now a principal at Mapleton after successful stints as a wrestling head coach at both MHS and Black River.

"He's just a very driven individual," he added. "You could tell he was focused on that one goal, and until he met that goal, he wasn't gonna stop."

The victory marked the first time in Labry's high school or college career where he finished the season on on top of the podium. A three-time All-Ohioan at Twinsburg High School, Labry reached the Division I state final at 138 pounds during his senior year at Twinsburg, but lost 7-5 in the in final.

It was a tedious trail toward a title for Labry, who placed fourth, third and second at the state tournament during his career at Twinsburg. He posted a 152-19 career record, which remains best in school history.

But after 35 wins and a fourth-place finish at the national tournament as a freshman at Ashland, Labry said it wasn't hard to imagine being a champion.

"Not winning (state) in high school, you still have the drive and want to go out there and get that title," he said. "Some guys who have won state, maybe they're a little more satisfied.

"It's hard to have goals of winning a national title coming in in your first year. But after that first year, placing, that was a big deal, and it was kind of like, 'These next three years, I could have a good shot at winning it once or a couple times.'"

Labry wasn't all that far off from winning it a few times, which would have been a first for an Ashland wrestler.

His only losses at the national tournament in 2014 and 2015 both came by one point to Nebraska-Kearney two-time national champ Daniel DeShazer -- a 3-2 overtime defeat in the 2014 semifinals and a 7-6 triple-overtime loss in the 2015 championship match.

When Labry finally broke through this year, he proved to be part of a big rise for Ashland as a team. The Eagles hadn't had a Top 10 finish nationally since placing fourth in 2002, but with Labry and junior All-Americans Luke Cramer (third at 197) and Jordan Murphy (sixth at 184) at the top, AU ended up sixth under fourth-year head coach Josh Hutchens.

"Those are all great when you get the accolades -- you get the banners up and the program is back in an area where it needs to be," said Hutchens, who has had nine All-Americans at AU after coming to the program with just one in his previous seven years as a college head coach. "But our focus is always on nationals at the beginning of the year and we're always trying to get individual national champs and All-Americans. If you get everybody doing it, it kind of takes care of itself."

The coach said having an older team this year allowed the Eagles to train with expectations of national qualifications, as opposed to training to do well at the regional level.

The headliner, of course, was Labry, who became Hutchens' first national champion.

As a junior in 2014-15, he set the program record for single-season wins (42), and after a redshirt year last winter during which he began working on his master's degree, Labry paired up with Bosch for the championship.

The two had met in the championship quarterfinals in 2015, a 14-7 Labry win. And while this year's edition was closer, Labry never trailed after a pair of first-period takedowns of Bosch, who was trying to become Minnesota State-Moorhead's first champ since 2006.

"He's had the capability the whole time, so to finally get it is more of a relief," Hutchens said. " This is where he should be -- on top of the podium."

Labry no doubt will be tied back to Kline, who previously held the AU record for career wins (127-20) that Labry now carries with him (147-12). They also are two of only four Eagles to be four-time All-Americans, with their championships at the forefront.

Kline won his as a freshman, then toiled through four years of injuries that included a cracked sternum, torn tendon in his leg and a torn rotator cuff. While he somehow managed to make the national podium every season, Labry did his the gradual way.

"For him, it was a building process, where the disappointment led him to train harder," Kline said. "Mine kind of went in reverse -- the training harder to maintain it might have torn me down a little bit.

"But the amount of drive it would take is pretty much the same, it's just we had two different pathways to get there. I think he adds a little legitimacy of how hard it actually is to attain."

Labry admitted the collection of All-American honors wouldn't have been the same without a championship. Before a job interview last week, he said he'd already added it to his resume.

"Even being a four-time All-American, after placing your first year, you kind of expect to place after that every year," he said. "So winning a national title is the only way that I would have been satisfied with capping my career off."

Editor's note: Doug Haidet is a correspondent for the Ashland Times-Gazette, a sister paper.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC

Twitter:@MLeonard_RPC


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