PAINESVILLE, OHIO -- Freshman Josh Linden (Broadview Heights/Brecksville-Broadview Heights) is ranked second at 174 pounds and the Lake Erie College wrestling team is ninth in the NCAA Division II Super Region 2 rankings heading into the regional tournament this weekend (Feb. 25-26) at the University of Findlay.
Linden made the leap into the top two despite having his three-match winning streak snapped last Wednesday (Feb. 16) against nationally second-ranked Tony Petrella of Gannon University in a close decision in the final seconds. His individual mark is 18-11 overall on the season, including an 8-5 mark in dual matches. His 18 wins lead the Storm.
"Josh has put together a nice stretch in recent weeks against some really good competition," said head coach Kevin Hoogenboom. "As a first year program, I don't know what kind of expectations people will have for us at the regional meet, but I think if Josh can wrestle the way he has been lately, then he can have some success and do really well there."
The Storm will send a group of seven grapplers to Findlay for the regional meet. Freshman Justin Toth (Painesville, Ohio/Riverside) will compete at 125 pounds, followed by classmate Zev Green (Marysville, Ohio/Marysville) at 157, redshirt freshman Andrew Gasber (Madison, Ohio/Madison) at 165, Linden and freshman Jarred Merrit (Cranesville, Pa./Northwestern) at 185.
Toth has won seven of his last eight contests following a slow start and Green and Gasber have been among the team leaders in wins all season. The trio garnered strong consideration for the top eight regional rankings, but ultimately fell short.
They'll have an opportunity to make up for that slight starting Friday.
"These guys have a chance to do some good things this weekend and really put our program on the map," Hoogenboom said. "We gained some valuable experience back in December at the Midwest Classic, where we saw a lot of the really good teams we'll see this weekend, and I thought at times we held our own.
"We will have to be better than that to score well and possibly earn some spots at the national meet, but these guys are hungry to compete and end the season on a strong note."
Freshmen Bobby Hager (Sagamoer Hills, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) and Phillip Boucher (Sharpsville, Pa./Sharpsville Area) round out the Lake Erie contingent in the upper two weight classes.
This weekend's field features four nationally-ranked squads, headlined by top-ranked and two-time defending national champion University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks have won five national titles since 2004 and have the region's top ranked wrestlers in six weight classes. Fellow perennial power University of Central Oklahoma, a seven-time national champion, is ranked fifth nationally.
The two other ranked teams are Ashland University (12th) and host Findlay (15).
"The field is very strong, there is no doubt about that, but we are excited for this challenge," Hoogenboom said. "A good performance at this level can have a strong impact on our program moving forward."