Sunday’s wrestling meet between No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers is more than just a Big Ten showdown for UW. The Badgers are looking to recover from numerous injuries throughout the lineup, including All-American senior Kevin Black.
Wisconsin is also looking for big individual wins to help their wrestlers reach better seeds for the upcoming Big Ten Championships, to be held in Madison March 8 and 9.
The UW wrestling program will be saying farewell to five seniors on their final duel at the UW Fieldhouse: Black, ninth-ranked 125-pound Tony Black, heavyweight Dave Neumyer, 18th-ranked heavyweight Justin Staebler, and the oldest of the four Turner wrestlers, 165-pound Ryan Turner.
“I’m just trying to get our guys healthy right now. I need our guys healthy for the Big Ten championships,” UW coach Barry Davis said. “Right now, we’re a little beat up. The other day, I only had 12 guys on the mat working out.”
Unfortunately for UW, none of those 12 wrestlers will be Black. Black, ranked fifth in the nation at 133 pounds, is currently out with a knee injury, and the star wrestler’s career may be over.
“That’s kind of a blow to the program,” Davis said. “Here’s a kid with a chance to win a national championship for you and to have that championship to hang on your wall or in the room, so that’s a big blow for us.”
Kevin’s brother Tony believes his brother’s injury doesn’t add any pressure to his performance.
“I’ve had a disappointing end to my last three seasons, so no,” Tony Black said. “I just have to worry about myself. I mean, it’s a bummer that he can’t go through with me, and I can’t go through it with him, but there is no more added pressure to me or anything like that.”
“Even though Kevin’s out right now, he’s still around here at practice helping us out,” co-captain Ralph DeNisco said. “He’s always talking to us. He’s still being a great leader.”
The Badgers are looking to gain quality wins to help their seeding for the Big Ten championships.
“[The] 165-pound (Kelly Flaherty), 174-pound (Brady Reinke), 141-pound (Tyler Laudon) are all big matches, and 149-pound (Ed Gutnik) is also a big match for us.” Davis said.
Redshirt freshman Tom Clum has come out of nowhere to be ranked 11th at the 133-pound weight class. He didn’t even expect to be in the lineup this season and is thrilled to be ranked heading into the championships.
“This will be a big, big match for me,” Clum said. “I just came off of three losses; two of them were very winnable for me. So this will be a big one for me to gain momentum and confidence heading into the Big Ten Championship.”
“It is going to be very important to do well against Ohio State because of a lot of individual seeds for the championships,” No. 9-ranked 184-pound Ralph DeNisco added.
Amid the injuries, seeds, and Sunday being “Senior Day,” Ohio State will be bringing a very powerful opposition to Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes have four wrestlers in their lineup ranked in the top six in the nation at their respective weights. When you factor an injury forfeit at 157 pounds for UW coupled with a Badger backup heavyweight facing Ohio State’s No. 2 Tommy Rowlands, the outcome for Wisconsin might not be a victory, but experience gained for the young squad heading into the Big Ten championships will be very valuable.