After opening the season with three-consecutive dual wins, the University of Wisconsin wrestling team will travel to the Cliff Keen Invite in Las Vegas this weekend. This year’s invite features 46 teams including highly ranked Nebraska. Representing the Big Ten will be Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue along with Wisconsin. Two years ago, Wisconsin placed eighth overall at the Invite.
Leading the Badgers into Las Vegas will be 141-pounder Tyler Laudon. Currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, Laudon will try to defend his 5-0 record.
Laudon’s toughest competition will come from Pittsburgh’s Ron Tarquinio. The No. 6-ranked Tarquinio comes into Vegas with a 10-2 record with one of his two losses coming at the hands of top-ranked Nate Gallick of Iowa State. Like Laudon, Tarquinio is a two-time national qualifier.
Also sporting a No. 5 ranking is 197-pounder Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty has seen his ranking skyrocket in recent weeks after defeating No. 4-ranked Sean Stender of Northern Iowa. Stender is a two-time All-American.
Last year’s 125-pound Big Ten Champion, Tom Clum, will face some very tough competition at 133 pounds. Five of the top six wrestlers at Clum’s weight class will be competing in Las Vegas. Two of those wrestlers, Chris Fleeger of Purdue and Mark Jayne of Illinois, are ranked ahead of Clum. Fleeger brings a 66-5 career record into the Cliff Keen Invite after taking last season off to train for the Olympic trials.
After defeating 10th-ranked Jeff Harrison of Northern Iowa, true freshman phenom Craig Henning enters the Invite ranked No. 16 with an 8-0 record. Henning will face his toughest competition yet with three of the top five wrestlers in his weight class competing with him. Ranked No. 4 at 141 pounds is former Oconto, Wisconsin native and Big 12 runner-up Travis Shufelt of Nebraska.
The Cliff Keen Invite is one of the most important dates on the Badgers’ schedule. The tournament offers the Badgers a glimpse of competition outside the Big Ten. The invite is also a fairly accurate indicator of how teams and individuals will do when the tournament season begins. Two years ago, Minnesota won the invite and went on to win the national championship.
The Badgers’ next home dual will open their Big Ten season against conference powerhouse Illinois Jan. 14.