Whether it’s eating a daily dose of Wheaties for breakfast, drinking the recommended daily amount of milk or just being gifted with unusually athletic genes, some kids just grow up big.
Wisconsin heavyweight wrestler Connor Medbery was well aware of his unusually large size, due to either genetics or a hearty breakfast, as he started his wrestling career at the age of five.
“When I was growing up, I always had to wrestle kids older than me,” Medbery said. “[It was] just the way it was because there weren’t too many kids my size. That’s one thing that helped me get tough too, is that I was always wrestling older kids, more mature kids. I had to kind of adapt to that.”
Medbery’s experience wrestling older kids growing up has given him an advantage wrestling at the collegiate level, as the redshirt freshman has continued the trend of defeating experienced opponents by attaining a perfect 4-0 record in dual matches this season, including two victories by falls. Medbery, who now stands 6-foot-1, weighing 250 pounds, is the highest-ranked freshman at the heavyweight division in the country at No. 15.
Before arriving in Madison, Medbery was a highly-touted high school wrestler from Loveland, Colorado. He won the state championship his sophomore, junior and senior years without losing a single match during that three-year span.
Head coach Barry Davis said Medbery has handled the transition from high school to college very well.
“I think he’s come a long way,” Davis said. “I think he’s just matured into a young man, more advanced. I think he understands the different intensities of high school and college, but I think he’s come a long ways in his last couple of years here.”
Medbery won 13 of his 15 matches in open tournaments during the 2011-2012 season, winning the Stevens Point Open with a 4-0 record.
Medbery also had the opportunity to compete in the 2012 Pan American Junior Championships in Peten, Guatemala, this June. He claimed individual gold in the 120 kg/264.5 lbs. weight class in freestyle to help the United States earn team gold.
Medbery said he was happy to gain experience facing tough international competition, wrestling athletes from Cuba, Canada and the Dominican Republic en route to reaching the top of the podium.
“It was a really great experience,” Medbery said. “Going to Guatemala to wrestle different guys and just to develop, because everybody has a different style and every country even has a different style. Just going out there and getting that experience and just getting to compete at a really high level was a really great thing.”
Fellow heavyweight and fifth-year senior Cole Tobin said a big key to Medbery’s success this year has been his pure athleticism.
“He’s really good on his feet and on top,” Tobin said. “He’s a tough rider.”
Medbery and Tobin are often matched up with each other in practice, with Tobin admitting Medbery usually has the edge in their head-to-head matchups. He added while he and Medbery are friends off the mat, they are both striving to earn their way into the starting lineup.
Davis said the competitive nature between the Wisconsin heavyweights has pushed them all to improve.
“One of the keys to his success is his work-out partners,” Davis said. “Cole Tobin, Brock Horwath, … everybody’s getting better, not just Connor.”
Even as a redshirt freshman, Medbery has shown drive to continue his early success and keep his position in the starting lineup, beating out three other heavyweights on the UW roster for the starting gig.
Tobin said the way Medbery approaches practice, combined with his natural abilities, has been the reason for his success early in his career at Wisconsin.
“I just think his work ethic [has put him over the top],” Tobin said. “He comes into practice every day trying to get better. …He’s keeping an eye on his goal and is working toward it.”
Medbery is looking to become Wisconsin’s sixth All-American heavyweight and the first since Kyle Massey’s selection in 2008 when he placed eighth at the NCAA championships. Medbery has a chance to add to his resume this weekend as the Badgers travel to Las Vegas to compete in the Cliff Keen Invite, a tournament in which the Badgers placed second in 2010.
In just his first year competing in dual matches at the collegiate level, Medbery is shooting for nothing less than the nation’s top prize.
“I’m striving for a national title,” Medbery said. “When you start the season, you always have to set your goals as high as possible and just strive to be the best. You have to work every day to get to those goals, and they’re not easy, but I think as a wrestler and as an individual, you have to set your goals really high.”