In its final dual match of the regular season, the Wisconsin wrestling team suffered a brutal 34-5 loss to No. 4 Minnesota Sunday afternoon on Senior Day in its first and only loss at the UW Field House this season.
The No. 18 Badgers (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten) faced eight opponents nationally ranked in the top 15 on the powerful Gopher roster, including No. 1 sophomore Logan Storley wrestling at 174-pounds and No. 2 redshirt junior Tony Nelson wrestling at heavyweight. Minnesota’s starters have posted a combined 79-16 record in dual meets this year, including three wrestlers with undefeated campaigns and another three with one-loss seasons.
After having a winless Big Ten season a year ago, the Badgers improved to an even 4-4 league record this year while defeating three ranked teams in dual matches.
Head coach Barry Davis knows the team has a lot of improvements to make, but is proud of his team’s comeback year.
“It’s a good turnaround,” Davis said. “The guys are doing a good job … we’ve gotten a lot better, but we need to continue to move forward here. We’ve got two big duals next weekend and then it’s tournament time. That’s what it comes down to.”
Wisconsin’s only individual victory came from two-time All-American Tyler Graff. The No. 5 wrestler at 133-pounds won by technical fall and narrowly missed a pin late in the first period in his eleventh win of the year.
Redshirt junior Scott Liegel nearly pulled off an enormous upset against No. 1 Storley. Down 0-1 in the third period, Liegel received two points for technical violations against Storley for locking hands and pulling headgear. After an escape gave Liegel a 3-1 edge with under a minute left in the match, Storley managed a late takedown to tie the contest and pulled out the 4-3 decision with help from the riding time point.
Liegel said he made a mistake by putting too much weight on his feet, which allowed him to be taken down. He said even in a loss, he is encouraged by legitimately challenging a top contender.
“It builds a lot of confidence in me,” Liegel. “I think that one of the main things is to just have confidence when I go out there and it’ll definitely help me down the road for the end of the season.”
Davis was pleased with some of his wrestlers’ effort, but told his team that he expected more energy from the entire lineup and said they should be putting themselves in better positions to win.
“I said you’ve got to approach the way Liegel, Hein and Medbery did certain things,” Davis said. “Some of the guys didn’t approach it that way today; they hesitated. The things we do in the room, the work we put in, there can’t be hesitation when you walk out – you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. It’s a mindset, a certain mentality … they beat us off the whistle, and you can’t do that.”
Seventeenth-ranked redshirt junior Jackson Hein kept his match close, facing the No. 12-ranked wrestler, Scott Schiller, in the 197-pound weight class. Hein took his match to extra time after a 1-1 tie in regulation. However, Schiller earned a takedown and a near-fall to complete the 6-1 decision for Minnesota.
Redshirt freshman and No. 11-ranked Connor Medbery lost his first dual match of the season at heavyweight in a 2-9 decision against No. 2 Nelson.
Fifth-year Cole Schmitt was shut out in a major decision in his match, but said he was happy to see his teammates determined to win even against heavy odds.
“They were getting upset because they were expecting to win,” Schmitt said. “It’s good to have that attitude every time you step on the mat.”
While Wisconsin’s regular season has officially ended, it is nowhere near finished with its year. The Badgers will participate in the NWCA National Duals in Ohio next weekend and Big Ten Championship and NCAA tournament next month.
Liegel said the most important matches are still to come.
“Coach always talks about working towards the NCAA tournament and how everything is just a building block from that,” Liegel said. “This match is just another building block. Hopefully we can learn from it and work towards the next couple of weeks.”