At 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Wisconsin wrestling team gathered for a final practice on campus before departing for the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship in Des Moines, Iowa.
Wisconsin’s trio of NCAA qualifiers includes redshirt junior Tyler Graff, redshirt junior Jackson Hein and redshirt freshman Connor Medbery. They will travel five hours by bus, along with coaches, trainers and doctors, to Wells Fargo Arena for a chance to compete against 32 of the country’s fiercest wrestlers in their respective weight classes in college wrestling’s version of March Madness.
Within a few days of the tournament’s beginning on Thursday, head coach Barry Davis simply told his three contenders to enjoy the moment.
“It’s a fun time,” Davis said. “It’s the best time of the year; it’s what you’ve worked for. Take it in, enjoy it. You’re the three guys who got here and earned it.”
The team’s pre-departure practices consisted of a weight-lifting session with lighter weight and higher repetitions, with Davis citing the importance of “getting a good sweat going” without burning out his wrestlers.
Wisconsin will again work out, this time with tougher drills, at Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday morning, which will give the wrestlers an opportunity to examine the venue before the crowds form Thursday.
Medbery said these last-minute workouts on-site gave him a chance to keep his legs fresh. He plans on spending about 15 minutes on a stationary bike in the hotel’s cardio room Wednesday to keep active.
In addition to staying physically loose, the newly-minted Big Ten Freshman of the Year also stressed the importance of maintaining a loose mind.
“Your mental attitude, making sure you’re relaxing, not being really active [is important],” Medbery said. “Making sure you’re not sitting in a hotel room all the time, because then your legs get tired; you’ve got to keep moving around.”
An added source of anxiety for Medbery is an exam that he is scheduled to take the night before the tournament begins.
“That adds a little bit of a different situation,” Medbery said.
Unlike Medbery, Thursday’s championship is not the first for Graff. This is his third trip to collegiate wrestling’s ‘Big Dance’ and has previously earned two All-American honors, placing fifth in both 2011 and 2010 at 133 pounds.
Graff tries to treat the NCAA Championships like any other tournament. He will concentrate on details, like keeping his weight correct and staying hydrated, to give himself the best chance to win.
“A lot of it is being consistent with the things I have been doing,” Graff said. “It all has been little things.”
The Badgers also began the process of watching film to study their first-round opponents. However, Davis said he doesn’t want his wrestlers watching too much film. He does, though, study his team’s opponents in order to find competitive advantages his team might hold.
“How can we use our style to attack them,” Davis said of observations taken away from film studies. “Some people have certain habits. You get in situations where you figure out what a guy’s going to do and it’s about how you react.”
The unseeded Hein is the only qualifier from Wisconsin scheduled to challenge a ranked opponent, facing 12th-ranked Brent Hayes of Missouri in his opening match.
While Graff, the third seed in his weight class, could face one of two opponents in the first round, No. 7 Medbery is slated to wrestle a fellow Colorado native in David Malone. Medbery defeated Virginia Tech’s heavyweight in November in a 3-2 decision.
Davis offered some final advice to his qualifiers with regards to fine tuning some of their skills. However, he said most of the prep work has been wrapped up. He said the most important thing Graff, Hein and Medbery can do is to stay active and spend time outside of the hotel room.
Even though the qualifiers have had a week and a half to prepare for the NCAA Championships, Medbery still gets a little nervous thinking about it.
“There’s a little more added pressure,” Medbery said. “This is the big tournament; it’s what you’ve been training for all year. Since you were a little kid, you’ve been dreaming about this. “