All year long Barry Davis stressed the importance of winning the close matches. This weekend was a lesson in that ideology. Eleven matches were decided by two points or less and four went into overtime as the Badgers sent eight wrestlers on to the NCAA championships in St. Louis.
As a team, Wisconsin finished seventh overall with 85 points. Last year they finished ninth overall with 71.5 points while sending eight wrestlers.
Leading the way for Wisconsin was 125-pounder Tom Clum. The Badgers’ only Big Ten champion, Clum avenged an early season loss to Iowa’s Luke Eustice in the finals winning 5-3. Clum came out strong early gaining two takedowns in the first period before hanging on.
With the championship, Clum becomes the first Badger to earn a Big Ten title since Donny Prtizlaff won it in 2001. Pritzlaff would go on to win nationals that year.
At 133 pounds, Ed Gutnik crushed Penn State’s Josh Moore 14-4 and will return to the NCAA championships for the second consecutive year. Last year he finished eighth overall, but was selected as a wild-card qualifier by Big Ten coaches.
Wisconsin’s tri-captain and 141-pounder Tyler Laudon became a two-time NCAA qualifier with his fourth place finish. Laudon faced Indiana’s Coyte Cooper in the third place match. Earlier in the year, Cooper defeated Laudion 11-7, but this time it was closer with Cooper inching out a 4-2 decision.
Perhaps the most dramatic qualifying match of the day went to Ryan Flaherty in the 197-pound bout. Flaherty faced Purdue’s Nathan Moore for the second time in the tournament. The first match saw Flaherty earning a 9-4 decision, but the second match would be much closer. It would take Flaherty two overtime periods to finish off Moore as Flaherty took a 3-2 victory into his first ever NCAA championship appearance.
Ryan’s brother Kelly had an easier time qualifying for nationals as he won his fifth place match by medical forfeit. This will also be Kelly’s first appearance at the NCAA tournament.
Senior Ralph Denisco qualified for his fourth consecutive NCAA championship by taking sixth place. Denisco lost his quarterfinal match before defeating Michigan State’s Arsen Aleksanyan 9-5. Denisco would end the tournament losing to Indiana’s Brady Richardson.
At 184 pounds, Brady Reinke finished eighth overall, but received the wildcard vote by Big Ten coaches to send him to the championships. Reinke won two matches and lost three over the weekend.
One of the big surprises over the weekend was the performance of Wisconsin’s heavyweight Jarreck Horton. After entering the tournament with a conference dual record of zero wins and seven losses, Horton earned a sixth place finish and trip to St. Louis.
Horton lost his first match of the tournament to New London native and Minnesota Gopher Cole Konrad. Horton would go on to defeat Illinois’ Mike Behnke 3-1 and Northwestern’s Mike Little 9-4. Just a week earlier, Horton lost to Little in a dual at Wisconsin.
The sixth place finish will send Horton on his first ever trip to the NCAA championships.
The Badgers will use their next ten days to prepare for the NCAA championships in St. Louis March 18-20. For the second consecutive year, Wisconsin will send eight wrestlers to the championships. Last year they finished 23rd overall and had one All-American in Tony Black.