Heading into the Big Ten Championships, UW wrestling head coach Barry Davis believes his highly seeded team is ready to grow.
"We've talked a lot about this weekend," Davis said. "You know, to start the season we mention it a little, we plant the seeds early on, and then we talk about it a little more. As the season goes on we plant more and more seeds. We are at that point now where we've got the seeds planted and they are ready to blossom."
Eight of 10 wrestlers for the No. 8 Badgers enter the weekend with a pre-ranking. The highest pre-seed for Wisconsin was given to junior tri-captain Craig Henning, who tied for the third seed with Minnesota's Dustin Schlatter. Henning has an outstanding 24-2 overall record heading into the tournament and finished 7-1 in Big Ten duals.
The tri-captain is hoping this tournament will go better for him than last year's.
"Last year I lost a close match to (Brandon) Becker (from Indiana)," Henning said. "He's the one guy who I can't seem to get by. If we meet at this tournament, though, I think I've worked hard enough and know what I have to do to get past him this time. Right now I feel like I can beat anyone, so I just have to go out this weekend and keep my focus."
Focus is something a lot of Badgers are trying to keep. With only one senior, fifth-seed Tyler Turner at 149 lbs., on the roster, the young guys are hitting the big time in a hurry.
"I've wrestled in some big tournaments before, but nothing this big," said freshman Trevor Brandvold, who heads into the tournament with the eight-seed at 184 lbs. "Last year I went to the Big Tens to watch, and now I have the chance to go there. I've got a game plan for each guy; I just hope that I can execute and that nerves don't get the best of me."
With such a young team, some may not think the Badgers are ready to compete. But after finishing 5-3 in Big Ten duals, good for third place in a conference that features ten nationally ranked teams, Davis believes his young team is ready for this challenge.
"They know what this tournament means for them," Davis said. "They know how big this weekend is for them, but they also know that when that whistle blows, to just wrestle. This weekend they just have to wrestle. Simple as that."
Other Badgers earning pre-seeds are fourth-seeded Zach Tanelli (133 lbs.), fifth-seeded Kyle Ruschell (141 lbs.), Dallas Herbst (197 lbs.) and Kyle Massey (heavyweight), and eighth-seeded Matt Maciag (174 lbs.).
Ruschell, a redshirt freshman, believes the team as a whole will do well this weekend.
"We've all worked really hard these last couple of weeks in practice," Ruschell said. "Coach's have been doing a lot of individual things to help each of us with what they know we have to do. We've watched a lot of tape of the guys we might meet up with, and that has been a great prep for this weekend."
As for the nerves that come along with such a big tournament, Ruschell says it hasn't hit him yet.
"It probably won't hit me until we get on the bus or walk into the gym," he said. "This is such an awesome time of year, but I can't let nerves or excitement get in the way. As long as I stay focus and just wrestle, this should be a good weekend."