With both basketball teams falling to lower-seeded competition in the NCAA Tournament and the men’s hockey team falling in its semifinal game in the WCHA Final Five, it would not appear to have been a very good weekend for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Fortunately for UW, it has a pretty good wrestling program.
Competing in Omaha, Neb., at the 2010 NCAA Wrestling Championships, Wisconsin finished fourth in the team competition, tying the best finish in school history and taking home its first-ever team trophy.
Individually, four Badgers — redshirt freshman Tyler Graff, sophomore Andrew Howe, junior Trevor Brandvold and senior Kyle Ruschell — earned All-America honors. Four marks the most honors for Wisconsin since 1980 and the second-most in program history.
“I’m excited. The program made a big jump forward and obviously with Andrew winning the national championship, that’s a great thing,” UW head coach Barry Davis said. “To have another national champion in the room and him coming back for another two years is exciting as well.”
Sitting in his office Tuesday, just days after being named NWCA National Coach of the Year, Davis, who in 16 years at the helm has coached eight Big Ten champions, 22 All-Americans and three individual NCAA Champions, was already hard at work.
Davis wanted to make sure all those involved in the program were recognized for their efforts in 2010 after the Badgers finished fourth at the NCAA Championships. That same attitude is reflected in his view of the award he earned.
Although Davis certainly had an impressive season as Wisconsin took home one of four team trophies and Howe won an individual national championship, the UW head coach sees it more as a team award.
“It’s a great thing, and I was very surprised by it,” Davis said. “But I want everybody to know, it’s not one coach; it’s not me winning the award. It’s my whole staff; it’s a total team effort. Just one guy can’t do it all; it takes everybody combined.
“To me, Coach of the Year is basically staff of the year.”
That team-oriented mentality possessed by Davis seems to have rubbed off on his wrestlers. Nowhere is it more evident than in the Badgers’ national champion.
Despite all the attention Howe has received for his title-winning efforts, the native of Cedar Lake, Ind., seemed most excited Tuesday about his team’s accomplishments.
In fact, when talking about the NCAAs, Howe did not even mention his own championship.
“It was a great weekend both for me and for Wisconsin wrestling getting four all-Americans, the team trophy and Barry Davis being named Coach of the Year. It’s real special,” Howe said. “It definitely meant more to have the team get honored as well. It’s nice to accomplish things with others even though it’s an individual sport.”
One year ago, when Howe finished as the national runner-up as a true freshman, he was devastated. Although he was proud to have earned a second-place finish in his first trip to the NCAAs, it simply wasn’t good enough.
According to Howe, that match was one he would not soon forget. More importantly, though, it motivated him to a championship this season at 165 lbs.
“It was a terrible feeling losing in the finals and not finishing the tournament up strong last year. It’s just something I didn’t want to experience again,” Howe said. “I thought about that loss every day for the entire year. I didn’t want to have to think about something like that for another year. I knew I had to get it done.”
After that loss, Howe showed a similar mentality as the one employed by Davis this week. Despite a better-than-expected finish, he was not satisfied.
For that reason, among others, Davis did not need to do much in terms of coaching after Howe lost his final match of 2009.
“I didn’t have to say a whole lot to him last year after he lost,” Davis said. “I think Andrew Howe’s set some really high goals for himself, and he’s very motivated.”
So, now that Howe has won that elusive championship, he’s still not satisfied.
With two years remaining at the University of Wisconsin, he hopes to add at least one more national championship to his r?sum?.
As a team leader in addition to the Badgers’ top wrestler, Howe is also looking to lead Wisconsin to a team title.
“I definitely think the team could do even better next year. We’re still up and coming, and this is just us breaking through a little bit right now. But we can still make more gains,” Howe said. “I think it would be awesome to get even more than four all-Americans next year. I definitely think we could finish first and win the team title.”