After finishing last in the Big Ten a year ago, the Wisconsin wrestling team started off its 2012-13 season with an 18-13 victory over the No. 25 Hofstra Pride.
Wisconsin (1-0) suffered its first loss last year against Hofstra (0-2) by a score of 25-12, a loss that ignited a string of 11-straight dual losses for the Badgers.
UW head coach Barry Davis said he was encouraged by his team’s success in its first match of the year.
“Last year was a rough year for a lot of guys, but as a team, to get off with a win and moving forward, building momentum,” Davis said. “Obviously we’ve got some things to work on; some young guys in the lineup right now, but definitely a good start overall.”
Wisconsin took the final three matches of the afternoon after dropping its first two matches to find itself in a 0-7 hole. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Iczkowski and redshirt junior Jackson Hein won their respective matches to give Wisconsin the first lead of the day heading into the meet’s final contest.
With the score at 15-13, redshirt senior Cole Tobin was asked to step in at the heavyweight position for No. 16 redshirt freshman Connor Medbery, who was not feeling well before the match. Tobin clinched the match for Wisconsin with a big takedown with less than 20 seconds left in the final period.
The coaching staff called Tobin at the library around 10 a.m. Sunday morning to tell him he was in the starting lineup.
Tobin said the win will provide a major momentum boost for the entire season.
“I think this is a really big first step,” Tobin said. “Last year was kind of a tough year. This year, there’s a lot of excitement. It’s a good team we just beat, so it’s good momentum for the rest of the season.”
Wisconsin began the day with the challenge of facing three-consecutive nationally-ranked wrestlers, including No. 4 Steve Bonanno. After the Badgers lost their first two matches, redshirt junior Tyler Graff earned the first Wisconsin win at the 141-pound weight class.
The third-ranked Graff redshirted last season to compete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, where he finished third. Only the top spot in each weight class earns a spot on the Olympic team.
Graff said while he is still adjusting to the head-to-head format of collegiate wrestling, he was able to stay poised against his opponent.
“Most of it was being patient, using my abilities,” Graff said. “I’m good enough to get more attacks off; I think it’s important just to keep building off of that and getting better and implementing.”
Davis said it was good to have the two-time All-American back in the lineup, but he needs to work on switching his form back to a grappling style.
“He’s got to get back into that folkstyle mode; right now he’s more in that freestyle mode,” Davis said. “He’s got to pull that trigger, get the guys legs more often and score some more points. That will come with time, though.”
In the 149-pound matchup, fifth-year senior Cole Schmitt made a key takedown in the second period en route to a 3-0 shutout to put the Badgers within a point of the Pride. Schmitt accumulated a 13-5 record in the 2011-12 season.
Davis said Schmitt wasn’t a player who expected to contribute much to the team.
“Dylan never won a state title, and is a kid no one even expected to be in our lineup, and he came out with a big win today,” Davis said.
After Wisconsin lost a 2-6 decision at the 157-pound match, redshirt sophomore Frank Cousins fell to an early 6-3 deficit after he was taken down twice in the first period and a third time in the second period. Cousins finally made his move in the final period as he created three takedowns, including one in the final five seconds of the period, to earn the 9-7 decision, again pulling within one point of Hofstra.
Davis said that staying aggressive on the mat will be an important factor for the team for the remainder of the season.
“What we’ve got to do is continue to be offensive,” Davis said. “Overall, we’re building; we’ve gotten better since September. Again, we’re going to learn and work on the small things, and they’ll turn into big things.”