The Wisconsin wrestling team will open its Big Ten schedule Friday after a tournament in Las Vegas last weekend.
The Badgers open conference play with a 3-2 record and will host Michigan State. Wisconsin is unbeaten at home thus far, and they then travel to Lincoln, Neb., Sunday to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Four UW wrestlers placed at the Cliff Keen Invite in Las Vegas. However, both junior Jackson Hein and redshirt freshman Connor Medbery suffered their first losses of the young season. Hein lost a 3-1 decision to Max Huntley of Michigan in the consolation round of the 197-pound weight class. Medbery won his first match 5-2, but lost his next two matches in the consolation round before winning his final match of the tournament.
A large tournament like the Cliff Keen Invite is an opportunity for the team to compete against other top teams and wrestlers from around the country that they may not otherwise be exposed to, UW head coach Barry Davis said.
“It’s always good competition for us,” Davis said. “We get to see different people from different areas.”
Davis said the team’s goals for the Big Ten season are to rack up as many individual victories as possible and to see the team improve each week throughout the schedule.
As the team gears up for conference play, Davis said Big Ten matches are especially important because they dictate seeding in the conference tournament in March and play a role in qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
For Davis, the importance of the upcoming match is simple.
“It’s a big weekend for us,” Davis said.
Looking back at his loss in Los Vegas, Hein attributed his loss to catering to Huntley’s wrestling style. Even as he and his teammates kick off the Big Ten portion of their schedule, the redshirt junior said he will not look to change his focus heading into matches.
The key to his own success, Hein said, is to stay on the offensive and take the initiative in matches.
Hein said he has set specific goals for both the Big Ten season and the rest of the season in general.
“My ultimate goal is to be a national [champion],” Hein said. “There’s a lot of people that are standing in my way right now, so I’ve got to keep taking it day-by-day and stick to my weekly goals and monthly goals.”
Medbery, a redshirt freshman, placed fifth in the heavyweight competition at the Cliff Keen Invite. Medbery entered the match ranked No. 15 in the nation. All but one of Medbery’s victories on the season came by decision, and he continued that trend Saturday, winning 5-2, losing 2-1, 6-3 and winning 7-3.
Medbery said he has learned just as much from losses as he has from wins, and he hopes the experience he has gained in tight contests will come in handy down the road in conference tournaments and possibly even the NCAA tournament.
The 1-1 Spartans have a star of their own in No. 10 junior Michael McClure who will likely compete in the heavyweight division against Medbery Friday night. McClure is 11-0 on the season and has won two matches by major decision already this year.
Facing a ranked opponent like McClure ratchets up the intensity for Medbery.
“I think you have to step up your game and get ready to go out there and battle for seven minutes,” Medbery said. “With it being a Big Ten matchup, it’s even more important for the tournament later on.”
Medbery echoed Hein’s sentiment in striving to win a national championship and said he would like to be part of a national champion team while at Wisconsin, but Medbery said conference matches are much more immediate and his focus is on those.
“As far as the Big Ten goes, you want to win every match that you step on the mat for,” Medbery said. “You’ve just got to work every day towards that and set your goals high.”
Despite their individual setbacks, both Hein and Medbery remain optimistic about the rest of the season and the team’s prospects in conference matches.
Wisconsin did not face Michigan State last season in the regular season, but dip drop a 36-0 meet against Nebraska last January.