first_imgIt is postseason tournament time for the Wisconsin wrestling team, with the action beginning this weekend at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich. This “mini-NCAA tournament,” as coach Barry Davis refers to it, leads up to college wrestling’s version of the big dance, the NCAA Championships March 18 – 20 in Omaha, Neb.The Badgers enter the tournament with an 8-10 overall dual meet record, going 4-4 in Big Ten matches, good for sixth place in the conference and an 18th overall ranking in the nation. They also added good showings in the two large tournaments they participated in, placing ninth out of 42 teams at the Cliff Keen Invite in Nevada, and placing fifth out of 48 teams at Midlands Championship in Evanston, Ill.The Badgers are confident that they can improve upon their fourth place finish and lone conference champion from a year ago.When senior Kyle Ruschell and sophomore Andrew Howe were asked about their personal expectations for this weekend’s tournament, the answer was simply: “To win it.”“Obviously you want 10 guys to qualify [for NCAA Championships] — there’s no doubt about that — but that will be a difficult task,” Davis said. “Some guys are already qualified, but some guys have some work to do and need to create their own breaks.”Two of those Badgers that are already qualified for the NCAA Championships are Ruschell and Howe, but they know that is no reason to take this weekend lightly. This is an opportunity to make a statement going into the NCAAs.With pre-seeds for the weekend coming out Monday, Howe, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the nation at 165 pounds, was a lock for a one seed. He is currently 28-0 on the season, and the returning national runner-up. His likeliest opponent this weekend, should he reach the finals, will be the second seeded and No. 4 nationally ranked Ryan Morningstar of Iowa. The two are quite familiar with one another, having wrestled four times over the past two seasons, with three of those matches decided in overtime. Howe has won all of those matches, but is still pushing himself to improve.“There are areas where he’s good, and we’ve been working on that. If I open up my offense a little more and get some takedowns, I can continue to improve,” he said.Ruschell, in a brutally tough 149 pound weight class, will be wrestling as the three seed. The top four seeds in the Big Ten are all ranked in the top five in the nation, headed up by defending national champion Brent Metcalf of Iowa. Ruschell has already wrestled him numerous times, most recently in the finals at the Midlands Championships earlier this season, but is winless in all of those matches.Ruschell is 25-2 on the year and currently ranked fourth in the nation, and he is a returning All-American as well, having placed third at last year’s national championships. The highlights of his season thus far have been picking up his first collegiate tournament title at the Cliff Keen Invite and making the finals at Midlands. With this being his last shot, he has high expectations for himself, and the entire team.“I think we can do real well, if we all just step up to the plate and wrestle, I think we could surprise a lot of people. And as far as our shape, we’re there,” he added. “Right now we’re just honing in on our technique.”Other highly ranked Badgers competing this weekend are 197-pounder Trevor Brandvold and 133-pounder Tyler Graff. Brandvold, a junior, missed the first month of the season due to injury and currently holds a 17-3 record and No. 7 ranking nationally. He will enter the conference tournament seeded No. 2. Graff, a redshirt freshman, and the No. 6 ranked wrestler in the nation with a 24-5 record on the season, will be the fourth seed in another tough weight class.As the regular season winds down and the postseason arrives, the training and practice have shifted into tapering mode in hopes of keeping the team fresh heading into the home stretch.“There’s been a great intensity in the room the whole year, and I’m feeling great going into the tournament,” Howe said.“The bottom line is it comes down to this weekend,” Davis said. “They’ve just got to step up and perform.”last_img

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