Wisconsin wrestlers ready for tough competition at NCAAs

first_imgRedshirt freshman Tyler Graff is one of seven Badgers competing in the NCAA Championships this weekend.[/media-credit]Coming off a very strong showing at the Big Ten Championships a week ago, the Wisconsin Badgers are looking for continued success this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Omaha, Neb.When UW traveled to the University of Michigan for the Big Ten Championship March 6-7, two Badgers brought home conference titles and six earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships. Another Wisconsin grappler earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs, giving them seven total.“I though we went out there and had a terrific weekend; a lot of guys really stepped up,” UW wrestling coach Barry Davis said.Wisconsin, which is ranked in most polls as the 14th best team in the nation, is only the sixth-highest ranked team in the Big Ten conference. As a result, the third-place result at the championships was a big one for UW, as the Big Ten is one of the strongest wrestling conferences in America this year.With only the NCAA Championships remaining, the Badgers are looking to focus as best they can on the final task ahead.“This is the week before the NCAA championships; we’re mentally locking in,” Davis said.Cole Schmitt, a redshirt freshman, did not win at the Big Tens in his weight class. Instead, he was a wild card pick to get in the championships; but some, including Coach Davis, feel he is posed for a possible deep run in the tournament.“Cole’s the type of guy that really loves the big stage,” Davis said.A big stage is something all of these wrestlers need to be ready for. The arena in which these wrestlers will be competing features around 21,000 seats and eight different mats.Davis, who is no stranger to the NCAA Championships, has spent time this week preparing his team mentally, in addition to the usual physical preparation.“I tell our guys, ‘just walk in, do your job, then get back to the hotel,’” Davis said.The top wrestler for the Badgers is Andrew Howe, who already has ‘Big Ten Freshman of the Year’ to attach to his name.Last year, as the No. 2 ranked wrestler in his weight class, Howe lost in the NCAA title match. This year, the sophomore is the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class after posting a perfect 32-0 record.“I know the Big Tens is a good tournament, is a big tournament and a nice tournament to win,” Davis said. “But his main focus has been the NCAA Championships.”According to Davis, losing in the NCAA championships has greatly matured Howe on and off the mat.“Andrew is really mature for his age; he’s become a great leader,” Davis said.During his tenure at the University of Iowa, Davis was a three-time NCAA champion.With such experience, many have related his success on the mat to being able to help a strong young wrestler such as Howe.“Me and Coach Donny Pitzlaf have been there; we only want what’s best for him and he knows that,” Davis said. “Trust between coach and athlete is critical.”Being at the top of his game, Howe is still known for the sheer amount of time he spends in the gym. According to Davis, he occasionally has to tell the freshman to take a bit of a break.To help Howe with staying off the mat all the time, Coach Davis works with him to maintain that intensity.“Sometimes you have to tell him to back off a little bit because wrestling is his life,” Davis said. “That’s what he really enjoys. Sunday he was out of the room, not on the mat, completely off of the mat. It’s to keep that hunger and thirst going for him.”UW is sending its top seven wrestlers to Omaha this weekend for the NCAA Championships, and hopes are very high for not only the individuals and their aspirations for NCAA titles, but for the team as a whole.According to Davis, it is not unreasonable to expect the Badgers to come out at or near the top as a team at the Championships.“If things go well, we’re hoping to bring home our first team trophy.”last_img