Last season was a step in the right direction for the Wisconsin wrestling team.
Following the Badgers’ first losing season in three years, the 2016-17 UW squad posted a 7-5 dual record, tied for eighth at the Big Ten Championships and finished 19th at the NCAA Tournament.
The task for this year’s club is to carry that momentum.
However, the Badgers will be without two of the best wrestlers in program history.
Four-time All-American Isaac Jordan and two-time All-American Connor Medbery were both lost to graduation.
Jordan was just the fifth, four-time All-American Wisconsin has ever had. Medbery was a national runner-up at heavyweight a year ago.
Even with two key departures, the Badgers still have a foundation to build from. Wisconsin returns seven of its 10 primary starters from a year ago, including five NCAA qualifiers.
“Here’s the key: these guys, no matter what happens, are a team,” UW head coach Barry Davis said. “They make everybody better. Win or lose, they are cheering each other on. That’s going to be the key. That’s why they are making so many improvements so fast. They realize they are here to make each other better.”
As a team, the Badgers open the season No.20 in InterMat’s Dual Team Rankings.
Wisconsin begins the season Sunday as it travels to the Michigan State Open in East Lansing.
UW then opens its dual schedule with matches against No.23 Pittsburgh and Cal State-Bakersfield in California on Nov. 17 followed by the Roadrunner Open in Bakersfield two days later.
The month of December starts with a trip to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational.
Wisconsin opens its home slate with a Big Ten dual against Maryland on Dec.7 followed by a trip to NCAA Division III UW-Whitewater on Dec. 9.
The tournament season concludes with the Midlands Championships hosted by Northwestern on Dec.29-30.
With the new year comes the remainder of the Big Ten schedule. Four of UW’s eight duals are against conference foes that are currently ranked nationally, including: No.3 Michigan, No.11 Nebraska, No.19 Illinois and No.12 Rutgers.
Get ready for the upcoming season with a weight-by-weight breakdown of the roster:
Two-time NCAA qualifier Johnny Jimenez will be the guy for the Badgers here. The senior has a career record of 39-36, including a 10-10 mark in Big Ten dual competition.
He enters this season ranked No.18 in the nation by InterMat.
Ethan Rotondo is the only other grappler on the roster at this weight. A true freshman from Vancouver, Washington, he is a two-time 4A state champ.
Both Michael Cullen and Jens Lantz saw time in the starting lineup last year, though each spent at least some time down at 125.
Cullen edged Lantz in overtime at last week’s intrasquad dual, but that by no means is a clear indication of who will receive the bulk of the starts.
Lantz, who wrestled primarily at 125 a year ago, was 6-9 last season. He sports a career record of 21-15 and is 15-6 when wrestling at 133.
Meanwhile, Cullen is 17-16 in his two seasons in Madison and is 0-2 in the Big Ten. He is still looking for his first dual meet win as a Badger.
Freshman Paul Konrath enters the mix at 133 this season. He was ranked as one of the top 20 high school recruits at 132 pounds by both FloWrestling and The Open Mat.
A pair of redshirt sophomores dot the UW depth chart here.
Cole Martin and Eli Stickley have each cracked the starting lineup in their careers.
Martin was 19-17 last year and was ranked No.19 in the land by WIN Wrestling at season’s end. During his redshirt season, Martin was 19-4.
Stickley, Wisconsin’s primary starter at 133 pounds last season, was 20-19 a year ago and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
This is a weight class worth keeping a close eye on. There are seven wrestlers vying for this spot. In theory, as many as four have a legitimate chance of breaking the lineup.
Truthfully, 149 is probably worthy of its own preview.
Last year’s starter at 149, NCAA qualifier Andrew Crone, is now at 157 pounds.
Given their starting experience at other weights, Gabriel Grahek and Luke Rowh seem primed to make a run at the position vacated by Crone.
Grahek saw limited time as the starter at 141 two years ago, but was just 4-10 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten competition. Last season, he was 6-5 while wrestling open tournaments at 149.
Meanwhile, Rowh went 6-6 at 141 last year and lost his only dual match. Two seasons ago, he was 9-13 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten.
But don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Zander Wick. Wick was one of the top recruits from the 2016 class. He went 13-4 wrestling unattached at both 149 and 157 last year.
“I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Wick said. “I’d love to be a starter and I plan on being a starter but, in the end, if it doesn’t happen and I know I gave 100 percent then that’s what happens. A lot of these guys have college experience, a lot more college experience than me. It just kind of comes down to who wants it more.”
Wick picked up wins against Grahek and Patrick Spray in last week’s intrasquad scrimmage. Though Davis made clear that performance in the season’s opening events will carry much more weight when it comes to determining his starting lineup.
“They key is going to be Michigan State (Open) and then California (road trip),” Davis said. “Then we’ll make decisions from there.”
Spray was 17-9 in his redshirt season.
A trio of strong freshman round out 149. Though, given Wisconsin’s excellent depth at this weight, it is unlikely that any of them will factor into the mix this season.
Three-time Wisconsin state champion Devin Bahr is a nice addition to the roster. He was ranked No.16 in the nation 152 by both The Open Mat and FloWrestling as a high school senior.
Garrett Model is also a former Wisconsin state champion and three-time state qualifier.
Tyler Shilson, a two-time Minnesota state place-winner, will likely spend time at both 149 and 157.
The aforementioned Andrew Crone looks to be the starter here.
Crone had a breakout season last year. He made his first NCAA Tournament appearance and posted a record of 29-13. Since his redshirt season, Crone is 55-31 and has spent the bulk of his time as a starter.
The redshirt senior is currently ranked No.19 nationally at his weight.
Jared Scharenbrock got his first taste of dual meet action last season as a redshirt sophomore, but went 0-3. He finished the year 8-9 and is 32-19 in his career.
As the lone 165-pounder on the roster, Evan Wick finds himself in the unenviable position of filling the shoes of Isaac Jordan.
However, Wick might be just the man for the job. During his redshirt campaign, he went 15-3 while wrestling unattached. That included a fourth-place finish at the Midlands Championships, a run that included a pair of wins over ranked opponents.
For the last two seasons, Ryan Christensen has been a starter. Each of those seasons ended with Christensen making a trip to the national tournament.
In that span, the redshirt junior has gone 40-39. That includes a staggering 32 matches against ranked opponents. He is 6-26 in those bouts.
Christensen begins the year ranked No.15 in the land at 174.
UW’s roster features three other athletes at this weight. All of which are relatively inexperienced.
Redshirt sophomore Izaec Quintanilla debuts at the third weight class of his college career. Last season, he was 4-7 at 157 pounds with one start.
He wrestled at 149 his freshman year, recording nine wins against four losses.
Jacob Covaciu made some noise during his redshirt season. He recorded a 16-2 record, with half of his wins coming by fall.
True freshman Jackson Hemauer is the newcomer of the group. He is a two-time Wisconsin state champion and three-time state finalist.
Ricky Robertson hopes his return to 184 will bring some magic.
The redshirt senior is a three-time NCAA qualifier, but is still in search of that podium finish.
Robertson last wrestled at this weight during the 2014-15 season when he compiled a 27-10 record and placed fifth at the Big Ten Championships.
The following year, Robertson dropped down to 174 where he was Wisconsin’s starter. That year, he went 14-15 and finished 4-4 in the Big Ten.
A season ago, Robertson moved all the way up to 197 and qualified for nationals for a third time. He matched his career-high in wins (27) and suffered 16 losses.
Robertson is 5-6 all-time at the NCAA Tournament. He enters the year ranked No.11.
Redshirt freshman Brady Wetter joins Robertson at 184. He was 8-6 while wrestling unattached a year ago.
As a redshirt freshman wrestling at 184 pounds, Hunter Ritter made an impressive run to the NCAAs in 2017. He picked up 20 wins against 15 losses and was 4-3 in the Big Ten.
He debuted at No.17 in InterMat’s rankings.
Eric Peissig brings with him a good deal of experience. The redshirt senior was Wisconsin’s starter at this weight during the 2015-16 season and went 5-15.
Last year, Peissig competed in just eight matches, recording three wins.
Another redshirt senior, Jake Stilling, is also part of the Badgers contingent at 197. He was 3-5 a year ago and started in one dual at 174 pounds.
Mason Reinhardt rounds out the group. He racked up an 11-4 record as a redshirt freshman last season and earned a starting nod in a dual against Iowa.
After years of training with and waiting behind Connor Medbery, it is time for redshirt sophomore Ben Stone to take the reins at heavyweight.
Stone was 11-3 last season and made the most of his lone start, pinning No.16 Jacob Kaer of Duke in 1:18. Eight of his 11 victories came via pin.
A former offensive lineman for Wisconsin’s football team, junior Ian Dretzka is throwing his hat in the ring to represent the Badgers on the mat. He was a two-time Wisconsin state qualifier in high school.
The day will come when two-time Michigan state champion Trent Hillger is a force to be reckoned with at the college level. But it’s probably not his time quite yet.
The true freshman was the No.4 heavyweight in the country last year according to both The Open Mat and FloWrestling.