Throughout the season, Wisconsin head wrestling coach Chris Bono has alluded to the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships as a significant measuring stick for his team.
When the event kicks off Sunday in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the No. 4 Badgers will get a chance to see how they stack up against the likes of No. 1 Iowa, No 8 Northern Iowa, No. 9 Northwestern, No. 10 Princeton and five other nationally-ranked teams in a two-day tournament setting.
They will also have one final opportunity to answer some lingering lineup questions.
Wisconsin plans to enter more than one competitor at 157 pounds, 174 pounds, and 197 pounds. And although Bono’s mantra is to put the “10 best guys” in the lineup on a nightly basis, he has also mentioned his desire to firm up the lineup as his squad enters the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
The top performers at each weight at Midlands will likely leave the tournament with a starting spot in-hand, at least for the near future.
“It’s a big deal. We treat Midlands like a big deal,” said Bono following last week’s win over Kent State. “Our guys are going to train hard over break and we’re excited to go down and face a lot of good competition.”
The nearly month-long battle for the starting spot at 157 pounds has been well-documented.
Redshirt freshman Drew Scharenbrock currently holds the starting spot by virtue of beating redshirt sophomores Devin Bahr and Garrett Model at the SIU-Edwardsville Cougar Clash earlier this month.
Scharenbrock got the starting nod against Kent State last week and won by fall.
“He’s very unorthodox He’s tough to wrestle. He’s a really strong kid,” Bono said after Scharenbrock’s win last Thursday. “And I don’t think that’s the best Drew Scharenbrock. He can compete a lot better than that. I’m excited to see where he can go. Midlands will be a big test for him.”
Even with Scharenbrock’s recent success, Bono added that he plans to give Model and Bahr a chance to stake their claim at the final tournament of the semester.
“We’re bringing three guys at 57 to Midlands. So it’s in their hands,” Bono said. “We’re going to decide kind of who the guy is after that tournament.”
Scharenbrock is 13-4 on the year, including a 8-2 mark against NCAA competition. He’s 23-6 in his young collegiate career.
“Drew never says a word in the wrestling room. Does every little thing we ask him. Sometimes you don’t even know he’s in there because he’s working so hard in his own little world,” Bono said. “He’s got a bright future. He’s just a freshman. I’m very excited that Drew Scharenbrock is on our team.”
The Sun Prairie, Wisconsin product is coming off a pair of hip surgeries.
“To see where he is now makes me very proud,” Bono said. “Our medical team is unbelievable. To see him back on that mat like that, it almost brought a little tear to my eye because he has worked so hard to get healthy.”
A pair of redshirt freshman have made it a two-horse race for the starting spot at 174 pounds. Tyler Dow and Jared Krattiger, both Wisconsin natives, have each received a handful of starts for UW this year.
Dow is 5-5 on the year, including a 3-2 mark in duals. Three of his wins have come up at 184.
Krattiger is 4-6 overall and 1-4 in duals. All of his matches have come at 174.
The duo is a combined 0-6 against ranked foes.
Krattiger started in the Kent State dual and fell by decision.
Then comes the developing story at 197 pounds.
Wisconsin has just two dual meet wins at that weight in the last two seasons and none this year.
True freshman Peter Christensen had his redshirt pulled at the Cougar Clash only to be out-placed by incumbent starter Taylor Watkins.
Christensen got the start in last Thursday’s dual and lost by decision.
“Pete is going to have a great career. A lot of mistakes but, you know, true freshman,” Bono said. “Again, we’re going to look at Midlands. We’re going to evaluate after Midlands. Taylor [Watkins] will get his chance. Pete will get his chance. And then we have that second semester to see what we can do to get those guys ready to roll and to make a decision.”