What started as a relatively tough day, turned into a significantly positive one as the Wisconsin wrestling team finished strong to place third at the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on Monday night.
The third-place finish in the team standings is the Badgers highest placing at Midlands since taking second in 2010.
No. 4 Wisconsin finished eight points behind No. 8 Northern Iowa, who took second, and 103.5 points behind No. 1 Iowa, who set the new Midlands record for team scoring with 196.5.
The early session was rough. UW’s wrestlers posted a combined 4-6 record in contested matches.
The Badgers were as high as second-place in the team standings, following the opening round of action Monday afternoon, but ended up slipping to fourth by the time the session was over.
Seth Gross was the only one of Wisconsin’s four semifinalists to advance to the finals. He was also one of only two seeded UW wrestlers that wrestled to their seed. The other was Johnny Sebastian who was seeded eighth and finished eighth.
But as night fell, things started looking up. Both Evan Wick (165 pounds) and Trent Hillger (285) won their third-place bouts.
The proceedings ended with No. 2 Seth Gross topping No. 1 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) 6-5 in the 133-pound title tilt.
Here are some initial thoughts on Wisconsin’s performance on Day 2 of the last tournament before the Big Ten Championships in March.
Gross avenges loss to DeSanto
The highlight of the night was the much-anticipated sequel to the Gross/DeSanto matchup from earlier this month.
DeSanto claimed the first meeting in Iowa City by decision, but Round 2 went to Gross.
Gross got to work early with a takedown and two near fall in the first that gave him a 4-1 edge after the first three minutes.
After winning the toss and deferring, Gross started the second period on top. DeSanto eventually escaped, but not before Gross accumulated over a minute of riding time.
With the score 4-2 in his favor, Gross began the third on bottom. He escaped, but was take down.
After his second escape of the period, Gross was hit for stalling. This made the score 6-5 in favor of Gross.
He was able to fend off a late shot attempt and hold on for a 6-5 win. The loss was DeSanto’s first of the season.
Both Gross and DeSanto each have just one loss on the campaign, each falling to the other.
Gross, who was voted the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler by the media, will likely regain his spot atop the 133-pound national rankings next week, a spot that had been occupied by DeSanto since shortly after their Dec. 1 meeting.
With the win, Gross became Wisconsin’s first individual Midlands champion since Travis Rutt and Tyler Graff accomplished the feat in 2010.
Earlier in the day, Gross, the No. 2 seed, upended the three seed Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) in an 8-7 thriller that involved several video reviews and numerous incredible scrambles.
Wick bounces back for third
Monday’s 165-pound semifinal match between second-seeded Evan Wick and three seed David McFadden (Virginia Tech) was an entertaining, back-and-forth affair.
Wick held a 5-4 lead in the closing moments of the third period. But McFadden scored a takedown as the clock expired to secure the victory.
It was the Virginia Tech standout’s third win over Wick in as many meetings.
Wick is just 11-14 against opponents ranked in the top-10 in his collegiate career and is 0-2 this year.
A 7-4 win over Philip Conigliaro of Harvard in the consolation semifinals lifted Wick to the third-place bout.
Once there, the redshirt junior made a statement by handling Illinois’ Danny Braunagel by major decision 13-3. Braunagel was the 11 seed.
2019 marks the third time Wick has placed at Midlands. He was runner-up at 165 a year ago.
So does Hillger
Heavyweight Trent Hillger was also a No. 2 seed and dropped his semifinal bout to the No. 3 seed.
HIllger was topped by Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel by a 6-1 count in the semis.
However, Hillger pushed his way into the third-place match thanks to a 7-2 win over Josh Hokit of Fresno State in the consolation semis.
In his final match of the tournament, Hillger bested Yaraslau Slavikouski (Harvard) 3-0 to take third place.
Hillger was eighth at Midlands last season as a redshirt freshman.
Moran places sixth
Tristan Moran competed in just one match Monday.
The two-seed at 141 pounds dropped his semifinal bout the No. 3 seed Josh Heil of Campbell by virtue of a 4-2 decision.
Moran medically forfeit out of the final two matches of the day and finished in sixth.
This year marks the second time Moran has placed at Midlands for the Badgers. He was eighth at 141 last season.
Sebastian wrestles to his seed (and a podium spot)
Sebastian was the lone Badger to win his blood round match at the beginning of Monday’s afternoon session.
He topped Anthony Orozco (Menlo) by major decision 13-4.
Like Moran, he medically forfeit out of his remaining bouts. Sebastian ultimately settled in eighth place.
On the surface, the decision for Sebastian to bow out of his final matches is not incredibly surprising. The sixth-year senior has been on a pitch count this year, due to his injury history.
Sebastian placed seventh at Midlands in 2017 while wrestling for Northwestern.