This is it.
March is officially here and postseason wrestling is upon us.
This weekend’s Big Ten Championships in Iowa City mark the final step on the road to the 2016 NCAA Championships.
All season long, coaches and wrestlers alike have made decisions with this weekend in mind.
Time is up and, soon, the results will speak for themselves.
Wisconsin head coach Barry Davis believes his team is ready to answer the bell.
“It’s the time of year that you’ve got to be wrestling your best right now, and I think right now our team is moving in that direction,” Davis said during a press conference on Monday. “So the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Championships, so it’s that time of year where, again, we’ve got to be at our best.”
Injuries forced starters Isaac Jordan (165 pounds), Andrew Crone (149) and Ryan Taylor (133) to miss most of the first half of the year. But the Badgers will come into Day 1 of the Big Tens on Saturday with the lineup they wanted to have in place the entire season.
“Right now our lineup the last month has been healthy, guys back 100 percent now, we’ve been able to train right now and right at our best,” Davis said. “It’s a good time to be at our best, but it’s nice to be healthy, too.”
Jordan, who received the top pre-seed in his weight class, is the lone returning conference champion among Wisconsin’s ten starters. The 2015 Big Ten champ at 165 pounds enters this weekend’s event with a spotless 21-0 record, including a host of wins over ranked opponents.
“I think that match at Ohio State, when he wrestled his cousin Bo (Jordan) there, the No. 2 ranked guy at the time, and taking him down three times to none, that’s a big factor for him,” Davis said. “So I think he’s beaten — in the rankings he’s beaten the number two, three, four, five and ninth-ranked guys so far, so beating tough guys like that, obviously gives him a lot of confidence.”
Being a returning champion and one of the few undefeated wrestlers in the field puts quite the target on the redshirt junior’s back. But Davis believes that Jordan can handle it.
“Yeah, I think he grew up with that, his dad being very successful here. He’s been around successful people, and he’s seen that,” Davis said. “So I think he takes it one match at a time. He’s very smart, understands his sport very well, condition he has to be in in order to be successful.”
UW has five other seeded wrestlers in the tournament.
Jimenez and Taylor (133) are each pre-seeded sixth at their respective weights, while Crone received a No.7 seed. Ricky Roberston (174) and Ryan Christensen (184) are each seeded eighth.
The Big Ten was allocated an NCAA-best 71 automatic bids to the national tournament. At some weights, such as 133 and 174, as many as nine qualifying spots are up for grabs.
If everyone wrestles to their pre-seed, the Badgers will push four athletes through to the NCAAs.
Davis believes his squad is capable of stealing more than a few extra bids.
“I think so, but we’re at the point where we have to make our own breaks, though. We had a good first half, we got some guys banged up, took some chances and didn’t get the wins, but right now we have to wrestle our style, be in our positions.” Davis said. “I think the way we’ve been training, it’s been going well, and we’ve got to go in now and perform.”