It is never too early in the week to start planning for your weekend; planning your Friday night through Sunday ahead of time can be the difference between a great time and attending your third cousin’s piano recital. The University of Wisconsin Badgers have had this weekend planned out for some time. They will be taking to the road once again (or the sky, nowadays Badgers are aerial animals) to do battle away from home. For fans of the University of Wisconsin, this has been a trend this season as it seems like they have been on the road for the last three months.
This coming weekend will be a real test for the Badgers. Wisconsin wrestlers are facing 14 ranked opponents, with six Badgers having two ranked matches looming. 15th ranked Johnny Jimenez (125) will have the chance to upset two top ten wrestlers as will #13 Ricky Robertson. Second-ranked Connon Medbery (285) will look to continue his dominance as he takes on two wrestlers ranked in the top 12. Eli Stickley (133), Cole Martin (141), and TJ Ruschell (157) will all have two ranked opponents waiting for them on this road trip as well. A win or two could vault them into next week’s top twenty.
On Friday night, the Badgers will be in Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the Huskers. That 480-mile journey will bring together sixth-ranked Nebraska and 12th ranked Wisconsin. Neither team ended last weekend like they would have wanted and will be looking to bounce back. Penn State dominated Nebraska in Lincoln, winning 27-14. The Badgers were handed a home loss at the hands of Ohio State, 23-15, their first defeat this season. Wisconsin will need to win swing matches, pick up an upset, and earn bonus points to prevent back to back Big Ten losses.
Win or lose Friday night, the Badgers are back on the road. The drive from Lincoln to Minneapolis will take Wisconsin 430 miles northeast to the campus of Minnesota. The ninth-ranked Gophers will be waiting and should be well rested. They were bested by Penn State last Friday but will have had ample time to heal up from the brutal 72-hour stretch that included the end of the Southern Scuffle and the dual against the Nittany Lions.
The University of Wisconsin has had quite the season so far, traveling to the East Coast twice and all the way to Las Vegas. A seventh place team finish at the Midlands tournament is misleading as second-ranked Connor Medbery medically defaulted after making the semifinals and third-ranked Isaac Jordan did not participate. At the Cliff Keen tournament in Las Vegas, the Badgers finished in third place, but at that time Johnny Jimenez, who is now ranked 15th in the country, was still a redshirt. This is a Badger lineup that features two very probable All-Americans with both of them possible finalists. Four other Badgers are ranked in the top twenty, though, and in March anything can happen. If one or more of them can improve upon their ranking and finish as an All-American, Wisconsin can blow away their 23rd place team finish from a disappointing 2015-16 season.
Johnny Jimenez has entered the starting lineup with a bang. Fresh off a seventh place finish at Midlands the national qualifier just upset the formerly tenth ranked Jose Rodriguez (Ohio State). He faces quite the task this weekend though as he will meet two other highly ranked opponents. Tim Lambert (Nebraska) is currently ranked fifth and these two have a history. Lambert is 3-0 against the Badger with a fall and two shutouts. If Jimenez can follow up last week’s upset with another one, it would shake up the rankings. It is hard to believe that Jimenez and Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) have yet to battle in college, but Sunday will be their first meeting. Lizak has been on a tear and it will be a tall order for Jimenez to get the win, but he is more than capable. This weekend will go a long way in establishing the three through five seeds at the Big Ten tournament.
Eli Stickley was not in the lineup against Ohio State last weekend, but he will be making the trip to Lincoln and Minneapolis. The 133 pounder faces his own challenge in two ranked wrestlers. Eric Montoya (Nebraska) is currently ranked third, while Mitch McKee (Minnesota) comes into the weekend ranked 13th. The match on Sunday between McKee and Stickley could be a very good battle and might come down to who can escape from the bottom. Let’s face it, the Big Ten is loaded at this weight and any win earned before the conference tournament will pay huge dividends in the seeding meeting.
Ricky Robertson has not been the most consistent wrestler over his career, but this weekend gives him an opportunity to knock off two wrestlers in the top ten at 197 pounds. It has been more than two years since seventh-ranked Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska) and Robertson have wrestled. The seventh-ranked Studebaker is coming off a big win and this might be a chance to catch him basking in the afterglow. Robertson has the ability to wrestle with anyone and despite the run that Studebaker is on, I expect this match to be close. That is not even the toughest match that Robertson has on the trip. Looming on Sunday afternoon is second ranked Brett Pfarr (Minnesota). Despite having 28 matches with common opponents, these two have never met. This first meeting will be important for Robertson as he will want to finish this road trip on a strong note.
Neither Connor Medbery nor Isaac Jordan should find themselves tested this weekend. Isaac Jordan, currently ranked third at 165, will only face one ranked wrestler. Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) is currently ranked 14th and will need to stay out from under Jordan to pull the upset. Jordan was back in action last weekend after missing the Midlands and he looks to be in a battle for the second seed at the conference tournament. I have said it before and I will continue to say it, Connor Medbery is the best heavyweight not named Kyle Snyder in the country. I am still not certain why he did not finish out the Midlands tournament, but it does not seem to have slowed him down. Medbery rolled through Josh Fox (Ohio State), 16-0, last Friday and looks to be ready for a battle against returning national champion Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) in less than two months. This weekend he will face 12th ranked Collin Jensen (Nebraska) and eighth-ranked Michael Kroells (Minnesota). Medbery is 3-0 against Jensen, but the two have not met since 2014. If anything, Medbery has improved dramatically since then and will almost assuredly be after big bonus points. The matchup Sunday with Kroells is more intriguing. This will be their third match this season, and it will show if the gap is widening between the two or not. Kroells was able to cut the margin to just two points in their second meeting after earlier giving up a major to Medbery. I still think that Medbery cruises in that match and wins comfortably regardless of the final score.
It is rare that a road trip holds as much importance for the traveling team as it does for each of the campuses they will be visiting, but all of these teams are looking to bounce back from a tough weekend. It is not unbelievable that the Badgers could win one or even both of these duals. A win against either can do nothing but help Wisconsin move up the dual team ranks and boost confidence for their squad. Two more difficult duals are on the horizon in a visit from Penn State and a road trip to Iowa City. Now is the time to be building confidence in Madison that can propel the team into the postseason. I feel as if Wisconsin is still trying to build their identity for the season. With the addition of Jimenez to the lineup and the return of Stickley this might be the Badger team we will see the rest of the way. If that is the case I think we will really start seeing what they are capable of and a top ten finish at the national tournament is not out of the question. Be sure to follow the Badgers Twitter feed (@BadgerWrestling) to follow all the action or log on to BTN2Go or BTN Plus.