The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers picked up their first conference win Friday against the No. 24 Purdue Boilermakers before falling just short of an upset on Sunday against the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes in a weekend pair of home dual meets.
Wisconsin’s narrow 19-18 loss against the Hawkeyes came down to criteria, with Iowa winning what was originally an 18-18 tie because they scored more overall points through all 10 matches.
Hawkeye wrestlers dominated early matches after a strong start at 125 pounds, where Iowa’s top-ranked Spencer Lee pinned Wisconsin’s Eric Barnett late in the second period. Iowa won three of the next five matches to take a 15-3 lead.
However, Wisconsin quietly chipped away at the deficit with a pair of close wins from Dean Hamiti at 165 pounds and Josh Otto at 174 pounds before roaring to life with Tyler Dow’s stunning upset over No. 8 Abe Assad at 185 pounds. Dow hit double over hooks to pin Assad midway through the first period, sending Badger fans into a frenzy.
While Iowa ultimately prevented an upset, the Badgers’ performance Sunday exceeded expectations. The undefeated Hawkeyes entered the Wisconsin Field House as one of the nation’s top teams and had more ranked wrestlers than the Badgers, according to Intermat.
Wisconsin head coach Chris Bono cited the electric atmosphere at Sunday’s dual as a contributing factor to the Badgers’ surprising success. A total of 5,256 Badger wrestling fans packed the Field House to shatter the program's previous attendance record of 4,168 set during the 2018-19 season, according to UW Athletics.
“This is what I envisioned when I came here,” Bono told reporters Sunday afternoon. “It’s such a home-field advantage for us.”
Sunday’s loss was the second meet in a three-day stretch for the Badgers, who secured their first conference victory Friday evening with a 28-9 home win over the No. 24 Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue jumped out to an early 6-0 lead in hard-fought lightweight bouts, but Badger wrestlers outshot the Boilermakers to clean up seven out of eight remaining matches.
Wisconsin’s highlight win came midway through the evening at 157 pounds, where Garrett Model upset Purdue’s No. 3 Kendall Coleman. Though Coleman led most of the match, Model hit a last-second takedown and rode out Coleman for a 4-3 decision that electrified the Badger crowd.
“Not giving up eight, 10 points in the first period, my track record says, helps me go get that takedown at the end [and] secure the match,” Model said after the dual.
Wisconsin’s win over Purdue on Friday was their first taste of victory in a Big Ten conference that has five of the top ten NCAA Division I wrestling teams in the nation, according to Intermat Wrestling’s latest rankings from Jan. 17.
With Sunday’s loss against Iowa and three other conference losses this month to Illinois, Michigan and top-ranked Penn State, Badger wrestlers currently sit near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Still, Bono said the weekend matchups marked a “really big improvement” in energy level among Badger wrestlers and remained optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I’m super proud of the environment that has been created by this team, our administration [and] our university,” Bono told reporters Sunday evening. “We’re on an upward trajectory.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the State News Editor at The Daily Cardinal. He has covered numerous protests and written state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.