At the beginning of the season, redshirt freshman Evan Wick was given the tall task of replacing one of the most successful wrestlers in University of Wisconsin history.
His predecessor at 165 pounds, Isaac Jordan, was a four-time All-American, two-time Big Ten champion and a former NCAA finalist. Those are certainly big shoes to fill.
But Wick has quickly made his own name. In his first year in the lineup, he is 15-2 and boasts the highest winning percentage of any starter. He won an individual championship at the CSU-Bakersfield Roadrunner Open and placed second at the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
“Evan has provided a great spark. Him and [his twin brother] Zander both are great leaders with a great work ethic,” UW head coach Barry Davis said. “They understand the sport at a high level. We’re real pleased with those guys and the way they are progressing.”
Wick’s redshirt season provided the framework for his current success. Last year, he posted a 15-3 record and had more takedowns (60) and nearfall points (18) than any other unattached wrestler at UW. He also upended two nationally-ranked opponents en route to a fourth-place finish at the Midlands Championships.
“The experience and the preparation was good, using that redshirt year. It’s really hard to come in your first year in college wrestling. The par terre, top and bottom, it’s just so much different,” Wick said. “I think hand-fighting was probably a big key, just being able to move through different ties in a neutral position, really setting up my shots well and just determining what moves I really want to work on.”
These days, Wick is up to No. 6 in the InterMat national rankings at 165 pounds, the highest ranking of any Wisconsin wrestler.
There is a significant difference between being an unattached true freshman with potential and a solidified starter in the Big Ten Conference. But Wick gracefully embraces his new role.
“I think there is a little bit more pressure, but I think it’s a good pressure,” Wick said. “There is a little bit more intensity and excitement. We have a really close team here and everything is starting to pan out well for us. We have a lot of good things going on. Being part of the team, you are part of that momentum.”
Coming of age in the college wrestling world generally means developing rivalries. So far, Wick’s high-profile nemesis has been Michigan’s Logan Massa, a redshirt sophomore who placed third at the NCAA tournament last year, topping Isaac Jordan in the third-place bout.
Round 1 came at the Michigan State Open where Massa, then ranked third in the nation, picked up an 11-3 victory by major decision.
“I wasn’t really aware of what he was going to do. I think I wrestled him a little bit conservatively in that match,” Wick said. “I took him down right away and then I kind of backed off because I kind of expected more out of such a good wrestler.”
Earlier this month Wick turned the tables on Massa, earning an 8-4 decision over the Michigan standout in the quarterfinals of the Cliff Keen Invite. After reflecting on his first encounter with Massa, Wick noted the need to use his 6-2 frame to his advantage.
“I think what was key in that match was keeping my distance from him, picking when I wanted to get close to him,” said Wick. “I think the first time, I wanted to get in close. But he is a really good hand-fighter. He kept me close. He was heavy on my head and he tired me out. I knew that I am definitely a lot longer than him. I can keep him at bay then, if I want to, I can come in close.”
Following the win over Massa, Wick topped No. 9 Nick Wanzek of Minnesota in the CKLV semifinals 10-4. His run ended when he was pinned by No. 5 David McFadden (Virginia Tech) in the championship match.
Over 35 percent of his matches this season have been against ranked foes. Yet Wick is chomping at the bit for more high-level competition.
“I want to get my hands on a lot of those good guys,” Wick said. “I think that’s what has been good about the beginning of this season. I’m going to wrestle Isaiah Martinez who is a two-time returning national champion – Vincenzo Joseph who is a returning national champion. I’m going to wrestle Massa countless more times. I think getting my hands on those guys is going to be really good.”
Wick/Massa III could happen as early as Jan. 19 when the Badgers take on the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
“I know what he’s going to expect,” Wick said. “I’m a pretty versatile wrestler, so I think I’m just going to hit him with some different things.”