Badgers Place 3rd at Illinois Matmen Open; Big Ten Season Set to Begin
Hamiti and Hillger were Champs; Gomez 2nd, Amos 3rd, Zargo 4th, Model 8th
by Kirk Nelson | January 5, 2022
Wisconsin had another strong performance at the brand-new Illinois Matmen Open which took place at the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estate, Illinois on December 29th and 30th.
Despite missing starters Eric Barnett and Andrew McNally, Wisconsin wrestled well. Single legs, double legs, body locks, trips, tilts, tough rides and pinning combinations. The Badgers vast array of techniques were on display for all to see, in person (or on Rokfin).
Pitt won the tournament with 121 points, Penn finished 2nd with 118 points, and Wisconsin was a close 3rd with 117 points. The Badgers had their chances to win the tournament; everything had to fall right without two starters. While they came up just short, it was not because of a shortage of effort.
Hamiti dominated. Hillger was awesome. Gomez barely lost in the finals in overtime despite being the aggressor. Amos had a very tough weight and fought hard for 3rd. Zargo showed even more guts and determination. Model wrestled tough and almost placed higher.
Key Stat: Wisconsin had the most bonus points with 24. No other team had 20. And the Badgers did it with a shorthanded roster. The team really went after it all tournament long, going for major decisions, technical falls and pins right up until the end of each match.
Wisconsin was scheduled to wrestle at the Midlands. When Northwestern canceled the tournament, wrestling leaders Izzy Martinez, Willie Saylor and Frank Popolizio organized the new Illinois Matmen Open in two days at the same location! They did it for the college wrestling teams scheduled at the Midlands. A truly incredible and inspiring effort!
Badger Weight by Weight Breakdown
133 Kyle Burwick finished 3-2 and made it to the Round of 12. He had 2 pins: Matthew Chi
(Parkside) in 1:31 and Nicky Cabanillas (Brown) in 2:48. Kyle lost to Carter Bailey (Lehigh) 4-3 and Joey Olivieri (Rutgers) 9-1 in the round of 12. While the pin points helped the team, the result against Olivieri could have been better. Kyle needs to get back into the groove – he can do it!
Ethan Rotondo finished 2-2 and made it to the Round of 16. Michael Colaiocco (Penn) 15-8. Ethan defeated Dustin Norris (Purdue) 15-8 and Nicholas Masters (Princeton) 10-2. A couple of nice wins.
Burwick and Rotondo renewed their varsity battle in the round of 16. Rotondo escaped in the 2nd period, Burwick escaped in the 3rd, securing a takedown and earning riding time in the decisive 3rd period. Ethan added a late escape, but Kyle held on for the 4-2 victory. Two tough competitors. While it appears Burwick now has the slight edge, the battle continues.
141 Joe Zargo finished 3-2 on his way to his 4th place finish. Zargo dominated Jacob Mann (Princeton) 18-8. He also had notable wins over 32nd ranked Carmen Ferrante (Penn) 5-2 and 14th ranked Parker Filius (Purdue) 6-4 in overtime. He dug deep to get those wins. In the semis, Joe lost 10-1 to All-American Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers). In the 3rd place match, after a scoreless 1st period, Joe chose down and was caught and pinned by Cole Mathews (Pitt). Tough loss, but Joe will learn from it. Overall, Joe’s physicality continues to impress. He had a great tournament and continues to get better each match!
149 Austin Gomez was 3-1 at the Open. He defeated Dan Mancini (Pitt) 10-4 and pinned Marshall Keller (Princeton) in 1:15 in the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds. In the semis, Austin won by major decision over 27th ranked Anthony Artalona (Penn) 17-4. What a tremendous match – he dominated on the feet! In the finals, Austin had numerous takedown attempts throughout the match against Josh Heil (Campbell) but could not convert. Austin forced a stalling point in the 1st. Heil scored an escape in the 2nd after 46 seconds. Gomez chose neutral in the 3rd. Neither scored in the 3rd and regulation ended 1-1. Overtime. Midway through the overtime period, Heil countered a Gomez shot and spun around for the score. Frustrating loss. Looked like stalling on Heil multiple times, but with a match tied, most refs are not going to call stalling to end a match unless it is blatant. The focus needs to be set up the opponent better, perhaps putting together longer flurries so the opponent cannot react. Heil is a tough opponent who tries to slow down the match. Austin will get him next time!
157 Garrett Model finished 3-3 at the tourney. Garrett defeated Austin Yant (Northern Iowa) by an 18-2 technical fall and Munktulga Zuunbayan (Northern Illinois) 6-0. He barely lost to Doug Zapf (Penn) 9-6 in the quarterfinals but bounced back to beat Tyler Badgett (Pitt) 12-3 in the round of 12. Garrett lost a close one to Jake Keating (Virginia) 12-8; Keating finished 3rd. In the 7th place match Garrett lost to Grant Zamin (LaCrosse Graduate) 4-3. (Zamin is now a Graduate Assistant at North Central; he was #1 Ranked in 2020 in D3 before the NCAAs were canceled) A couple times Garrett gave up points right at the end of periods which did not help; he needs to clean that up a bit. Overall, I liked his counters to takedowns. Had a really nice counter for a score against Doug Zapf. Needs more of those!
165 DJ Hamiti had an outstanding tournament, winning all four of his matches. DJ defeated Connor Herceg (Lehigh) by an 18-3 technical fall, controlled 21st ranked Dan Braunagel (Illinois) in a 10-0 major decision in the quarters, and pinned 15th ranked Zach Hartman (Bucknell) in the semis. In the finals, DJ dominated Phil Conigliaro (Harvard) by a 21-6 technical fall. Conigliaro defeated NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel in the semifinals so going into the finals it looked like it would be close. Conigliaro was in on a single on the feet for about the 1st minute of the match but could not convert. After that it was all Hamiti. Sweep singles, doubles, spin arounds, well timed hip maneuvers, and near falls in a flurry of moves which overwhelmed Conigliaro the rest of the match. DJ’s combination of strength, leverage, quickness and technique is incredible. The sky is the limit for DJ Hamiti!
174 Graham Calhoun finished 1-2. He defeated Noah Fox (Franklin & Marshall) 8-0, lost to 30th ranked Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois) 7-4, and lost to Connor O’Neill (Rutgers) 4-2. Graham is a very tough rider; he rode out O’Neill in the 3rd period. If Graham adds some simple turns/tilts to his arsenal the close losses will turn into wins.
184 Chris Weiler went 1-2. Chris lost to Neil Antrassian (Penn) 8-6 in the preliminaries. In the consolations, he pinned Kendall Elfstrum (Princeton) in :52 seconds before losing to 16th ranked Trey Munoz (Oregon State) 6-2 in the round of 12. Chris seemed to not convert in some positions he normally has in the past. Not sure if weight issues are a concern or something else. His weight class was probably the strongest at the Open. Coming up, many tough opponents await. Chris needs to be ready and find his inner strength. I am glad he took the leap of faith and transferred to Wisconsin last year. Now it’s time to finish strong!
197 Braxton Amos defeated Mason McCready (Bucknell) 11-3 and Chris Kober (Campbell) 7-1 in the early rounds. In the semis, Braxton faced 6th year senior Greg Bulsak (Rutgers) in the semis. After no scoring in the 1st, Amos chose down, Bulsak effectively used leg riding and ultimately turned Braxton for 4 on a power half. Amos intentionally gave Bulsak an escape to start the 3rd period, and added a takedown late, but lost 6-2. Bulsak transferred to Rutgers for his final season and is big, mean and tough. Braxton will need to match Bulsak’s strength and make some adjustments next time. After dominating Cole Urbas (Penn) 18-3 in the consolation semis. Braxton faced D3 standout Cody Baldridge (North Central) 3-1 for 3rd place. It was quite the action-packed match despite the low score. A battle of willpower. Both Amos and Baldridge were deep on shots multiple times but both countered effectively. At one point, Baldridge countered an Amos shot from the middle of the mat all the way to the out of bounds line and amazingly kept his balance; Baldridge was in deep on low singles and tried to get his arm across; Amos would not let him. Midway through the overtime, Amos finally secured the takedown in this grueling battle of titans! Nice win by Braxton. He is learning match by match what it takes to secure these victories.
285 Trent Hillger won 4 matches. First, he defeated Terrese Aaron of Northern Illinois 11-3. Aaron was an opponent Trent met at the Cougar Clash; Hillger defeated him more convincingly this time. Next, in the quarters, he defeated Michael Woulfe (Purdue) by the same 11-3 score. In the semis, he defeated Jake Slinger (Pitt) 10-2. 3 majors in a row! In the finals, Trent faced Ethan Laird (Rider). No score in the 1st. Hillger rode out Laird in the 2nd. Trent quickly escaped in the 3rd. Hillger used quickness and good body position to stay on the attack throughout the match. While he did not score a takedown, he controlled the action. Laird kept good position himself, but was mostly on the defense. A 2-0 championship victory was the result!
Pete Christensen went 2-2. Pete lost his opening match to 2nd place finisher Ethan Laird (Rider) 14-4. He defeated Tristan Ruhlman (Purdue) 4-2 in his 2nd match. After a forfeit win over Christian Carroll, Pete faced Ben Goldin (Penn) in the Round of 12. Pete scored the 1st takedown, but Goldin took over the match and ended up winning 12-3. Pete has filled the heavyweight class in the last two seasons. Now he needs to start hammering his opponents.
The Matmen Open had very talented teams and wrestlers. Many formidable and highly ranked opponents. Stronger riders and pinners than the early season. It was a tough test.
Overall, Wisconsin met the challenge head on and did well. The Badgers takedowns and turns were effective. They need to improve on the bottom position though. More efficient escapes are needed to beat the best. There’s more work to do!
Two Big Ten Home Meets Coming Up: Northwestern and Rutgers
The Badgers open the Big Ten season at home this weekend in the Field House.
Wisconsin faces Northwestern on Friday, January 7th at 7:00PM. On Sunday, January 9th, Wisconsin faces Rutgers at noon.
Should be two great duals. Northwestern, Rutgers and Wisconsin all have many ranked wrestlers. Badger fans need to make some noise this weekend and support the team.
Support really makes a difference. Family, friends, high school classmates, past coaches, teachers, administrators and everyone else who cares about this team and these wrestlers adds fuel to the fire. Every little piece of encouragement matters. A strong enduring network cannot be underestimated. Make a difference by voicing your support for Wisconsin Badger Wrestling!
Positive energy surrounds the team, led by the Coaches Chris Bono, Jon Reader and Seth Gross, and the wrestlers themselves. The Badgers are fighting and scrapping and representing all of us.
Let’s take it to Northwestern and Rutgers this weekend!!
Photos: Stacy Schiesl