Two decorated members of the University of Wisconsin wrestling team have made plans to transfer, capping one of the most demoralizing seasons in program history.
Andrew Howe, a 2010 NCAA champion and three-time All-American at 165 pounds, and Travis Rutt, an All-American at 184 pounds in 2011, will take their talents to Oklahoma.
“They thought there would be a better fit for them somewhere else,” UW coach Barry Davis said Thursday.
Howe and Rutt took redshirts in 2011‑12 in order to train for the U.S. Olympic Team that will compete in London. Neither wrestler qualified at the trials, which were held last month in Iowa City, Iowa.
Howe lost in the best-of-three freestyle finals by injury default to Jordan Burroughs when he suffered a knee injury that required surgery, according to his mother, Debbie.
Davis said both wrestlers contacted him last week seeking to be released from their scholarships to join the Sooners. He said permission was granted “because if they don’t want to be here, it’s best that they go where they want.”
For months, rumors have flown that Howe, from Cedar Lake, Ind., would leave UW and follow one-time Badgers assistant Donny Pritzlaff to Michigan. Pritzlaff helped train Howe, who finished in the top three in the NCAA meet all three years at UW.
“This has been brewing for a while, especially with Andrew,” Davis acknowledged.
Asked if he could have done anything different to keep Howe and/or Rutt, Davis said, “I don’t think I could have.”
Howe didn’t return a phone message left for him at his parents’ home Thursday. Rutt, from New Prague, Minn., didn’t return a message left on his cell phone.
The transfer requests cap a forgettable year that Davis called “one of the toughest” he’s dealt with since becoming UW coach in 1994. With three highly regarded veterans taking Olympic redshirts — Tyler Graff finished third at the trials at 132 pounds — the Badgers lost all eight Big Ten Conference dual meets, including two by shutout.
UW finished last in the Big Ten meet and 41st at the NCAA championships, this after placing in the top 10 at the national tournament the three previous years.
Losing two proven performers is a difficult climax, Davis said, “but you want kids that want to be here.”
In the next breath, Davis said he’s determined to view the turmoil in an upbeat way.
“There are a lot of positives going on,” he said, rattling off the return of Graff and a quality collection of recruits led by Jesse Thielke of Germantown, who won four WIAA state titles before taking off a year to make a bid for the Olympics in the Greco-Roman style at 132 pounds.
“I’m taking it all as a positive and looking ahead,” Davis said.