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  • Photo: Tom Lynn/Wisconsin athletics

    Photo: Tom Lynn/Wisconsin athletics

    Will Wisconsin's Star Freshmen Get Tested at the Garden State Grapple?

    Dean Hamiti's collegiate debut against Buffalo (Photo courtesy of Tom Lynn; Wisconsin Athletics)

    One of the more intriguing teams in the Big Ten this year is the Wisconsin Badgers. While many teams like Iowa and Michigan are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility, the Badgers have some young faces that could help boost the team into contention.

    Chris Bono's team returns four wrestlers from the 2021 NCAA Championships, including two All-Americans (Eric Barnett - 125 and Trent Hillger - 285). In addition, the Badgers were active in the transfer portal picking up transfers Austin Gomez (149) and Andrew McNally (174). Both Gomez and McNally have finished a match away from All-American status at one point in their career. Just a nucleus like this with established, credentialed veterans, should do well even in the Big Ten.

    Two true freshmen possess the ability to propel the Badgers above many of their counterparts in 165 lber Dean Hamiti and 197 lber Braxton Amos. While true freshmen can typically take their lumps in the league like the Big Ten, these two are your typical freshmen. Hamiti was ranked #6 overall in the Class of 2020 by MatScouts and Amos was #3 in the Class of 2020. Amos did not enroll during the 2020-21 school year, so he is still considered a true freshman.

    Both of these young men came into Madison with a boatload of accolades. The only reason why Hamiti wasn't a four-time Illinois state champion was because Covid canceled his state tournament in 2021. He was a winner at the Super 32 and in Fargo's Junior National freestyle tournament in 2019. Amos was also a three-time state champion, who likely didn't win a fourth only because he was injured as a freshman. Over the summer, Amos pulled the rare feat of winning a Junior World title in freestyle, then came back to capture bronze in Greco-Roman. Other rare exploits at the high school level include three Super 32 belts and five titles in Fargo.

    Hamiti and Amos were unleashed during the Badgers season-opening dual with Buffalo and have seen action in two dual meets this year. In his debut, Hamiti majored the Bulls Jay Nivison 18-5 and showed a vast array of takedowns in the process. Amos cobbled together a solid 8-2 win over veteran Sam Mitchell. He was able to exert himself physically upon an older opponent, which is a positive sign at a larger weight class like 197.

    In their second outing, Hamiti was able to gut out a win over Little Rock's Tyler Brennan, 4-3. For prospects like Hamiti and Amos, they were rarely pushed in high school, so it's good to see Hamiti pull out a close win on riding time so early in his collegiate career. Amos had less trouble as he crushed Brooks Sacharczyk 18-2.

    Now at the Garden State Grapple. Wisconsin will take on Hofstra and North Carolina in dual competition. Both potential opponents for Hamiti and Amos represent another step and another challenge as they progress in their freshman season. As of now, Hamiti and Amos, are ranked #26 and #16 at their respective weights. Those rankings are not indicative of their abilities and where we think they will finish at the end of the year. It is merely a result of their collegiate results in comparison to others. Once Saturday night rolls around, we should have a better idea of where each stands.

    Hamiti: The young 165 lber will start the evening with a challenge from unranked freshman Sonny Santiago of North Carolina. A former California state champion, Santiago has faced a solid schedule thus far and amassed a 5-3 record. He battled Nebraska's Bubba Wilson in a hard-fought one-point loss last week and has shown promise.

    In the nightcap, Hamiti will take on returning NCAA qualifier for Hofstra in Ricky Stamm. Though he's started slowly in 2021-22, Stamm is a quality measuring stick for a freshman. He was fifth at the 2021 EIWA Championships and picked up a win at his first NCAA Tournament. This year, Stamm is 3-2, with his best win coming over Lehigh's Connor Herceg, by fall.

    Amos: The first of two returning national qualifiers expected to toe the line opposite Amos is 2021 ACC third-place finisher #26 Max Shaw. Shaw is only 1-1 in limited action this year. He started the year losing via fall to NAIA opponent Zane Lanham (Life) and missed a few duals. Shaw returned last Sunday with a solid 3-2 win over Campbell's promising freshman Levi Hopkins.

    Second on the list for Amos is #29 Trey Rogers. The Minnesota-native, Rogers, was fifth in the EIWA last year and grabbed a win over Chattanooga's Logan Andrew at the NCAA Championships. The only action Rogers has seen thus far in 2021-22 came at the Clarion Open, where he went 4-1.

    While neither Amos nor Hamiti should be considered an underdog in any of their bouts Saturday night, it will provide a solid litmus test as to just how good these young stars are against proven competition.

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