The Wisconsin pipeline has brought Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith something valuable.
Smith has signed five Wisconsin natives in the past three years and, more importantly than adding to the tally of “W’s” in states represented on the team’s roster, Ben Askren, Matt Pell, Chase Wetenkampand Josh Wagner have contributed to put “W’s” in the box score.
The quartet starts for the Tigers and is a combined 95-28 this season.
Askren’s younger brother, Max Askren, signed a letter of intent on Nov. 26 to join the team next year.
“Coach calls it the Wisconsin pipeline,” said Wetenkamp, a freshman heavyweight from Manitowoc, Wisc.
The pipeline started flowing in the fall of 2001 when Askren, a sophomore from Hartland, Wisc., signed with MU.
“Ben told us about Matt Pell and we (the coaching staff) watched some film on him and ended up signing him in the spring,” Smith said.
Pell, a sophomore who wrestles in the 184-pound weight class, is ranked 10th in the class and is coming off consecutive victories against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State that improved his record to 28-5.
Smith said the signing of Askren and Pell created a buzz around the state.
“Ben came down here and loved it,” Smith said. “He’s got that fun-loving personality and gets along with everyone and so he kind of draws people to him.”
The next fall, Smith signed Wagner from Milton, Wisc., to wrestle at 141 pounds and received a commitment in the fall of 2003 from Wetenkamp to wrestle at heavyweight.
Wetenkamp said having teammates from his home state on the roster helped him make his decision to come to MU.
“Those three had a pretty big influence on me coming here,” he said. “They were my friends before I got here and Matt and I talked a lot during my recruitment.”
Wetenkamp said once he got to MU last fall, his fellow Wisconsinites helped him adapt socially.
“They made it ten times easier for me,” he said. “They introduced me to the team and it felt like a family.”
Smith said that above personal ties, the success of Pell and Askren and the improvement of the program are what he deems most responsible for bringing Wagner and Wetenkamp to the team.
“The better you are, the more attractive you are,” Smith said. “Ben and Matt have had great success and I think the other guys wanted to be a part of it.”
Smith explained how the recruiting process has changed since he signed Askren after the 2000-2001 season, in which the Tigers went 7-10.
“We were selling a vision and a dream of being part of something special then,” Smith said. “It was about being the first national champ and the first of everything. Ben bought into that. Now it’s not about that, it’s about tradition and keeping us a consistent winner. Our freshmen that are in the room now have never really known Missouri to lose. I sometimes have to remind them that it wasn’t always that way.”
Askren, who is ranked No. 2 in the 174-pound weight class and has a career record of 59-6, had wrestled with Wetenkamp and Wagner since he was in sixth grade.
He said he enjoyed watching them become better wrestlers throughout middle school and high school and continues to do so now that they are at MU.
“I’ve been friends with Josh and Chase since we were little kids,” Askren said. “It’s really fun to be with these guys and see how we’ve all progressed and grown throughout the years.”
Next season, Askren’s younger brother will be the fifth “Wisconsin Tiger” on the team.
“It just seemed natural that he would come to Missouri,” Askren said. “We’ve always been really close and it should be a lot of fun to show him around and everything.”
Smith said he is wary that the pipeline can flow the other ways.
“If I don’t need the weight, some instate kids will go elsewhere and that can open up a pipeline from Missouri.”
Top-ranked Oklahoma State is the only other school in the Big 12 Conference with Missouri residents on its roster.
All three are underclassmen, though, and none played a role in OSU’s 31-9 win against the Tigers on Feb. 4.