Nick Becker reached the pinnacle of NCAA Division II wrestling as a competitor, winning three national titles and going undefeated (89-0) at UW-Parkside. Now Becker is looking to reach the pinnacle as the head wrestling coach at his alma mater. The second-year head coach at UW-Parkside has his team positioned to make a run at a team trophy at the 2023 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 10-11. The Rangers are undefeated in dual meets and ranked No. 3 in the dual meet rankings by The Open Mat. In addition, UW-Parkside is ranked No. 6 in the tournament rankings. Eight UW-Parkside wrestlers are ranked nationally in their respective weight classes by The Open Mat.
MatBoss caught up with Becker and talked to him about some of the program's biggest wins this season, top wrestlers, expectations and much more.
You're coming off a 23-17 win yesterday over Upper Iowa in a top-10 battle. Overall, how did you feel about the way the team competed against Upper Iowa?
Becker: I knew going in that Upper Iowa would be a tough test for us and we might have to pull some upsets in order to win the dual. Really, at the end of the day, it kind of came down to Cayden Henschel's match against the guy that was ranked fourth in the country. Getting that win was huge. And then bonus points at 125. At 149, we had a big pin and then Shane Gantz beating the second-ranked guy in the country in an OT match. That's kind of the outcome of it. Bonus points and overtime victories.
You defeated St. Cloud State last month. That's program that has won five national championships since 2015. They won the National Duals this season. How big was that win for your program?
Becker: I think it might be one of the biggest wins in our program history. St. Cloud was always the program to beat. They still might be right now. I have a lot of respect for those guys. Coach Costanzo and Coach Wilson do it the right way. Their team, along with like Kearney and Central Oklahoma, have been getting the team trophies year after year. I think beating St. Cloud this year solidified a little bit for us that we can compete with the best guys in the country year in and year out. That's what we're looking forward to do.
You have proven to be a top-five dual meet team this season. You did not compete at the National Duals. What went into that? Was it a decision you made? Or were you not invited?
Becker: We weren't invited. It went off a point system from the previous year and your returning starting lineup from the super regional tournament. I think last year we had for four seniors that graduated, so we didn't get any points for them. We would have liked to have been there. We would have been there if we were just invited. But we just didn't make the cut.
The NSIC has several strong teams and individuals. What are your thoughts on the strength of the conference right now?
Becker: It's the best conference in Division II hands down. We want to wrestle in those dual meets where it's an exciting environment where it can come down to one or two tossup matches. All 10 guys have to go out there and perform in the dual meets. We wouldn't want to be in any other conference. The Northern Sun has kind of been controlled by St. Cloud for a long time. They are one of the top teams in the country. We enjoy competing in it for sure.
At 125, Shane Corrigan is having a really strong freshman season. He's ranked in the top 10. Has a 25-6 record. Did you expect him to make such an immediate impact on the national level?
Becker: To be honest with you, I did. He's the type of individual that is never satisfied. I think you have to be to be that way to be one of the greats in this sport and a great wrestler in Division II. He is always learning and keeping that beginner's mindset. He possesses an incredible work ethic. So I knew we had something special in the beginning. I think there were some flaws in his game early on that we really worked on over the summer and into this preseason. I kind of knew from the get-go that he was going to be special but he obviously had to go out there and compete and put in the work for himself. He's been a great addition to the team. He's only a true freshman but he leads by example. We're excited to see what the future holds for him.
At 133, Troy Dolphin started wrestling in dual meets less than a month ago after spending the first half competing in open tournaments. He's had some nice wins. What went into the decision to start him and not redshirt him?
Becker: He came to me and was like, 'I want to go.' It's not like we weren't getting any production at the 133-pound weight class, but I think he might have seen Corrigan going out there and competing and doing well. He's the one who came to me and was like, 'I want that starting spot. I want to start now.' Weight has been a little bit of an issue, but I definitely think he'll get his weight under control. He's a very dangerous wrestler, like Corrigan he's got an extreme work ethic. Those two duke it out in the room all the time.
Cayden Henschel at 141 was 13-12 last season. Didn't qualify for the NCAAs. This season he's 21-3 and ranked No. 4 by The Open Mat. How has he improved so much in one season?
Becker: Just work ethic. He put in a lot of time in the weight room and on the mat in the offseason, just getting better. Getting more positionally sound, staying in good position and developing some more attacks on his feet. I think he's changed his style a little bit too since last year. He's always been offensive, but he kind of tended to sit on leads. When he's firing, and when he continues to wrestle for seven minutes, he's a really dangerous guy.
Shane Gantz was a national finalist last season. He's undefeated this season but has had some overtime wins. What does he need to do to finish on top this season?
Becker: He does everything right like a lot of these other guys on our team. It's just him getting on his offense a little bit more. He possesses a really, really good gas tank. Sometimes he might have a slow start to the first period. I believe in him. I believe in his abilities. I think he's the top guy in Division II right now. I think he's the best wrestler in Division II hands down. He's doing everything he needs to do to win an individual national title this year, but he's just got to take it one match at a time and keep believing in himself, keep putting in the work. I see what he does day in and day out and there's no reason that he can't be on top of that podium.
UW-Parkside if the only UW school with a Division II wrestling program. Does that give you any sort of advantage in recruiting in the state because you can offer athletic scholarships, while the Division III schools cannot?
Becker: I think maybe a little bit. But at the end of the day we're not a fully-funded Division II program. Hopefully one day we can be. A lot of our guys are walk-on individuals. We even have quite a few guys in our lineup right now that came here as walk-ons. But I do think it's an advantage with us being the only Division II school in the state. We want to keep those Wisconsin boys home and competing for their home state. If the Wisconsin Badgers aren't the number one option for them, I definitely think we're number two … just with our location, where we're at. We're in a good community, good campus. I think it definitely helps.
Jim Koch is a legendary coach at UW-Parkside who passed away in 2017. What made Coach Koch special?
Becker: He coached my older brothers. I had a really good relationship with them. I believe the 2010-11 season was his last season as head coach, but he was still involved in the program. He lives a stone's throw away from campus. So I spent a lot of time at his house hanging out with him. He was probably the biggest mentor in my life post-high school. We had a really good relationship. He was the guy that would always give an ear to listen and always give advice. He will forever be missed within our program. We're just grateful for him and the 41 years that he was the head coach. He really laid the foundation of our program to have success now.
You spent the early part of your college career at Central Michigan. What did you learn from Tom Borrelli?
Becker: Coach Borrelli is another guy that's been very influential in my life. He gave me an opportunity to go to Central Michigan and compete there on an athletic scholarship. To be honest, I didn't fulfill my end of the deal and I struggled academically when I was at Central Michigan. That's one of the reasons I came back here. But one of my favorite quotes that he always used to tell us was, 'God gave you two ears and one mouth because you learn twice as much from listening as you do speaking.' Just the way he lived his life … He was a man of his word and was hard on you at times. But at the same time, he's a very loving guy and wanted what was best for the student-athletes.
I know you did some training at the Askren Wrestling Academy. What did you take away from your time working with Ben Askren?
Becker: Ben is one of my good friends, as is Max. They teach and coach positions. I think that's a lot what I learned from them. They're both very technical and taught me a lot about the sport of wrestling and scrambling, how to continue to wrestle through positions and turn dangerous positions for yourself into offensive positions. But Ben and Max are good friends of mine. Hopefully we will continue bringing AWA guys to Parkside wrestling.
Obviously, you have several highly ranked wrestlers and are ranked in the top 10. And what's it going to take to win a national title? Do you think about it from a points perspective? Or how many All-Americans or national finalists you will need?
Becker: Absolutely. It's individual-based and the individuals have to go out there and perform. A lot of these guys are getting ranked wins. We have six or seven guys that have beaten top-five guys in the country. We have a lot of talent in the room. We just have to put it all together. We have the toughest super regional in the country. We're looking forward to that. We want to be battling with the best and beating the best. Step one is the regional tournament and getting guys to the national tournament. That's where all the time in the room, the time watching film, the sacrifices these guys have made with their diet with their sleep with their nutrition, that's when it's going to pay off. I'm confident in this team. I believe in them. The biggest thing is them believing in themselves. We're starting to see that week in and week out and it's really exciting for us.