At 6-foot-5, Dallas Herbst has a tendency to stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Wisconsin wrestling team.”Everybody thinks I play basketball,” Herbst said with a grin. “But I stopped doing that a long time ago.”Instead, Herbst and his rare height are fitting in quite nicely for the No. 8 Badgers. After redshirting last year, the Winneconne native is doing his best to replace 2005 All-American Ryan Flaherty — whose season is finished due to an unspecified injury — in the team’s lineup at the 197-pound weight class.”I think Dallas has done a great job as far as stepping up and filling those shoes,” UW head coach Barry Davis said. “And I think he wants to fill those shoes and he wants to be on that victory stand.”Herbst has done just that, compiling an 8-3 (including four pins) mark thus far. And he’s not letting the pressure of replacing the man who led Wisconsin in wins a season ago get to him.”Having him having an injury this year, and people are saying, ‘Oh, well, this is his replacement.’ Yeah, it’s kind of a little bit of pressure, but I think I can live up to it,” Herbst said.Success has always come quickly for Herbst on the mat. Just ask Winneconne High head coach Don Hale, who got to watch his pupil’s development first-hand.”His freshman year he started at 152, and we didn’t know exactly how good he was going to be,” Hale said. “And then the next thing we know, he’s qualifying for the state tournament.”But that freshman year was simply the opening chapter of one of the most decorated prep careers in Wisconsin high school history. After falling in the opening round of the state tournament as a freshman, Herbst moved up to 160 pounds and wrestled his way deep into the tournament, meeting up with a now familiar face to Wisconsin fans– Zach Hampton of the Badger football team, who was then a senior at Lancaster High School.”It was the semifinals, and he ended up beating me 14-0,” said Herbst, whose sophomore season ended with a record of 39-2. “It was probably the worst beating I’ve ever gotten in high school. He basically did everything I did to kids my junior and senior year to me.”Those junior and senior years included a combined perfect 85-0 record and a pair of Division II state titles at 189 pounds. That string of dominance also landed him firmly on the recruiting radar of Davis and the Wisconsin coaching staff.”He was on there real early,” Davis said. “We actually signed him in November [of 2003], so we signed him earlier than everybody else. We knew about him his junior year and going into his senior year, we knew that he was going to be a recruit for us, and we got on him early and signed him early in November.”Self-made successHerbst says wrestling at the Division I college level has been his dream since middle school and his strong work ethic allowed him to achieve that dream.”He’s one of these kids that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with, because he had those goals set and he was going to work for those goals,” Hale said.That self-motivational quality has carried over to the college scene, where Davis says he has already established himself as a leader in just his second year on campus.”He’s the type of guy who you say things to, you say a few things to, he makes the adjustment,” Davis said. “I think that’s going to help him in his wrestling too come second half of the season and in his career, because he wants to learn, he’s willing to learn new things and willing to do what it takes to win. And I think to really be successful at the college level, if you’re self-motivated, it makes it easier to reach your accomplishments.”Taking a redshirt last season allowed Herbst to work on some of those adjustments — namely on his feet, something both he and Davis say is an ongoing process. However, wrestling unattached to a 19-2 record gave him a major boost of confidence “Coming into it, I was thinking, ‘OK, I don’t know.’ Kind of like when you’re a freshman in high school, you don’t know how you’re going to do in the new levels,” Herbst said. “Coming out of the year at 19-2 made me realize I could do it.”Brotherly loveOne constant source of inspiration for Herbst has been his older brother, Beau — an accomplished high school wrestler in his own right. In his time at Winneconne, the elder Herbst twice qualified for the state tournament, and was ranked No. 1 in his weight class during his senior year.”At that time he was probably the best wrestler in my school, in the history of our school,” the younger Herbst said. “So it made me just want to be good. I didn’t want to let my family name down I guess because he was doing so well — I didn’t want to be that guy. So I worked harder just to try to be as good as him, and I guess it’s helped, worked out.”Beau was also the reason Dallas got his start in wrestling — but it wasn’t to follow in his big brother’s footsteps oddly enough.”My brother was actually going into some meeting about wrestling and he ended up wanting to go to Boy Scouts instead, but I told my dad I wanted to wrestle, so that’s kind of how it started,” Herbst said.”A bright future”For now, Herbst is focused on one thing and one thing only — working with Davis to improve each and every day. The focal point of those efforts is improving his skill set and becoming more aggressive off the mat.”On my feet, I didn’t take many shots in high school, so I had to learn how to do that,” Herbst said. “I still need to get better on the bottom, which I need to work on.”Still, that willingness to learn and work has Davis hopeful that his young grappler will make the necessary adjustments.”I think he has a bright future, if he continues to learn and make adjustments in his wrestling style — because I know he’s self-motivated, it’s not a problem,” Davis said. “But at this level, to be successful, you have to make adjustments and learn new things year in and year out and put those adjustments to use, not just know that, but make them work and put them into your style. I think he’s willing to do that.”And, of course, Herbst’s rare size should continue to make him stand out over the next four years.”It’s definitely an advantage,” Herbst said. “There are some guys that are strong and some guys who are fast. But I’ve just got that length that just helps me out a little bit.”
In a season that the Wisconsin men’s hockey team has taken a step backwards with just a 2-15-3 overall record and a 0-5-1 record in Big Ten play, sophomore forward Grant Besse has taken a big step forward on his way to quietly having a breakout season.Besse began his career as a Badger last year with a promising freshman season, compiling eight goals and six assists, playing in 36 of the team’s 37 games. A year later, with Wisconsin’s top five goal scorers from last season no longer on the team, Besse has elevated his game to a much higher level and stepped into a leadership role for this year’s young Wisconsin team.Not being a top-line guy last season took some getting used to for Besse since he had never played a role like that before in his hockey career. Coming out of Plymouth, Minnesota, Besse was named 2013 Mr. Hockey in Minnesota, thus when he came to Madison he was unaccustomed to a reserve role. However, it ended up being a beneficial learning experience for Besse that allowed him to learn from the veteran Badgers on last year’s team.“It was a bit frustrating at first obviously coming from high school where you’re the go-to guy,” Besse said. “But I’m glad it was like that. I learned from those older guys.”Just 20 games into this season, Besse is leading Wisconsin in goals (seven) and his six assists are tied for second most on the team, making him only one goal away from matching his goal and assist total from all of last season.Besse believes that increased playing time and having more chances to make plays has been a major factor in his emergence as a go-to guy for the Badgers.“I’m getting a lot more opportunities,” Besse said. “Being on the top line and on the power play, you just have more opportunities and more ways to show what I can do.”Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves credited much of Besse’s improvement to gaining strength and using it to keep defenders from taking the puck from him.“Having a year under his belt, he’s bigger, stronger and knows what to expect,” Eaves said. “He’s stronger over the puck, so he has it a lot more.”Eaves also praised Besse for his impressive shooting ability that even caught their attention back when they recruited him out of high school. Eaves called Besse a “sniper” in reference to his gifted ability to shoot with pinpoint accuracy and overall knack for finding the back of the net.“He’s got a great gift to shoot the puck, something that’s not taught,” Eaves said. “When you shoot like that, you want him to shoot the puck as much as possible because not everybody can shoot like that.”Much like Eaves, Wisconsin senior goaltender Joel Rumpel has seen the improved play in Besse. Anytime Besse gets the puck is a reason to get excited due to his wide-ranging skillset that can threaten defenses in different ways.“Grant’s one of those special players that, when he gets the puck, you’re excited because he can make things happen,” Rumpel said. “He can turn a nothing play into something, whether it’s using his quick hands to get through guys or his deceiving shot to beat a goalie from a bad angle. He just brings that energy and that offensive dynamic that we need this year.”With so many leaders from last year’s team gone this season, Besse has not only taken a bigger role on the ice but has welcomed a bigger role off the ice as a leader of the team. Despite being new to the leadership role for this team, and just a sophomore, it hasn’t been an issue for him.Rumpel sees Besse’s maturity level as the main reason why he has been able to handle being a leader on a team with 11 true freshmen.“When you’re a young team, we’ve got to have guys like Grant, who’s mature beyond his age, and guys can look to him in the dressing room, whether it’s modeling our play after him or the things he does off the ice,” Rumpel said.But despite Besse’s strong play this season, the Badgers have been unable to have the same success as a team on the ice, as they’re still looking for their first Big Ten win of the season.The team will be looking for the sophomore forward to step up his game even more to get that first win. Besse said he feels he can do that by becoming a player who always delivers night in and night out.“I’d say consistency is probably the biggest thing I’ve been working on,” Besse said of where he could improve. “Coming game in and game out and being able to produce and not get beat defensively.”Only a sophomore, Besse has plenty of time to continue writing his story as a Badger. Regardless of where that story goes, it will undoubtedly serve as a bright spot amid a season of considerable darkness.