This time last year, Nebraska had five freshmen competing at the Big Ten wrestling championships. That’s half its lineup.
Nebraska is still young with only two seniors. But the Huskers hope their experience will pay off at this year’s event, which takes place Saturday and Sunday in Minneapolis.
“I think it’s going to be huge,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said of the experience factor not only for the conference meet but also for nationals in two weeks. “We have to take advantage of that experience, use it to heighten our performance.”
Six Huskers are making at least their second appearance at the Big Tens. All six are nationally ranked.
Leading the way is 157-pound senior Tyler Berger, making his fourth appearance at the conference meet. A two-time All-American, Berger has never reached the finals at Big Tens, but he comes into this weekend seeded second in his weight class behind defending national champion Jason Nolf of Penn State.
When the tournament pre-seeds were announced this week, three other Huskers were seeded in the top four — Taylor Venz is third at 184, Isaiah White fourth at 165 and Mikey Labriola fourth at 174.
Labriola, a redshirt freshman, heads into his first postseason. But he enjoyed a breakout first year, leading the team in dual takedowns and bonus-point wins with 11. With a 22-4 record, he also is tied for the team lead in wins.
“We’re expecting big things from Mikey,” Manning said. “He’s ready for the challenge.”
The Big Ten meet is a challenge every year. Six of the top eight teams in the coaches poll are from the Big Ten — top-ranked Penn State, No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Nebraska and No. 8 Minnesota.
The individual weight classes are loaded, too. At 141, for example, Nebraska’s CJ Red, who finished seventh at nationals last season, was pre-seeded eighth for the conference tournament.
Manning said he thinks the dual season has the Huskers ready for March as seven of their dual wins came against ranked opponents. It’s been two weeks since Nebraska has competed.
“We tapered down, gave our guys some rest,” Manning said. “We’ve had some good practices and now it’s time to let it fly.”
No Hawkeyes are pre-seeded No. 1 for the meet, but three are seeded second. They are Spencer Lee (125), Austin DeSanto (133) and Alex Marinelli (165).