The Nebraska wrestling team has grown up this season. The Huskers didn’t have much of a choice.
After graduating three All-Americans and returning only two starters, Nebraska has primarily sent out a starting lineup with five freshmen and two sophomores.
“With young competitors, you’re learning on the fly,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “It’s a process to take yourself to another level, and I think a number of our guys have. Now it’s all about their belief and confidence.”
They will need plenty of that this weekend in their toughest tournament of the season, the Big Ten championships. The tournament begins Saturday, and the finals will be broadcast on Big Ten Network at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Manning likes the way his team has progressed, especially the past two months. After losing three straight duals around Christmas, the Huskers finished the dual season 10-4, winning eight of their last nine.
“I just feel good about our team unity,” Manning said.
This weekend will be a different challenge: Every weight class features at least two individuals ranked in the top eight nationally. The Big Ten has the No. 1-ranked wrestler in six of the 10 weight classes.
The Huskers “just have to stay relaxed and stay within themselves and go wrestle,” Manning said.
The tournament’s pre-seeds were announced Monday with eight Huskers seeded. NU’s highest seeds are Jason Renteria (133 pounds), CJ Red (141) and Colton McCrystal (149), who are fourth in their weights.
NU’s season leaders in wins, Isaiah White (165) and Taylor Venz (184), are in two of the most-stacked weight classes. White, who is ranked 10th nationally, is seeded eighth, while Venz, ranked eighth, is seeded sixth.
“The seeds are really a small part of it. What our team takes on the mat Saturday and Sunday is what’s important,” Manning said.
Iowa has four individuals who are pre-seeded in the top two. Michael Kemerer is the top seed at 157, while seeded second are Spencer Lee (125), Brandon Sorensen (149) and Alex Marinelli (165).
Eleven Big Ten teams are ranked in the USA Today/NWCA poll, with Penn State and Ohio State holding the top two spots. Michigan is fourth, Iowa is seventh and Nebraska is tied for 12th. Other ranked teams are Illinois (15th), Northwestern (17th), Minnesota (18th), Rutgers (19th), Purdue (21st) and Wisconsin (22nd).