Photo by Aaron Babcock

Young Huskers' Strong Finish Impresses Coach Mark Manning

March 21, 2018
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The Nebraska wrestling squad wrapped up its 2017-18 season with a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, this past weekend.

The result was the teams’ fourth top-10 finish at the national championships in as many years. Three of the Huskers’ six competitors earned individual All-America honors, bringing the program’s all-time total to 108.

Junior Tyler Berger (157) finished third, while redshirt freshman Taylor Venz (184) and Chad Red Jr. (141) finished fourth and seventh respectively.

Nebraska will return all but two of its regular starters next season, leaving plenty of optimism for the near future of the program under Coach Mark Manning.

Q: What are you thoughts on the final outcome the team had in the standings? That’s something you have to be pretty happy with considering you guys were in 20th place after Thursday.

A: I didn’t even realize we were. I didn’t really pay attention to that. We didn’t put up many bonus points that first day. But really, Friday night was a really good round; obviously it could have been a lot better.

Isaiah White I really feel for because I could really see him being in the NCAA finals. He lost in overtime to the Penn State guy (Vincenzo Joseph). Friday night could have been special going four-for-four. We had a lot of tough matchups. C.J. (Chad Red Jr.) had a two-time national champion, Taylor Venz had a couple-time All-American from NC State—fifth year senior. Tyler Berger had to beat an All-American from Stanford.

There was a lot of pressure on those guys and I think those guys really shined, not only Friday night, but Saturday was about as good a round as we’ve ever had. We would have been undefeated had (Venz) not hurt his ankle. That was pretty special.

Q: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament was the performance of CJ. What do you have to say about how he capped off a season that maybe wasn’t always going the way you, or he, may have wanted it to?

A: The good guys really figure it out, and they figure out what they have to do. Whether it’s their mental approach, their diet; sometimes guys need a little kick in the pants, they need to work a little harder, score their points. It’s just figuring that out.

The last six weeks I really saw a different C.J. Red than maybe the first couple months of the season. He was inconsistent. Quite a bit of it had to do with how he managed his weight. He just put it together. That’s why we recruited him. It wouldn’t have been surprising to me if he was in the finals. He’s really good. He’s going to get a lot better. He can grow and develop in so many more areas in his wrestling. He really came along and he wrestled with a lot of confidence.

Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports
Chad Red Jr. celebrates following his win over Dean Heil of Oklahoma State.

Q: Did it surprise you that Red beat Dean Heil of Oklahoma State to be an All-American?

A: No, not at all. Even during the season he was talking about ‘"man I wish we’d wrestle Oklahoma State. I really want a shot at Dean Heil." Then you have a shot at him and it’s in the Blood Round. I think he performed really well.

Q: One of the most consistent wrestlers for you this season was Taylor Venz. Describe to me what allowed him to be so successful, even against some of the best guys in his weight class. He wrestled a lot of them.

A: Lot of good guys. It’s the NCAA tournament, they’ll line up. He had a tough road once he got beat. Taylor just shows tremendous heart. He loves this sport, so he’s gonna go above and beyond in whatever he does. He’s unique in that way. He was not a superstar coming out of high school, and to be where he is. He’s just scratching the surface of where he can go.

Q: Although Colton McCrystal didn’t get on the podium, how important was he to the team this year, especially the young guys, being a captain and a senior leader?

A: Colton really means a whole lot to Nebraska wrestling because just the impact he’s had on it since he’s been here. He wrestled as a true freshman for us. He’s just a fighter. He always gives all that he has; he’s wrestled when he’s been hurt. He’s a warrior and we’ll miss Colton McCrystal on the mat for sure. He takes a lot of pride in Nebraska wrestling. He has a deep feeling for our program and it means a lot to him. That’s how I’ll always remember Colton McCrystal. He’s a competitor.

Q: Before the tournament even started, you guys were down a wrestler with Jason Renteria missing weight, something he’s dealt with all season. What are your thoughts on that and what does he need to do to learn from it?

A: I thought our team did a great job of focusing and not letting that bother them, because that could have really affected them. I knew our team is pretty resilient, so that’s pretty special. But, Jay needs to just grow and mature into the champion that we know he can be. He has a lot of talent, but at this level it’s about doing things right all the time. You got to do a great job with your weight management and he hasn’t taken care of that aspect. We can lead the horse to water, but we can’t always make them drink.

We’re not around him 24/7. I teach these guys to be relying on themselves. That’s how they’re going to be a champion on the mat and a champion in life. He just hasn’t got all the tools in his toolbox, yet. It’s sad when he beat up the kid that took sixth three times. That’s about a 12-14 point deal there.

Q: Looking back to the start of this season, there was a little bit of uncertainty about how the team would perform with such a young lineup. How impressed were you with how those younger individuals overcame that?

A: I really saw a big growth in February. We kind of got on a little bit of a roll at the end of the year. We got beat by Michigan in February, but we gave them a really good match. I saw a lot of togetherness on our team. I saw our guys come together and start fighting as one. You just never know as a coach sometimes how your team will come together. Some teams are closer than others, but these guys really did a great job and left behind a lot of memories. That’s what it’s all about.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Sophomore Isaiah White wrestles during the 2018 Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Michigan.

Q: Now looking ahead to next year, the team is going to have a lot of starters back with McCrystal and Mitchell Maginnis being the only departing starters. How exciting is that?

A: We’ve been putting this thing together for a while. It’s a plan that we’ve had in place and we’re getting the right people. We’re missing a few links right now, but we’re trying to fill those. Yeah, it’s going to be exciting, but it’s all going to be about how these guys do in the spring and summer and what kind of objectives they’re going to hold themselves accountable to.

Q: Where do you think the potential stands for next year’s squad?

A: Off the charts, really. We can do as well as we let our mind do. It’s exciting, for the next few years we can go on a run, but it’s all about how our guys handle the offseason and how hungry they are and what kind of goals they are going to put together as a team.

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