Nearly two months ago, Nebraska junior wrestler Tyler Berger circled this Friday’s matchup against No. 4 Michigan.
“I’ve actually been anticipating this dual for quite awhile,” Berger said. “I’m excited for it.”
Berger and the 15th-ranked Huskers (7-3, 5-1) will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a matchup against the Wolverines (8-2, 5-1) before taking the short trip north to East Lansing for a battle against Michigan State (5-7, 1-5) on Sunday.
This weekend’s competition is the start of a month long, four-dual road stint to close out the regular season for Nebraska, but for Berger, it’s a chance to avenge his first loss of the season.
This past December, in the semifinal round of the Cliff Keen Invitational, then-ranked No. 11 Alec Pantaleo defeated Berger, who was a perfect 9-0 and ranked fourth at the time, in a 9-3 decision.
Now, Pantaleo is ranked seventh in the InterMat rankings, one spot ahead of Berger.
Although Pantaleo was ranked during their previous matchup and went on to win the Cliff Keen individual title, Berger still considers it a “bad loss.”
“In my mind, it was a bad loss, because I didn’t wrestle him the way I should have, and wasn’t prepared mentally going into that match,” he said.
Since then, Berger said he’s been watching a lot of film to help him visualize the opponent’s tendencies and getting off his own attacks.
“I know I’m one of the best 157-pounders in the country, but some matches I don’t perform the way I could,” Berger said. “So for me, preparation before the match is huge.”
In the next handful of matches following his loss to Pantaleo, Berger had “some uncharacteristic bumps.”
The junior captain went just 1-3 in the next four matches. Although two of those losses were to fellow ranked opponents, Berger was ranked higher than both of them. The third and final loss of that stretch was by pin fall, at home, to unranked Kennedy Monday of North Carolina.
Berger said he’s not sure where he was mentally during that stretch, but added his head wasn’t where it’s been previously in his career, like when he finished fifth at the NCAA Championships last season.
To fix it, he got help from coaches and teammates.
“We were talking through some things and I went back and started watching film when I was doing good, when I was wrestling at my best, and just kind of got back to what I was doing last year,” Berger said. “Little bit more of a focus, more of a chip on my shoulder, and trying to get the ‘mean streak’ back in me. Now I feel like I got that back.”
Since the loss to Monday and the turn of the calendar year, Berger is a perfect 6-0, with two victories against ranked opponents.
The Prineville, Oregon, native will get the opportunity to extend that winning streak this weekend and throughout the month of February, a stretch he’s struggled in during previous years. In his redshirt-freshman and sophomore seasons, Berger went a combined 11-7 in the January and February months, with a 3-7 record against ranked foes.
Berger is on a different trend this season, and Nebraska coach Mark Manning can see the progress Berger is making.
“He’s just got a mindset of—he’s locked in a little more,” Manning said. “Way more locked into how he wants to compete, and just getting his offense off. When he’s moving and getting his offense off, he’s really dangerous.”
Huskers Look to Set Standard
When it comes to the squad as a whole, Manning said his team needs a challenge.
The Huskers are currently on a five-dual win streak after a 23-18 victory against Indiana this past Sunday. Although three of those five victories were against ranked foes, none of the teams were inside the top 15 in the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll.
Michigan, the Huskers’ Friday opponent, is on a three-dual win streak, with its most recent victory coming against then-No.4 Iowa, 19-17, last Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa.
“This is a time for us to really set a standard for ourselves,” Manning said. “Our guys are not redshirt freshmen anymore, or freshmen, they’re seasoned now. So, we need to compete that way and see what we’re made of. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Berger said the dual against the Wolverines is a chance for the younger wrestlers to acclimate themselves to competing against talented opponents, just as they’ll experience at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
“It’s those kinds of matches that they need to get prepared for, and this dual is going to help us get there,” he said.
On the Road Again
With two months still remaining in the 2017-18 season, Nebraska has already concluded its home-dual slate. The Huskers will be on the road for the final four duals before the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
Berger said the remaining schedule doesn’t concern him at all, adding it, too, is a good preparation for postseason tournaments.
“We got to get used to competing on the road and competing in environments that we’re not used to,” he said.
- Nebraska sophomore heavyweight David Jensen (ankle) was back to full practice this week after missing the previous two duals. Manning said it will be either Jensen or fellow sophomore Patrick Grayson in the 285-pound slot.
- Michigan has nine wrestlers ranked in this week’s InterMat rankings, including seven inside the top 10 and three in the top five.
- Michigan State has two returning NCAA qualifiers in their probable lineup, but also list eight underclassmen as potential starters.
- Nebraska is two wins away from reaching 700 dual wins in program history. The Huskers are 698-554-29 (.556) all-time in duals since its first season in 1910-11.