Young Huskers' Strong Finish Impresses Coach Mark Manning
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Manning Likes Life in the Nation’s Toughest Wrestling Conference

February 09, 2018

When Nebraska transitioned to the Big Ten in 2011, coach Mark Manning’s squad found itself in the nation’s premier wrestling conference.

“It’s great. I love being in the toughest conference, because it prepares you for nationals,” Manning said. “That’s what this time of the year does. It allows guys to wrestle a really strong schedule.”

The 15th-ranked Huskers conclude their seventh dual season in the Big Ten against No. 20 Wisconsin this Friday at 7 p.m. in Madison.

The Badgers will be the sixth ranked conference opponent Nebraska has faced this season, however, that number has become the norm during the past half-dozen years, or so.

Wrestling programs up and down the Big Ten Conference are full of tradition, from Iowa,to Minnesota and Michigan and most recently Penn State and Ohio State.

A school from the Big Ten has won the past 11 Division I team titles.

For Manning, being in the Big Ten has its benefits, and the high level of competition is evident.

“You might take some losses, but I’d rather our guys be 20-5 and wrestle a tough schedule than be 25-0 and not be challenged much,” he said.

Since the Huskers joined the Big Ten nearly seven years ago, they have just three individual conference champions—James Green (2014) and Robert Kokesh (2014 & 2015). In the 14 years as a member of the Big 12 Conference, they had 19 individual conference champions.

But, as wrestling in the Big Ten has gotten stronger in recent years, Nebraska’s results at the NCAA Championships have improved, too.

After zero top-10 finishes as a team at the national championships in its first three years as a member of the Big Ten, the Huskers have finished inside the top 10 each of the past three seasons.

Nebraska had four All-Americans last season, its highest total since 2009.

With six starters currently in the InterMat top-20 rankings, including five inside the top 15, the Huskers once again conclude the Big Ten dual season with hopes it will lead to a strong finish at nationals.

Huskers Need to Win Tight Matchups

Wisconsin enters this Friday’s dual against Nebraska with three ranked wrestlers in its projected lineup. Each of the Badgers' ranked wrestlers will face one of the six ranked Huskers.

Top-20 battles will take place at 157, 165 and 184 pounds.

Nebraska won just one of the four ranked matchups in it’s 24-10 loss against No. 4 Michigan last Friday.

Manning said a couple wins in the Huskers’ favor in those matches could have changed the outcome of the dual.

“We got to win close matches,” he said. “That separates the guys that are on the podium from the guys that are not on the podium this time of the year. There’s going to be close matches, we got to wrestle a bit smarter and with a little bit more belief.”

As far as Wisconsin goes, Manning and his staff feel confident about how their lineup sizes up against the Badgers.

“We feel really good about all the toss-up matches,” Manning said. “We feel great, but if you don’t win the tight matches, then you’re in a dogfight.”

Manning added that the key to Friday’s Big Ten dual is each individual performing at their best.

Bonus Points

  • Wisconsin has a balanced projected lineup with five upperclassmen and five underclassmen. Two of its three seniors are ranked nationally: No. 19 Andrew Crone (157) and No. 9 Ricky Robertson (184). 
  • Nebraska is one win away from reaching 700 dual wins in program history. The Huskers are 699-555-29 (.556) all-time in duals since its first season in 1910-1911.
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