Separated by 625 miles, there’s still no shortage of connections between the coaching staffs of Nebraska and Purdue wrestling.
The Boilermakers head coach, Tony Ersland, was an assistant at Nebraska under the Huskers’ current head coach Mark Manning for eight seasons before transitioning to West Lafayette, Indiana, in 2014.
One of Ersland’s assistants at Purdue, Jake Sueflohn, was a four-year starter for the Huskers and a member of the program’s 100-win club. After completing his senior season in 2016, Sueflohn was hired as a volunteer assistant for the Boilermakers prior to the 2016-17 season.
This season, one more link was added to the chain of connection when Kendric Maple, who spent last season as an assistant under Ersland, was hired in the same position at Nebraska.
The attached programs and familiar faces will square off in a Big Ten matchup Friday at 7 p.m. inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Maple said it will be weird being on the other side of the mat across from the wrestlers and coaches he spent nine months with last season, but added it’s a “good weird.”
“I like the challenge,” Maple said. “It almost makes it more competitive. You don’t want to lose, and at the same time you know those guys. You know each one of them.”
Ersland coached Maple during his run to the 2017 U.S. Open Men’s Freestyle National Championship title at 61 kg.
Although he wasn’t a Boilermaker for long, Maple still felt he became part of the Purdue family while he was there. Maple said he still wishes the best for the people he met in West Lafayette, but now, he’s a Husker and he wants Nebraska to win the dual.
During their time together, Maple and former Husker Sueflohn, now an assistant at Purdue, became close. In fact, they still communicate once in a while. This week, those text messages and calls have been full of friendly trash talk.
“It’s all in good fun,” Sueflohn said. “It makes the dual meet a little more exciting.”
Sueflohn will make his return to Lincoln on Friday, the place he called home for five years.
It won’t be the first time Ersland will return to the Star City. Despite the number of connections between both teams, Ersland doesn’t expect the dual to be much different than any other.
“It’s a little bit different in that regard, because there are so many connections,” Ersland said, “but I also know that both programs will be showing up ready to battle hard and try and do everything they can to win the dual.”
On the other side, Manning, Nebraska’s head coach, feels the same way.
“It’s about their 10 guys versus our 10 guys,” Manning said.
No. 19 Nebraska (3-3, 1-1) will face a similarly young team in No. 22 Purdue (5-2, 0-1). Both squads have seven underclassmen in their projected starting lineups. The Huskers could have an upper hand with five wrestlers in the InterMat rankings compared to the Boilermakers’ three.
Ersland believes it should be a great dual with a number of great matchups.
“I think there’s favorites on each side, and I think there’s some toss-ups where it could make for a very interesting dual, and a very fun dual for the fans,” Ersland said.
Purdue is coming off a 25-14 loss to No. 8 Michigan last Sunday. Despite the loss, the Boilermakers won four of the 10 matches, including two against Wolverines ranked inside the top 10. Purdue does hold a 31-6 victory this season against North Carolina, now ranked No. 24 in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. On Dec. 17, Nebraska lost to the Tar Heels 22-14.
Ersland said the victory against North Carolina is a notable win for his program, and said his wrestlers competed very well against Michigan last Sunday. Ersland added his young squad is getting better, but he wants to see more consistency.
The Huskers recently snapped a three-dual losing streak with a dominating 48-3 victory against Maryland last Sunday.
Manning said after the win that his team changed some things over the winter break, and believes his wrestlers are buying in more.
“(We) got back to a lot of basics,” Manning said on Wednesday. “More disciplined approach to our individual matches and individual guys. Just really honed in on what helps each guy perform to the best of their ability.”
A pair of Nebraska high school duals will take place prior to the start of the matchup between Nebraska and Purdue. Kearney will take on Class B powerhouse Omaha Skutt Catholic and Bennington will wrestle against David City. Both duals are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.