Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Wrestling Brings Youth, Talent, Confidence

By Brian Rosenthal

On paper, this will be one of the youngest wrestling teams Nebraska coach Mark Manning will field in his 17 years with the Huskers.

Don’t take that to mean the 2017-18 season will be one of growing pains and rebuilding. Certainly not with the talent Manning and his coaching staff have brought to Lincoln.

“This is a very confident group,” Manning said, “maybe more so than any other time I’ve been here.”

Manning also concedes that talent is only as good as the coaches develop it.

“Everybody has a lot of talent, and we do have talent in our room,” Manning told me Tuesday in the Nebraska wrestling room at the Hendricks Training Complex. “Now, it’s on us, as coaches, to just get those guys clicking on all cylinders and wrestling at a high level.”

First, coaches must figure out the top wrestlers in a handful of weight classes, and will have a couple of opportunities for wrestle-offs before the first regular-season dual on Nov. 17 against Wyoming in Lincoln.

Friday, Nebraska will have its intra-squad wrestle-offs, in conjunction with its coaches clinic, at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center. Then, on Nov. 5. Manning will use the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open in Brookings, South Dakota, as another chance to pencil in who goes where.

Yes, we say pencil, because with wrestlers pushing each other as hard as these Huskers are, few weight classes are filled with certainty for the season.

Tyler Berger, a junior, is a returning All-American at 157 pounds. After that ...

“These guys are not star-struck. They’re ready to compete,” Manning said. “Their attitude is, ‘I’m going to come in, and why can’t I be a Big Ten champ? Why can’t I be a national champion, be an All-American?’ They’re ready to go, and I think we have that attitude up and down our lineup, which is very exciting.”

The Huskers’ most competitive weight class is at 149, where Manning says six wrestlers will compete for the nod, and on any given day, probably three could be interchangeable. One is Colton McCrystal, a senior from Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, who wrestled at 141 last season and finished third at the Big Ten Championships.

At 125 pounds, sophomore Kris Williams is Nebraska’s most experienced, but Mitchell Maginnis, a senior walk-on from Grand Island, has developed over the last three years and shows great promise, Manning said. Then throw a true freshman into the fray – Tucker Sjomeling of Delano, Minnesota, and the competition thickens.

Sjomeling is just the start of the aforementioned youth.

Manning says redshirt freshmen or true freshmen will or could fill out classes at 197, 184, 174, 133 and 141 pounds. Eric Schultz at 197 and Taylor Ventz at 184 “are ahead of their competition right now,” he said, but the next two weekends will help sort out the other classes, as wrestlers are put into competitive, pressure-filled situations.

“Really, the biggest things is getting guys down to weight for the first time,” Manning said. “It’s like telling all of your running back, ‘Hey – weigh 195 pounds. You can’t weigh 198.’

“And we think we have a lot of gamers. but it’s really just about getting the butterflies out, seeing where they’re at.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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