As prep wrestlers, Robert Kokesh and Logan Storley were two of South Dakota's best.
Kokesh was a three-time state champion at Wagner High School, winning 216 career matches. Storley, who is about nine months younger than Kokesh, compiled a 196-match win streak while competing for Webster. Storley was a six-time state champion, winning every year from seventh grade on.
And during all those years of winning titles, Kokesh and Storley wrestled against each other just once.
“I was 160 (pounds) and he was 171. I bumped up to wrestle him during my senior year,” Kokesh said. “I lost 3-2 in that matchup.”
On Friday, Kokesh, now a sophomore for Nebraska, will get another matchup with Storley, who finished sixth at the NCAA Championships last season as a true freshman at Minnesota.
Both are competing at 174 pounds and will square off when ninth-ranked Nebraska takes on No. 1 Minnesota in the Big Ten dual opener. The match begins at 7 p.m. at the NU Coliseum.
“I'm hoping to go out there and execute my game plan like I have all year,” said Kokesh, who went 30-7 last season at 165 pounds. “If I execute my game plan and push the pace of the match, I think I'll be successful in that match.”
Neither team has lost a dual yet this young season.
Nebraska won its first two duals last weekend at Northern Colorado and No. 19 Wyoming. Nebraska led Wyoming by one point heading into the last two matches before Skylar Galloway and Ridge Kiley won decisions to give the Huskers a 22-15 win. Kiley moved up a weight class to wrestle at 149.
“Getting some experience is good. You learn a lot about yourself out there,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “I thought our team showed a lot of resolve, a lot of grit.”
A gritty effort will be needed against the Gophers, who feature eight nationally ranked wrestlers in their lineup. They return all but two starters from last year's lineup, including Big Ten champion Kevin Steinhaus at 184 and Tony Nelson, the national heavyweight champion.
Steinhaus, who is ranked fourth nationally, will have a rematch with Nebraska's Josh Ihnen, rated sixth. In last year's dual, Steinhaus won a 3-2 decision, getting the victory with a takedown in the closing seconds. Then at the Big Ten championships, Steinhaus earned a 3-1 overtime win.
Minnesota handled Nebraska 26-7 in last season's dual in February. Nebraska's Big Ten duals this season are more spread out — in addition to Minnesota, NU hosts Wisconsin on Dec. 9. The Huskers' first conference dual last season was in January.
“I'm glad that it is more spread out,” Manning said. “It allows our fans to see us in the month of November and the month of December.”
The Big Ten is as tough as it comes in wrestling. Five of the top six ranked teams are from the Big Ten — Minnesota, Penn State (No. 2), Iowa (No. 4), Ohio State (No. 5) and Illinois (No. 6). With that tough schedule, Kokesh said he likes how the Huskers have prepared.
“We've really come together as a team,” Kokesh said. “We worked extremely hard in the offseason to be successful this season, so I think we're a closer team.”
Besides the dual with Minnesota, Nebraska will host North Carolina and South Dakota State on Sunday beginning at noon.
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