Robert Kokesh likes to keep track of how fellow Husker sophomores James Green and Jake Sueflohn are doing at meets.
“We like to have that little competition between ourselves,” Kokesh said. “I think that helps me strive to do just as well as they're doing.”
All three have lived up to expectations so far. They have a combined 75-12 record, and all are seeded in the top 10 in their weight classes at the NCAA Championships, which begin at 11 a.m. Thursday in Des Moines. The finals will be Saturday night.
Green, who wrestles at 157 pounds, and Sueflohn (149) finished as runners-up at the Big Ten Championships this month, while Kokesh (174) was third.
Nebraska coach Mark Manning said that without a doubt, the Big Ten meet will help the Huskers at nationals.
“That's what I told the team: You just wrestled a brutal NCAA tournament with the Big Ten,” the coach said. “But this is what these guys have worked for.”
Kokesh, who is 33-3, is seeded fourth at nationals.
“In my weight class, eight of the top 10 guys in the country were at the Big Ten,” he said. “It was really a mini-national tournament. It kind of set you up for what you need to work on.”
Like Kokesh, Green is seeded fourth in his weight class this week. Green, who was sidelined in December with a hip injury, has a 20-4 record and is the only wrestler to defeat top-seeded Jason Welch of Northwestern this season. Green won their match 9-8 in January and led Welch in the last minute of the Big Ten final before Welch was able to record a pin.
Green, who finished seventh at nationals as a freshman, also split matches this season with second-seeded Derek St. John of Iowa. Green decisioned St. John 5-4 in the Big Ten semifinals.
“James is a different guy this year,” Manning said. “He's a bigger, stronger version of himself. He's had a fantastic year.”
Sueflohn, who went 1-2 at nationals last season at 141 pounds, has had some of his best results during the second half of this season. He's won 13 of his last 16 matches, defeating five nationally ranked wrestlers during that stretch.
“He's got a gas tank on him,” Kokesh said. “He can be down a couple of points going to the second period, but he keeps coming after guys.”
The three sophomores are among seven NU wrestlers competing at nationals. Josh Ihnen, who finished eighth at nationals last season, is seeded eighth at 184 pounds, while the other three Huskers got into nationals on at-large bids — Ridge Kiley (141), Austin Wilson (165) and Caleb Kolb (197).
Iowa primed for national success
Iowa, which has nine wrestlers at nationals, returns five of its six All-Americans from last year. That group is led by two-time national champion Matt McDonough at 125 pounds.
The other All-Americans back are Derek St. John, who was runner-up at 157; Tony Ramos, who was third at 133; Bobby Telford, who was fifth at heavyweight; and Ethen Lofthouse, who was seventh at 174.
Ramos was undefeated this season before he lost to Ohio State's Logan Stieber in the Big Ten final.
As a team, Iowa is ranked fifth in the coaches' poll.
Cyclones bring seven to Des Moines
Iowa State has seven wrestlers qualified for nationals. The only seeded Cyclone is Kyven Gadson, who has a 25-2 record at 197 pounds. The redshirt sophomore will be making his debut at the NCAA Championships.
Championship schedule includes TV
There will be two sessions each day during the NCAA Championships. Sessions Thursday begin at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. On Friday, sessions start at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the 6 p.m. session featuring the semifinals. Saturday's first session begins at 10 a.m., with the finals at 7 p.m.
Thursday's matches will be streamed on ESPN3.com; Friday's semifinals will be televised on ESPNU and Saturday's finals will be on ESPN.
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