Mark Manning knows his Nebraska wrestling team is eager to start its dual season.
The fact that the opener is a conference dual just adds to the urgency for the Huskers.
Nebraska’s first dual will be at the Devaney Center as it faces Northwestern at 1 p.m. Sunday. Nebraska is ranked seventh nationally by InterMat, while Northwestern is 17th.
“It takes our Big Ten schedule that’s traditionally more in January and February and spreads it out a little bit. It spreads the grind out,” said Manning, who is in his 14th season as NU’s coach. “It’s a Big Ten dual, but really it’s all about us and not our opponent. They’re going to be a good test. And obviously, we’re really excited about our team.”
A pair of returning All-Americans lead the Huskers — junior Robert Kokesh (174 pounds) was third at nationals last season and junior James Green (157) placed seventh.
But the Huskers will rely heavily on newcomers as four freshmen are expected to be in Sunday’s lineup. Those freshmen are Tim Lambert at 125, Colton McCrystal at 133, T.J. Dudley at 184 and heavyweight Collin Jensen. Another newcomer, sophomore Anthony Abidin, will start at 141 — he was the 133-pound junior college national champion in 2012.
Lambert comes into Sunday’s dual ranked 17th nationally at 125, while Jensen won his division at the Daktronics Open on Nov. 3. Manning said Jensen hurt his ankle last week but should be ready to go against Mike McMullan, who was the national heavyweight runner-up last season.
In all, Nebraska has six individuals ranked in the top 20 by InterMat.
“I like the mentality our team has right now and I’m looking forward to that being more developed as the year goes on,” Manning said.
McMullan is one of four ranked Wildcats — he’s second at heavyweight. All four Wildcats are in the top 11.
“They have some new faces in the middle of the lineup,” Manning said. “They have a really good redshirt freshman at 149 in Jason Tsirtsis. He’s a real dynamic wrestler, a real good wrestler.”
Tsirtsis, who compiled an 18-3 record as a redshirt freshman last season, enters the season ranked ninth in his weight class. He’s expected to face junior Jake Sueflohn, who is ranked fourth nationally. Sueflohn placed second at the Daktronics Open, losing in the final to third-ranked Drake Houdashelt of Missouri.
Another matchup of top 10 wrestlers will be Kokesh and Northwestern’s Lee Munster, who is ranked 10th at 174. Kokesh defeated Munster by major decision twice last season.