Caleb Kolb isn’t sure if bittersweet is the appropriate word to describe how he’ll feel Friday night when Nebraska wrestles at home for the final time this season.
One thing he does know is he’ll miss being part of the Husker team when the season wraps up next month.
“I’m kind of excited to move on with my life and grow up, but I really don’t want to,” Kolb said. “It went by so fast. I love Nebraska, I wouldn’t change it. It’s crazy how close I got with the team. ... It is like a family.”
Kolb is one of three seniors Nebraska will honor on Senior Night — the seventh-ranked Huskers face No. 11 Michigan at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center. The other seniors are Shawn Nagel, who has been NU’s 133-pound starter the past month, and Adam Joseph.
Kolb was slowed by an ankle injury earlier this season, but he’s started at 197 pounds the past three weeks.
From a win-loss perspective, it’s been a frustrating stretch. Kolb is 0-4 — all four have been by one or two points against nationally ranked competition.
“It’s pretty frustrating, especially since two of them were overtime,” Kolb said. “I just have to realize that I’m right there with the best guys in the nation and I just need to kick the door down. The coaches are pretty good about keeping our confidence up and not letting that get to us.”
Kolb nearly earned his biggest win of the season last Saturday at Illinois. Facing fourth-ranked Mario Gonzalez, the match was tied 1-1 through three periods. In the first 30-second tiebreaker, Gonzalez managed a reversal to take a 3-1 lead. Kolb scored a point on an escape, but ended up with the 3-2 loss.
“I think I’ve been improving match to match, I’ve just had a lot of close ones,” said Kolb, who qualified for the NCAA championships last March. “I’m looking to get better and go out on a good note.”
Nagel has had similar results in the past month. The Kimball, Neb., native is 2-3 during that stretch, with four of those matches against ranked opponents.
Nagel pinned 14th-ranked Cashe Quiroga of Purdue on Jan. 26 before losing a 4-2 decision to No. 11 Zane Richards of Illinois. Nagel was tied 2-2 in the third period before Richards got a takedown.
“I’ve been real close, so I just have to keep training and get over that last hump,” Nagel said. “I have to get more of my offense going. I think I’m in better shape than anyone, I just have to believe in myself and do it.”
Kolb and Nagel will have family in the stands on Senior Night. In fact, the parents of both wrestlers have been making trips to home and away matches this season. For instance, the Nagels flew from Denver to Columbus, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago for the dual at Ohio State. The Nagels and Kolbs then drove together to Purdue for a dual two days later.
And if you think the nearly 400-mile road trip from Kimball to Lincoln is long, it’s nothing compared to the trek taken by the Kolbs, who are from Grove City, Pa.
“His parents drive everywhere,” Nagel said of the Kolbs. “My parents will drive to Lincoln for the weekend, but his parents will do the same and they live in Pennsylvania.”
Kolb’s father is Jon Kolb, who was an offensive lineman for 13 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowl rings during the 1970s. Caleb is a Steelers fan, of course, and played football in high school.
“But I was only about 160 pounds and I was a linebacker and a running back,” Kolb said. “And I loved wrestling. I had a passion for it. I knew pretty early on in high school that’s the way I wanted to go.”
NOTES: Michigan had won its first five Big Ten matches this season before Penn State defeated the Wolverines 32-9 last Sunday. That snapped a seven-match win streak for Michigan. ... The Wolverines feature a strong lineup as eight of their 10 wrestlers are ranked in the top 20 by InterMat. The highest ranked Wolverine is freshman heavyweight Adam Coon, who is 25-1 and ranked second. His only loss is to sixth-ranked Mike McClure of Michigan State. ... Friday’s best matchup will likely be at 149 pounds as NU’s Jake Sueflohn, ranked fifth, faces No. 7 Eric Grajales. Sueflohn decisioned Grajales 7-6 in December, while Grajales edged Sueflohn 3-2 last January. ... Nebraska edged Michigan 20-19 last season in Ann Arbor. ... NU has only one dual left after Friday. That will be Feb. 21 at Wisconsin.