Isaiah White needed something good to happen at the Cliff Keen Invitational earlier this month.
White, who was a win away from All-America honors at 165 pounds in March, stumbled out of the gate this season, losing three of his first four matches. As a sophomore last season, he started 16-2 and didn’t lose his third match until Jan. 21.
But at the Cliff Keen Invite, White turned it around and turned in what was probably his best performance as a Husker. He won the 165-pound title, going 5-0 and defeating three top 15 opponents. He’s the first Husker to win in Las Vegas since Robert Kokesh at 174 five years ago.
White downed 12th-ranked Joey Gunther of Illinois in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Logan Massa of Michigan in the semis and No. 14 Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech 2-0 in the final.
Nebraska coach Mark Manning wants to see White continue to compete at that level during a pair of weekend road duals. The No. 11 Huskers face 12th-ranked North Carolina on Saturday and No. 7 North Carolina State on Sunday.
“It’s all about building consistency, being a consistent performer,” Manning said. “Isaiah had a rough start, but (at Cliff Keen) he had a great weekend. We’ll see if he can do it this weekend.”
Nebraska finished third out of 43 teams at the Cliff Keen Invite. Besides White, sophomores Taylor Venz (184) and Eric Schultz (197) were runners-up, while senior Tyler Berger (157) finished third. Berger went 6-1 at the tournament and is one win away from being the 28th member of Nebraska’s 100-win club.
Berger, who is ranked fifth nationally, likely will face No. 11 Kennedy Monday of UNC — Berger defeated him by one point in Las Vegas — and No. 4 Hayden Hidlay of North Carolina State.
“It’s a nice milestone, but he’s got a lot of matches left,” Manning said. “He’s got a lot of wins left in him. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Keep chalking them up.”
Last season, Nebraska went into the Christmas break losing back-to-back duals to North Carolina State (29-3) and North Carolina (22-14).
Manning said the team’s motivation this weekend isn’t to avenge those losses.
“We made some boneheaded mistakes last year, definitely in the North Carolina match, or we could have won that. But we didn’t. We didn’t wrestle well,” he said. “It’s not who we wrestle, it’s how we wrestle. That’s our focus.”
Nebraska has six individuals ranked nationally — all six are in the top 11 in their weight classes. North Carolina State has eight ranked wrestlers, while the Tar Heels have four.
After this weekend, the Huskers won’t have another dual until Jan. 6.