Josh Ihnen was putting together his best NCAA tournament.
The Nebraska wrestler won three of his first four matches to assure a top-eight finish and All-America status.
But in his fifth match that weekend, Ihnen’s season abruptly ended — he tore the LCL and PCL in his right knee during a match against Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett.
That was less than nine months ago. The Huskers are now a month into this season, and Ihnen looks as good as ever.
“It’s something I really don’t even think about anymore,” Ihnen said of the injury. “If I didn’t know something had happened, I wouldn’t even know I had done anything to my knee.”
Ihnen is off to a 12-1 start and ranked sixth nationally at 184 pounds. His only loss was a 3-1 decision to fourth-ranked Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota.
Last weekend at the 32-team Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Ihnen was one of two Huskers to win their weight divisions as he pinned Missouri’s Mike Larson in the final.
“He’s a tough competitor,” NU 174-pound sophomore Robert Kokesh said. “The way his season ended last year, I think that just made him more hungry. He’s competing hard and he wants to win a national title. He’s shown he’s very capable.
“He knows what it takes to win, and that rubs off on the rest of us.”
Ihnen, a senior from Sheldon, Iowa, who is a three-time nationals qualifier, spent most of the offseason rehabbing his right knee. He said he could work out after three months and felt he was 100 percent after about 4Ĺ months.
That got him ready for his senior season. But Ihnen said the fact that his wrestling career is winding down wasn’t the main motivation for him making a strong return.
“More what I was thinking about was that I had finally got to the All-American rounds (at nationals) and wasn’t able to show the kind of wrestler I was,” Ihnen said. “The main goal is to get to the top of the podium this year.”
Ihnen, who is approaching 90 varsity wins as a Husker, also has been successful off the mat. He was a CoSIDA second-team Academic All-American last season, earned his undergraduate degree last December and is on course to complete his master’s in business in May.
And he said his injury in March helped with his approach on the mat.
“I think it definitely added some positive mental attributes, dealing with adversity and being able to push through difficult situations,” Ihnen said.
Ihnen and the Huskers return to action this weekend with a pair of home duals. The Huskers face Arizona State at 7 p.m. Saturday and then Wisconsin at 2 p.m. Sunday at the NU Coliseum. The Huskers won’t have another home dual until Jan. 18.
Notes: Kokesh was Nebraska’s other individual champion at the Keen Invitational, winning the 174-pound weight class to improve to 12-1 this season. “I felt like I competed well. I don’t feel like I’m at the point where I need to be at nationals. I have a lot to improve on,” he said. ... James Green, NU’s 157-pound sophomore who suffered an injury at Las Vegas, may wrestle this weekend. If he doesn’t, Ross Grande will go at that weight. ... Arizona State is 5-1 and Wisconsin 3-2 in duals this season. NU shut out both last season, winning 42-0 against ASU and 36-0 vs. the Badgers.
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