Early in the season, Nebraska sophomore Robert Kokesh said he felt more comfortable wrestling at 174 pounds than at 165 as he did as a freshman.
Kokesh not only has looked comfortable at 174, he’s been dominant.
The Wagner, S.D., native brings a 17-match winning streak into this weekend when the Huskers compete in a pair of Big Ten road duals. Nebraska, ranked 17th as a team, faces No. 11 Michigan at 6 p.m. Friday and then No. 18 Northwestern at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Kokesh, who has moved up to fourth in this week’s InterMat rankings at 174 pounds, will face two ranked opponents this weekend — Michigan’s Dan Yates is 11th and Northwestern’s Lee Munster is ninth.
“I love wrestling tough kids. That’s the best part of the sport,” said Kokesh, who won against both of them earlier this season.
Kokesh defeated Munster 10-2 in the semifinals of Nebraska’s previous meet, the Midlands Invitational on Dec. 30. At that invitational, Kokesh outscored his six opponents 46-7 and also had two pins to improve his season record to 22-1.
A year ago, Kokesh went 30-7 at 165 pounds. He finished with seven pins last season, and this season he already has eight.
“It’s been a good move for him,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “He’s really improved technically. He’s just gotten a lot better on his feet. He wrestles at a high pace.”
Kokesh said the move to 174 has been good because he hasn’t had to make drastic weight cuts for his matches.
“I wanted to focus on the details of wrestling,” Kokesh said. “I was focusing more on the cut weight and not the wrestling aspect. Now at 174, I can focus on the details.”
He said there were times last season when he had to cut more than 10 pounds to reach 165. When he’s had to cut this season, it’s always been less than five pounds.
“It’s a big difference for me,” Kokesh said. “I feel more hydrated, I feel I have a lot more energy. It’s a lot of fun. You have to enjoy what you’re doing, especially at this level. I think that’s part of my success this year. I’m having fun out there.”
Kokesh has been able to stay healthy this season, and now many of his fellow starters are getting healthy as well.
James Green, who has been out with a hip injury he suffered Dec. 1 at the Cliff Keen Invitational, will return this weekend at 157 pounds. Jake Sueflohn (149) and Josh Ihnen (184) missed the Midlands Invitational, but they’re back in the lineup.
And Spencer Johnson, who went 23-6 as a freshman last season at 197, will make his season debut at heavyweight.
“We’re very optimistic about the second half of the season,” Manning said. “This year, we’ve had a lot of injuries. Hopefully our guys are a little fresher for the end of the run.”
Green, Sueflohn and Ihnen are nationally ranked by InterMat. Green is ranked seventh at 157, while Sueflohn and Ihnen are eighth in their respective weight classes.
“We’ve had kind of an up-and-down year. But if we stay healthy, I think we can be up there with the best teams in the country,” Kokesh said. “We just have to go out there as a team and wrestle hard.”
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