This is the kind of matchup Nebraska sophomore Jake Sueflohn looks forward to.
Sueflohn, who is 16-3 and ranked 12th at 149 pounds, is expected to face Andrew Alton, unbeaten and ranked third, during Sunday's dual at Penn State. The sold-out match starts at 1 p.m. at 6,846-seat Rec Hall.
“I love it. To be the best, you have to beat the best,” said Sueflohn, who has never wrestled Alton. “That will be a good test.”
A good test is waiting for the rest of the Huskers, too.
The top-ranked Nittany Lions, coached by former Iowa State star Cael Sanderson, are the two-time defending national champions. They returned five All-Americans this season, and six of their wrestlers are ranked in the top three in their weight classes.
Penn State won its first four Big Ten duals by a combined 164-9. The Nittany Lions have won 37 of the 40 matches in those four duals.
“Every match is important,” said NU senior Josh Ihnen, who is 18-2 and ranked eighth at 184 pounds. “Penn State is a good team, and everyone on our team is going to need to wrestle well.”
Nebraska has been wrestling well the past two weeks.
After battling injuries and uneven results through the first two months of the season, the Huskers have won three straight Big Ten duals against ranked teams, including an 18-15 victory against No. 5 Illinois on Jan. 18.
“I think it's been an accumulation of our efforts from the beginning of the year to this point,” Ihnen said. “We trained really hard over Christmas break. And we had a couple of guys battling injuries. Getting them back in the lineup was important, too. We're close to full strength now, and that's showing.”
Nebraska has five ranked wrestlers in its lineup — and four will face ranked Penn State wrestlers.
Ihnen will face Ed Ruth, who was an unbeaten national champion last year and is 18-0 this season. This will be the first time Ihnen has wrestled Ruth.
“I just need to wrestle my match, push the pace and just wrestle like my coaches and I know I can,” Ihnen said.
Besides Sueflohn's and Ihnen's matches, the other matchups of ranked wrestlers are at 174 (NU's Robert Kokesh has won 20 straight matches and is ranked fourth against No. 3 Matt Brown) and 157 (NU's James Green is fourth against No. 6 Dylan Alton).
Twins Andrew and Dylan Alton are coming off a monthlong suspension for violating team rules that was lifted during the week. It's not a guarantee that they will make their return against the Huskers.
But Sueflohn, who is 2-2 against ranked opponents this season, is hoping for a chance to wrestle Andrew Alton. Sueflohn said he feels much more comfortable this season after going 25-11 as a true freshman.
“I think I've improved a lot from last year to this year,” Sueflohn said. “I've really improved my positioning on the mat. I keep myself in better position. Because of that, I don't find myself down five or seven points right off the whistle. Last year I had a tendency of digging myself in a hole. I'm not doing that as much.”
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