Not many opponents have gotten the better of Nebraska wrestler Robert Kokesh since he arrived on campus.
Kokesh squares off with one of those opponents Sunday.
Kokesh, who has won his last 22 matches, faces fourth-ranked Mike Evans of Iowa in one of the marquee matches of Nebraska's Big Ten dual with the Hawkeyes. The dual will start at 2 p.m. at Iowa City's Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
As freshmen last season, Evans defeated Kokesh twice when they competed at 165 pounds. Evans earned a 7-3 decision against Kokesh in Lincoln before recording a 17-2 technical fall in the Big Ten semifinals.
“He's a long, lengthy guy. He's a great scrambler and great on top,” Kokesh said. “I got to go out there and stick to my game plan. I got to be moving and moving and wrestle like I have all year. I'm a different wrestler this year.”
Kokesh was pretty good last year as a redshirt freshman, finishing with a 30-7 record. But this season, Kokesh, who moved up to 174 pounds, has gone 27-1 and is ranked second nationally. His only loss is a 3-1 decision to top-ranked Logan Storley of Minnesota. Storley earned a 4-3 decision over Evans two weeks ago.
Facing a ranked wrestler is nothing new for Kokesh. After the Christmas break, he defeated seven consecutive ranked opponents — that string ended last weekend when he scored a 19-3 tech fall over unranked Jordan Wohlfert of Michigan State.
Kokesh said seeing so many ranked opponents this season has been rewarding.
“This is what the sport is about, wrestling against the best,” he said. “I want to be out wrestling against guys looking to win a national championship just like me. It lets you know where you stand at come Big Ten (championship) time and NCAA time.”
Kokesh's teammates also will see some of their best competition against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa moved up to No. 2 in the team rankings after it defeated top-ranked Penn State 22-16 on Feb. 1. The Hawkeyes then downed eighth-ranked Illinois 25-12 on Friday, giving Iowa a share of the Big Ten title. Iowa, which has won or shared the league title five of the past six seasons, will win the title outright if it defeats Nebraska, which is 5-3 in Big Ten duals.
Nine of Iowa's 10 wrestlers are in the national rankings, including a pair who are ranked No. 1. Derek St. John is unbeaten and No. 1 at 157. He's in another marquee matchup against NU's James Green, who is ranked sixth.
Iowa's Matt McDonough is top-ranked at 125, but he had his 42-match winning streak snapped Friday when Jesse Delgado of Illinois won a 9-4 decision. At 133, Tony Ramos is unbeaten and ranked second.
And the Huskers will be wrestling in front of a partisan crowd. When Iowa defeated Penn State last weekend, a sold-out crowd of 15,077 was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The closest I've ever wrestled before that many people was at the national championships last year,” said Kokesh, who has never wrestled at Carver-Hawkeye before. “You have to block that out at times and let that fuel you. If they're booing you, you must be doing something right.”
Sunday's meet also allows a couple of Husker seniors to wrestle one last dual in their home state — Ridge Kiley is from Eagle Grove and Josh Ihnen is from Sheldon.
“I actually grew up a Hawkeye fan. As I got older, I didn't want to go to Iowa,” said Kiley, who is 13-7 this season at 141 pounds. “To compete in Iowa City with a bunch of people I know, it will be a really fun last Big Ten dual meet.”
Ľ NOTES: Iowa leads the all-time dual series with NU 12-3. Iowa defeated NU 24-9 in Lincoln last season. ... Iowa has a 7-1 dual record against ranked opponents this season. Its only loss was to Oklahoma State, which won 18-12 on Jan. 13. ... The next event for the Huskers is the NWCA National Duals in Ithaca, N.Y., next Sunday.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1038, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/GeneOWH