TJ Dudley exemplified Nebraska’s effort earlier this month at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.
“We felt good about it, but definitely not satisfied. We felt we could have performed even better,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “We saw a lot that we left out there.”
Dudley was one of five Huskers to reach the championship round at the 33-team invitational. But James Green, a returning All-American at 157 pounds, was the only Husker to win his weight class as Nebraska placed second as a team.
Dudley, who competes at 184 pounds, was Nebraska’s biggest surprise in the finals. The redshirt freshman had rallied from a 7-2 deficit in the third period to upset Ohio State’s Kenny Courts 9-8 in the quarterfinals — Courts was ranked ninth in the country at the time. Dudley followed that with an 18-9 major decision over No. 18 Ben Stroh of Wyoming in the semifinals.
But in the final, No. 12 Gabe Dean of Cornell started to pull away late in the second period and defeated Dudley 13-3.
Dudley said he lost his focus as that match went on.
“I started to get frustrated,” Dudley said. “I’m learning how to overcome those obstacles when they get in my way like that.”
All in all, Dudley has been a pretty quick study during his first varsity season. Dudley came into the fall competing for the 184-pound starting spot and, after losing his first match, he strung together 15 straight wins before losing to Dean.
Dudley’s performance in Las Vegas also vaulted him into the national rankings. He’s currently ranked 11th by Intermat as Nebraska returns from a two-week break to compete at the 23-team Reno Tournament of Champions.
Manning said Dudley’s unorthodox style makes him a difficult matchup for opponents. So Manning wasn’t surprised when Dudley put together a 15-match win streak.
“We expected this from TJ,” Manning said. “He has a big learning curve yet, but he also has some things that he does real well.
“He’s a good scrambler. He’s hard to take down. He knows how to use his hips. He’s got long arms, and he can cradle you from a lot of different positions. He can put you on your back.”
Dudley knows how to pin opponents. During his senior season in his home state of South Carolina, Dudley recorded 50 pins as he amassed a 63-0 record. As a redshirt for the Huskers last year, Dudley went 15-1, winning eight matches by pin. This season, Dudley leads the Huskers with six pins.
Manning said his team spent the past two weeks working on consistency. Dudley is hoping to show that the rest of the season.
“I’ve gotten better in the (practice) room, working on my stance and my motion. I’ve gotten better on my feet,” Dudley said.
Ľ Nebraska, ranked seventh by Intermat, is the highest-ranked team at the Reno Tournament of Champions, followed by Stanford (15) and Boise State (20). Eight teams in the top 40 will be at the meet.
Ľ Nebraska also has seven individuals ranked in the top 20. Besides Dudley at No. 11 at 184 pounds, the other Huskers ranked are: Tim Lambert (125, 12th), Anthony Abidin (141, 17th), Jake Sueflohn (149, sixth), James Green (157, fourth), Austin Wilson (165, 16th) and Robert Kokesh (174, fourth).
Ľ Nebraska will have 14 wrestlers compete in Reno. Besides the regular starting lineup, Ben Morgan (133), Brandon Wilbourn (165), McCoy Newberg (174) and Aaron Studebaker (197) also will compete.
Ľ This will be Nebraska’s final competition in 2013. The Huskers start 2014 with four consecutive home duals, beginning with Wyoming on Jan. 3.