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Q and A with Nebraska coach Mark Manning
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Mark Manning’s Nebraska wrestling team is healthy again.

And the Cornhuskers are ready to make a strong run during the second half of the college wrestling season.

Nebraska is ranked 11th nationally and is coming off Big Ten Conference road dual wins over No. 13 Michigan and No. 14 Northwestern.

Nebraska will battle No. 5 Illinois in a Big Ten dual on Friday night at the NU Coliseum.

The Huskers are led by returning All-Americans James Green (157 pounds) and Josh Ihnen (184).

Green, a sophomore, knocked off No. 2 Jason Welch of Northwestern 9-8 this past weekend. Green is now ranked No. 5 nationally. Ihnen, a senior, is ranked No. 7 nationally.

NU sophomore Robert Kokesh is ranked No. 3 at 174 and sophomore Jake Sueflohn is ranked 15th at 149.

Nebraska is in its second year in a loaded Big Ten Conference that includes top-ranked Penn State, No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Minnesota, No. 5 Illinois and No. 7 Ohio State. Penn State has won the last two NCAA titles after Iowa won the previous three.

Manning has led Nebraska to five top-eight finishes at the NCAA Championships, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2009. He led the Huskers to a share of the Big 12 title in 2009, and was twice named Big 12 Coach of the Year.

Now in his 13th season in Lincoln, Manning also is a top international coach in freestyle. He was in the corner coaching past two-time Husker NCAA champion Jordan Burroughs to World and Olympic titles the past two seasons.

Manning took time out of his busy schedule to talk with USA Wrestling communications manager Craig Sesker about how his team is progressing this season.

How good is it to have your team returning to full strength at this point in the season?

Sueflohn, Green and Ihnen were out, and two of those guys were All-Americans last year. It was a good opportunity for our backup guys to gain experience at the Midlands and in New York, but it’s obviously nice to have our full team back. It’s been good to get everyone healthy and have everyone all firing. We have a long ways to go, but we are heading in the right direction.

How much has James Green grown and developed in his second season in the starting lineup?

James wasn’t feeling well last weekend. He had the flu, but he gutted it out. We need to finish our matches stronger, but those were his first matches since Dec. 1. We expect big things from James. It was a good win over Welch, and we know we will see him again at Big Tens and NCAAs. James needs to continue to improve. We know he has to be sharp. He’s a lot stronger this year. The last day of the NCAA tournament he weighed 153 last year. This year, he has 10 more pounds of muscle mass on him. He worked real hard last spring and summer on building his body. He’s a lot better technically on the mat. We’re real excited to see what he can do this year.

How much has Robert Kokesh improved after bumping up to 174 for his sophomore season?

Robert has improved a lot technically, and he’s a lot better in all three positions. He understands where he needs to be on the mat. He is always going to wrestle hard and give 110 percent each time out. He is wrestling smarter now with his attacks and his strategy. Coach (Bryan) Snyder has spent a lot of time with him, and he has cleaned up a lot of the errors he was making. 165 was a cut for him last year, and now he’s just bigger and stronger at 174. It’s a good fit for him at 174.

How much has senior Josh Ihnen meant to your program?

Josh is in a good spot right now. He’s doing a great job. He had his knee scoped before Christmas, but he’s come back strong. He’s really wrestling good and wrestling with a purpose. He needs to keep wrestling with the intensity he has been for seven minutes. He’s going to finish strong. He’s a pretty impressive guy. He graduated in December of 2011, and he will have his MBA (Master of Business Administration) in May. Josh has already had job interviews at major companies, and he has more in the works. He has tremendous discipline and he’s a very bright guy. He is a great student and a great person. It’s been great having him in our program.

How much is your team looking forward to the upcoming dual with Illinois?

There are some really good matchups. It’s going to be exciting. Illinois has a great team and they are well-coached. They have a lot of seniors. They are pretty much battled-tested. We have to wrestle well Friday night.

What does your team gain by wrestling in a loaded conference like the Big Ten?

The Big Ten obviously is a very tough conference. What we’ve learned is that it is a great opportunity for our guys to compete in a conference like this. If you want to be a national champion, the Big Ten tournament is like a mini-national tournament. It is great preparation for what you will see at the NCAA tournament.

How has returning national qualifier Jake Sueflohn been progressing for your team?

Jake’s really improved a lot technically. 149 is a really tough weight class. We expect a lot out of Jake and he expects a lot out of himself. He is just coming back from an injury and getting back into shape. He’s one heck of a competitor. He just needs to be more efficient. He gives great effort and has a great competitive heart.

How excited are you about the future of your program?

We have some really good young kids in our program right now. We are excited about what we have going on here. We just need to keep developing our guys and keep getting them better.

How important have assistant coaches Tony Ersland and Bryan Snyder been to your program’s success?

They are really good at what they do. They have really helped our guys develop, and it’s nice to have those guys in our corner. They help our guys become better people and better wrestlers. I really appreciate all of their help.

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