Tyler Berger, as the senior leader on Nebraska’s wrestling team, has seen potential in his younger teammates all season.
After a dual in the middle of the season, Berger said he couldn’t wait to see what the team would look like in March. And now that the NCAA championships are here, Berger’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned.
“I’m proud of them and it’s great to see their growth throughout the year,” said Berger as the seventh-ranked Huskers begin competition at nationals at 11 a.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh. “I think we’re a mentally sharp team right now.”
Nebraska qualified eight for nationals, including four seeded in the top 10 in their weight classes. The Huskers have finished in the top 10 in the team standings each of the past four years.
Berger is the highest-seeded Husker, ranked second at 157 pounds. He has been a standout in Nebraska’s lineup at 157 for four years, winning 112 career matches — 13th most in program history.
Berger is a two-time All-American after finishing fifth in 2017 and third last year. Now he’s seeking to reach his first final, which will take place Saturday night.
“It’s been a growing process. It’s been a long ride, something I’ll remember my whole life,” said Berger, who is from Prineville, Oregon. “The time here at Nebraska, I’ve grown more as a man than a wrestler. That’s a testimony to the coaches, the people who surround me, the people who support me.”
And throughout his senior season, Berger said an improved mindset has been an important factor, allowing him to have “a joy to my wrestling.”
“He’s had a more consistent mindset, a more consistent approach to competition,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “He’s bringing the same level of energy and effort to every match. He’s been a great leader for us.”
Berger is one of NU’s three returning All-Americans.
Taylor Venz, who finished fourth at nationals last year as a freshman, is seeded ninth at 184 pounds. And 141-pound CJ Red, who placed seventh as a freshman a year ago, is seeded 16th, but he’s coming off his best performance this season. He was runner-up at the Big Ten meet.
Junior Isaiah White (165) and sophomore Eric Schultz (197) each went 2-2 at nationals last season. White was eliminated in the Round of 12, leaving him a win away from All-America status. His two losses at nationals were in overtime.
“That’s provided a lot of fuel for me this year,” said White, seeded seventh this week. “I just want to keep that same feeling I had last year and keep that in my head. I don’t want to feel that again.”
Zeke Moisey, who transferred from West Virginia for his senior season, is seeded 18th at 125 pounds. He is 13-11 this season, but has been at his best at this time of year. At West Virginia, he was a national runner-up in 2015 and placed eighth last season.
Two other Huskers will compete at nationals for the first time. Freshman Mikey Labriola is seeded 10th at 174 pounds while heavyweight David Jensen is seeded 17th.
Iowa has qualified nine wrestlers for nationals, with five seeded in the top seven in their weight classes.
Alex Marinelli, thanks to an upset of Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph in the Big Ten final, is the top seed at 165 pounds. Spencer Lee, the defending champion at 125, is seeded third.
Iowa State also is sending nine wrestlers to nationals. The Cyclones’ highest seed is Willie Miklus, who is sixth at 197.