It was Feb. 14, 2020. At the time, the date didn’t seem very important.
The Nebraska wrestling team had just beaten No. 22 Michigan 25-15 on senior night to cap the home schedule at the Devaney Sports Center.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic soon wreaked havoc for the rest of that season and part of the next, that February date became more significant.
That Friday night is the last time Nebraska wrestled in front of an uncapped home crowd, and 636 days later that streak will finally be over as the Huskers welcome Nebraska-Kearney and Chadron State for the annual Nebraska Duals event to open the 2021-22 season. The duals begin at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Sports Center.
Mark Manning could only come up with one word.
“Amen,” he said. “Listen, performing last year was just like wrestling another team in our wrestling room. It was tough on these guys as far as, you want to go and perform for fans, especially here at Nebraska.”
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As always before a new season begins, there’s a sense of excitement around the room. That’s especially true for fifth-year senior Chad Red. The four-time All-American was one of five seniors who choose to come back for an additional year, along with Liam Cronin, Christian Lance, Eric Schultz and Taylor Venz.
Red didn’t feel like he took advantage of last season because he thought there would be no season.
“I did not expect last season to happen whatsoever,” he said. “We were three or four days into January and everybody else had gotten their schedule and everything and I’m just thinking, ‘God, it’s not about to happen.' Then, two days later I’m 10 pounds overweight and they’re like, ‘Yup, we wrestle Minnesota in three days.’”
Red still finished sixth at 141 pounds at the NCAA Championships later that March, but the Huskers were far from what they wanted to accomplish in St. Louis. Nebraska finished 12th, with many highly ranked Huskers losing in the early rounds.
But for Red and the other seniors, there was the decision of whether or not to come back. As it turned out, there really wasn’t a decision.
“It was more I expected everybody to come back,” sophomore Ridge Lovett said. “I didn’t expect anybody to leave just because if I was in that situation, I would have come back. And because everyone on this team wants to win a national title. That’s the goal.”
That national championship goal begins Thursday as the Huskers take on a rebuilding Chadron State team and a Loper squad that brings its own pedigree.
UNK is coming off a national runner-up finish at the NCAA Division II championships by 1½ points while returning nine All-Americans.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s a Division II school or not, it counts on your record,” Manning said. “So it’s all about competing, It’s all about what we’re doing. Not about who we’re wrestling and I think our guys understand that.”
The Nebraska wrestling team announced the signings of three recruits, including Millard South standout Antrell Taylor. Jacob Van Dee of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Harley Andrews of Tuttle, Oklahoma, wrap up Wednesday's signees.
Taylor won Class A state titles at 145 pounds in 2020 and 160 in 2021, and he is ranked the No. 6 recruit nationally in his weight class by FloWrestling.