The Blue Devils return from a top-30 last-season finish ready to face a formidable Big Ten opponent.
After opening its season with two dominant performances in its first two tournaments, Duke will fave No. 7 Nebraska Saturday at Card Gym. Dual competition provides Duke with the chance to prepare for the level of competition it will experience during the ACC and NCAA tournaments in the spring.
"Duals, it’s just a chalkboard for me. You write a formula on there; if it’s not right you erase it and go back to work,” Lanham said. “So while it’s exciting to compete, I’m more excited for competition than anything."
After a long summer full of hard work, the Blue Devils are certainly looking forward to seeing new and challenging competition. Through the first two contests of the season at Virginia Tech and N.C. State, Duke has already burst onto the national radar. Redshirt junior Conner Hartmann was victorious in both meets, wrestling unattached at 197 pounds. Redshirt senior Immanuel Kerr-Brown recorded third and first place finishes in the 157-pound class. The Blue Devils also add a new freshmen class of eight, including high school All-Americans Luke Farinaro, Mitch Finesilver and Bailey Jack.
“The overall performance was good. A lot of issues we addressed over the summer—like getting out on bottom—we did well,” Lanham said. “So, I was pretty pleased with the overall performance. There were some little things we can make adjustments on, but overall the guys did really well in these two tournaments.”
Duke will hope to make those adjustments in the matchup with the Huskers this weekend. Nebraska (2-0) returns two NCAA All-Americans—James Green and Robert Kokesh—who competed along with five other Huskers in last season's NCAA tournament. All seven of these Nebraska wrestlers boast an InterMat top 20 rank, compared to the three ranked Blue Devils—Hartmann, Kerr-Brown and redshirt senior Marcus Cain.
Among the Duke wrestlers making the list, the star is the Rome, Ga., native Kerr-Brown. A key to the team’s rise to prominence, he finished the 2013-14 season with a personal best 26-13 record, a third place finish at the ACC tournament and an appearance in NCAA competition. The returning team captain is one of only three ACC wrestlers appearing in the national rankings in his weight class.
“His leadership has been unbelievable,” Lanham said. “He’s been a guy that’s taken other wrestlers under his wing and just mentored them. [When he leaves] it’s gonna be a big loss for our program, that’s for sure.”
Looking ahead, the Blue Devils will make a trip to Kerr-Brown’s home state for a dual against Shorter and will face three more Big Ten opponents in addition to conference competition. After these regular season contests, March arrives and the ACC Tournament begins.
“People say you should, but I don’t really get excited about duals," Lanham said. "For me, it's ACC's and nationals. That’s my focus, it’s always been and it always will be. Those are the two premiere tournaments; those are the things that people measure you by. ACC's and nationals, that’s when you’ll see me jacked up about wrestling and about the season.”
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