Immanuel Kerr-Brown gets to go home a week before finals end.
In their second-to-last contest of 2014, the Blue Devils head to Rome, Ga., Saturday to take on Shorter in a dual match. For Kerr-Brown—a redshirt senior captain who went to high school in Rome—this match has special significance.
“It’s a great opportunity, especially for [Kerr-Brown] to get home,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “He’s been a great captain for us. He’s from Rome and it’s great for us to get there and kind of bring wrestling to that area.”
Kerr-Brown turned in one of the best seasons on the Duke roster last year, posting a 26-13 ledger and advancing to the second day of the NCAA Championships. The redshirt senior will look to show off his talents to a friendly road audience Saturday.
The Hawks have made great strides as a program in the time Kerr-Brown been in Durham. Shorter added wrestling five years ago, and this season is the Hawks' first campaign as a full Division II program, after competing as a provisional Division II squad last year.
For wrestlers, the Thanksgiving break can provide a challenge. The Blue Devils had to show a little bit of restraint in order to stay within their respective weight classes.
“The guys trained really hard over the break, they came back in shape," Lanham said. "That was important to us and that weight was under control."
Following a tough loss against then-No. 9 Nebraska Nov. 22, Duke has been working hard in practice on resilience and variety, focusing on chain-wrestling.
After a productive week in practice, it will be important for the Blue Devils to implement these skills in live competition.
“We’ll see if the chain-wrestling that we’ve been doing after the Nebraska match can transfer over to the Shorter match, where our guys are getting in there and going one move after another instead of just sitting there hitting one move,” Lanham said. “We’ve kind of put a skillset in mind and now we’re trying to see if those guys can translate that to a live match and see how it works.... We’ll go from there and then see what we need to correct."
The addition of nine freshmen to the team has been instrumental in maintaining a high level of intensity at practice. Although only one newcomer—freshman Bailey Jack—competed against Nebraska, the rookies have been helpful in pushing the starters to improve.
“[The freshmen are] doing really well. For guys that are not really wrestling in the duals, they’ve been pushing our starters to the max,” Lanham said. “They’ve not been laying down and they’ve come back in shape. They’ve kind of set the tone in that way, too.”
The Blue Devils will look to Kerr-Brown, redshirt junior Conner Hartmann and redshirt junior Marcus Cain to lead the team past Shorter. Cain provided one of the few bright spots in the match with Nebraska, producing a commanding 8-2 win to claim his seventh consecutive victory. Kerr-Brown and Hartmann have been moving up in the national rankings, with Kerr-Brown holding the No. 33 spot in the 157-pound class and Hartmann at No. 22 in the 197-pound division.
The Hawks have had some success of their own of late, posting four wins in five matches—including a team championship at the UCF Open Nov. 14. The Hawks took down the host Knights and North Florida, winning nine of the 11 weight classes.
Looking ahead to Duke's winter break slate, the Blue Devils will compete under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in New York at the Grapple at the Garden Dec. 21, followed by the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan 1.
With these tough competitions on the horizon, Duke is taking it one step at a time, looking to gain valuable match experience against Shorter this weekend and continuing to move up in the rankings.
“Hopefully we’re going to open up a lot of eyes at Grapple at the Garden,” Lanham said. “We’re looking forward to that competition. But we’re definitely not looking past Shorter.”
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