| Nebraska sophomore Tyler Berger is 22-2 on the season.
Photo: Univ. of Nebraska athletics
Berger, who was a redshirt freshman during the 2015-16 season, finished just short of All-America status at the 2016 NCAAs in New York City, falling in the round of 12.
“I wrestled like a freshman in every sense of the word,” Berger said. “My confidence wasn’t there and my style of wrestling wasn’t getting put out there on the mat. It’s frustrating now to look back on that because through my training in the offseason and all the work I’ve been putting in with my teammates and coaches, they’ve molded me. That training has now given me my confidence back. I think I am the best wrestler at 157 pounds in the NCAA. I think it shows in my wrestling that I actually believe that.”
Improvements have certainly been made, based upon his performances so far this season.
He has racked up a 22-2 record, just two wins shy of what he finished last year, and has positioned himself for an NCAA title run in March.
“You’re going to have to be sharp all the time to be a national champ at this weight,” Berger said. “We’re a young weight class and there’s not going to be any easy years going through this weight. We’re going to be here for the next two or three years.”
Berger came to the University of Nebraska as a four-time state champion from Prineville, Ore., and the country’s sixth-ranked recruit at 152 pounds.
With aspirations of one day being an Olympic champion, Berger felt the Husker wrestling room was the best place for him. It is home to three-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and 2015 World bronze medalist James Green.
“My decision to come to Nebraska really was because this was the place where I really saw myself being able to train not only for my college career but also the years after, moving on to international wrestling,” he said. “[Burroughs and Green] are in the room every day with us so every opportunity I have to get my hands on them, I take it. I love to train and work with them. We have the best middle weights in the world, and I have to take advantage of that.”
Not only does Nebraska provide tough workout partners in the room but it also allows for tough competition year-round as it is a part of the nation’s strongest wrestling conference, the Big Ten.
“I didn’t want to be the guy that can blow through the conference and then get to the NCAAs and it be a shock to wrestle a tough guy for the first time in weeks or months. Having that level of competition in the Big Ten, it keeps you sharp and focused,” Berger said.
The conference boast five wrestlers, including Berger, in the top 10 at 157 pounds, including the Penn State, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota starters.
The Husker’s two losses on the year have come at the hands of No. 1 Jason Nolf of Penn State and No. 2 Michael Kemerer of Iowa.
His first loss of the season came in the finals of the Midlands Championships in December, where he faced off against Iowa freshman and then-No. 4 Kemerer.
The two exchanged takedowns in the first period, and only escapes were scored in the final two periods, tying the bout at 4-4 at the end of regulation. The match played out through the second tiebreaker, where Kemerer walked away with a 6-5 win.
A week later, he went head-to-head with Nolf in a dual, when the Penn State standout overpowered Berger to take a 15-7 major decision win.
While he suffered the losses back-to-back, Berger said he’s optimistic about what future meetings against the Nittany Lion and Hawkeye may look like.
“I feel like I can make such a big jump from now to NCAAs, and that was probably the most encouraging thing that I took away from those two matches,” he said. “I feel like I’m a pretty dangerous wrestler, and guys are going to have to have their very best day to beat me right now. If I put the work in, discipline myself, make those changes and stay open to criticism, then by the time March comes, I feel like there’s no reason why I can’t be a national champ.”
He showed poise and resilience as a wrestler, bouncing back quickly from the losses and picking up two bonus-point wins last weekend, when the Huskers hosted No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan.
He notched a 14-4 major over Wisconsin’s Jarod Dornar on Friday night and ended the weekend with a bang, pinning No. 7 Brian Murphy of Michigan.
“I really want to step up my game and start putting more points on the board,” he said. “Obviously bonus points are a big thing every match. If I hadn’t gotten that pin then it would have just been a decision. That match really proved that I have more to give and need to extend myself.”
In all, Berger boasts wins over four ranked opponents this season and 10 wins with bonus points.
As the championship season draws near, the key to the Husker’s success is getting better every day and paying attention to the little things.
“Staying disciplined in all the small things that some people overlook, whether that be sleep, diet, studying film, is what’s important,” he said. “Also what I need to do is close the gap on Nolf. I think that he is noticeably the No. 1 guy right now on paper, and I just have to keep getting better every day. I can’t be worried about March and what’s going to happen at Big Tens or NCAAs. I have to focus on today and what I can do today that will get me better for tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes I’ll worry about tomorrow.”
The No. 6 Huskers will be back in action Friday, Jan. 20, as they travel to Minneapolis to take on No. 13 Minnesota. Berger is slated to battle another top-10 opponent in tenth-ranked Jake Short of the Gophers.
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