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Storley, Kokesh ranked 1,2 in nation at 174-pound class

Robert Kokesh knows he made mistakes when he wrestled Logan Storley.

But he's not dwelling on them. Instead, he's ready for another match against one of his best friends.

Kokesh, a Wagner native and three-time state high school wrestling champion, is 27-1 this season for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Storley, a Webster High School graduate and six-time state champion, is 18-1 for the University of Minnesota this season.

The two sophomore South Dakota natives who battled to a 3-1 overtime decision in mid-November are dominating on the mat this season at college's highest level. Tuesday, several affiliates that rank college wrestling had Storley ranked No. 1 at 174 pounds and Kokesh at No. 2, the highest both wrestlers have ever been ranked while in college.

"It's cool being ranked one and two, but it kind of sucks wrestling your buddy," Storley said. "He's one of my better friends. It's not really fun going out there to try and rip his head off, but you have to do what you have to do. I went to Minnesota and he went to Nebraska, and we figured at some point we'd have to wrestle."

When Kokesh was a senior in high school and Storley was a junior, the two decided to wrestle an official match at a tournament Gregory. Storley handed Kokesh his lone loss that season on a 3-2 decision, and the two went on to win individual state titles.

Kokesh signed with Nebraska but was a redshirt his first year, stuck behind two-time national champion Jordan Burroughs, also a recent Olympic gold medalist. As a redshirt, Kokesh competed in open tournaments and posted a 34-1 record with his only loss coming as a forfeit to Burroughs.

In his freshman season, Kokesh went 30-7 at 165 pounds and took third at the Big Ten Championships, but he wasn't able to crack the top eight at the NCAA Championships for a podium spot.

Storley started as a true freshman for the Gophers last year, going 25-9 and finishing as an All-American at 174 pounds with a sixth-place finish at nationals.

Since the two were in different weight classes a year ago, they never met up on the mat. But Kokesh moved up to 174 this year, and they knew a meeting was inevitable.

On Nov. 16, Nebraska hosted the Gophers in a conference dual in Lincoln, Neb., and the South Dakota wrestling community anticipated the two in-state wrestlers squaring off. The fans got an exciting match, with Storley getting a takedown in extra minutes for the victory.

"I think I've only watched that match a couple times, once or twice with the coaches to show me the things I did wrong and what I need to fix," Kokesh said.

Kokesh said the match was one of his most memorable so far this season. Since the loss, he's rattled off 22 straight wins, nine of which were victories over top-20 rated wrestlers.

"I'm doing extra things in practice, and especially when I'm tired," said Kokesh, who became friends with Storley on wrestling tournament trip in Virginia Beach, Va. "I know some things I did wrong when I wrestled Logan and I've worked on those things, not just for him but for my other competitors, too. I've switched my game plan up since the beginning of the year, and I've really improved.

Both wrestlers will help their teams finish off the regular season this weekend at conference duals. Nebraska, ranked 13th in the nation, travels to Iowa City, Iowa, to wrestle the No. 2-ranked Hawkeyes. Kokesh likely will be wrestling No. 4-ranked Mike Evans, another sophomore. Storley and the No. 4-ranked Gophers travel to Madison, Wis., for a match against the Wisconsin Badgers.

After this weekend, Kokesh vs. Storley could be a frequent match during postseason competition. The National Dual Finals are Feb. 22-23, the Big Ten Championships are March 9-10 and the NCAA Championships are March 21-23. At all three meets, Kokesh and Storley could wrestle one another.

Although the two have enjoyed wrestling high competition while matching up against each other, they don't like having to compete against a good friend. They both said it will be even tougher if a national championship is on the line during the NCAA Championships tournament.

"We'll see how this year goes down, but hopefully we don't have to do this for the next three years," Storley said.

Added Kokesh: "We're great friends off the mat, but we're competitors on the mat. That's what the sport is about. You have to that aside for the seven, eight or nine minutes you're out there and be friends after the match."