The Huskers walked into the top team’s house and put it on them like nobody has all season. It just wasn’t enough to grab a season-altering win.
The seventh-ranked Husker wrestling team traveled to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday night and looked to be on the verge of something great against No. 1-ranked Iowa, only to fall 26-6. And don’t let that final score fool you, Nebraska had a chance to take down what could end up being an all-time great wrestling team.
Facing an Iowa team that boasts a top-10 wrestler at every single weight class, Nebraska gave the Hawkeyes everything they could handle in just about every match, dropping a handful of matchups that looked like they could have gone either way. Facing a packed arena where the Hawkeyes were honoring former four-time All-American Brandon Sorensen who is battling cancer, Nebraska knew that Iowa was going to come out fired up and ready to go.
Iowa wanted this win for their brother in arms, and it showed.
After Iowa’s leader, two-time national champion and top-ranked Spencer Lee at 125 pounds, made quick work of Nebraska redshirt freshman Alex Thomsen via tech fall 18-0, every matchup showed that Nebraska is a team to be reckoned with this season. Even though Nebraska fell short, I can guarantee everyone in the Big Ten took notice.
At 133 pounds, Nebraska true freshman Ridge Lovett lost to second-ranked Austin DeSanto 8-3, but the highly-recruited Husker showed just why he was inserted into the starting lineup less than a year out of high school. After falling behind 7-3 after two periods, Lovett started the third period on top and showed off his elite top game by riding out Iowa’s championship contender for the full two minutes.
The freshman exhibited a ton of fight going against such a tough opponent that despite the loss, he got the entire Husker team amped up and ready to go on the bench. Despite facing an 8-0 deficit, it looked like Nebraska had stolen the momentum.
In the third match of the dual, Nebraska walked out two-time All-American Chad Red Jr., the ninth-ranked 141-pounder in the country, to face Iowa’s undefeated Max Murin (No. 6). After beating Murin last year to keep him off the podium at the NCAA Championships and deny him All-American status, Red picked up right where he left off.
In the first period, Red scored a takedown just under a minute in before adding a second takedown with 10 seconds left to take a 4-1 lead into the second period. Considering the fact Murin had not been taken down once all season, the Huskers probably couldn’t have expected a better start from Red. After building his riding time up over a minute to start the second, Red gave up an escape, cutting his lead to 4-2, which ended up being the score he took into the third period. Red started the third with an almost-immediate escape to take a 5-2 lead before displaying stiff defense to take the 6-2 win with riding time, moving to 11-4 on the season.
With the Huskers cutting the Iowa lead to 8-3 after Red’s decision win, No. 17 Collin Purinton hit the mat to take on another top-ranked Iowa wrestler, the undefeated 149-pound senior Pat Lugo. Purinton dropped the match 4-1, but showed a lot of improvement after getting pinned in the first round a week ago in Nebraska’s loss to then-No. 8 Wisconsin.
With the Huskers down 11-3, they turned to redshirt freshman phenom Peyton Robb, who brought a perfect 5-0 dual record into the match. Facing sixth-ranked Kaleb Young, Robb was all knotted up at 4-4 against the talented Hawkeye after recording an escape to begin the third period. With the period winding down, it looked destined to go to sudden victory, but Young secured a takedown of Robb with just over 30 seconds left to get the hard-fought 6-4 win, pushing the Iowa lead to 14-3.
After intermission, it was obvious the Huskers were in a tough spot. Despite pushing the lower-weight Hawkeyes to the limit, Nebraska had little to show for it on the scoreboard but also was about to put out its top wrestlers. Facing a team that won its first two Big 10 duals by identical 41-0 scores, Nebraska was in position to make things interesting.
In the most anticipated matchup of the day, Nebraska’s No. 5-ranked Isaiah White took on second-ranked Alex Marinelli of Iowa at 165 pounds. Late in the first period, White took a two-point lead with a double-leg takedown before being controlled on the bottom for the entirety of the second period, allowing Marinelli to rack up nearly two minutes of riding time. After scoring an escape, Marinelli took a 3-2 lead with an almost-immediate takedown of White. White eventually escaped to even things up at 3-all, but the riding-time point gave Marinelli the 4-3 win.
In a match Nebraska absolutely needed if they wanted a realistic chance at the upset win, Iowa instead built its lead to 17-3.
At 174 pounds, Nebraska’s sophomore All-American and sixth-ranked Mikey Labriola faced off against third-ranked Michael Kemerer. After a scoreless first period, Kemerer took a 1-0 lead in the second period with an escape. Labriola quickly scored an escape of his own to start the third period to even things at 1 apiece. In another down-to-the-wire match that looked destined to go to sudden victory, Iowa again found a way to snatch victory, as Kemerer took down Labriola with 17 seconds remaining, pushing the Iowa lead to 20-3.
In the lone matchup where Nebraska was favored, fifth-ranked Taylor Venz took on talented freshman Abe Assad at 184 pounds, who was making his home debut after having his redshirt pulled a few weeks ago. Venz looked in control with a 2-1 first-period lead, but Assad evened things up at 3-all going into the third. Venz let Assad escape to start the final period, but while searching for the takedown to win it Venz ended up getting taken down instead with 45 seconds remaining. Venz did get the escape, but Assad pulled off the 6-4 upset win.
With the dual firmly in hand leading 23-3, Iowa’s third-ranked Jacob Warner took on Nebraska’s 14th-ranked Eric Schultz at 197 pounds. After a scoreless first period, Warner took a 1-0 lead after recording a quick escape in the second period. Schultz evened things up at 1 apiece with a third-period escape. Again, Nebraska found itself in another match that looked destined for overtime, but this time it was the Husker who found a way to win, as Schultz secured a 3-1 win with a takedown in the final 10 seconds. The Husker upset handed Warner his first-ever loss at Carver Arena and cut the Hawkeye lead to 23-6.
At heavyweight, Iowa’s third-ranked and undefeated freshman Anthony Cassioppi disposed of Nebraska’s Christian Lance (No. 16) with relative ease 6-1 to make the final score 26-6.
Like I said, Nebraska was in position in multiple matches to pull out wins, but the majority of them just went Iowa’s way. That’s what happens though when nine of your ten starters are ranked in the top 6 in the country at their weight classes.
Although, I anticipate the Huskers getting their shots at redemption, as it’s a foregone conclusion that a lot of these wrestlers will see each other again at the Big Ten Championships and possibly even the national tournament in March.
After the fight Nebraska showed, it’ll make for an interesting next two months loaded with fireworks. Stay tuned.