This Husker wrestling team has built up some serious steam to end the dual season.
Nebraska (11-3, 6-3 Big Ten) has won six straight duals after dropping three in a row to start the conference season. All three losses were to top-10 team, including to the consensus best two teams in Iowa (13-0) and Penn State (12-2). The other Husker loss was to then-No. 8 Wisconsin.
Since dropping a razor-thin 20-18 decision to the Nittany Lions, the Huskers have reeled off wins against four top-25 teams, including then-ranked No. 3 Ohio State. With nine of their ten wrestlers ranked nationally, the Huskers look to make some postseason noise. But without a clear-cut conference or national championship contender, Nebraska will need a full team effort if it wants to get on the podium as a team at the conference or national tournaments.
*Individual rankings according to InterMat
On an extremely deep team, redshirt freshman Alex Thomsen (10-12) finds himself as the lone unranked starter for the Huskers. The freshman has proven to be serviceable at times but has largely struggled as a freshman, which is perfectly understandable considering the fact that Thomsen’s schedule has included matchups against ten ranked opponents. All ten were losses for Thomsen, but he showed his potential with three straight wins against Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State in the middle of the dual season. To end the year, he scored bonus points with a 9-1 major decision over Minnesota’s Jake Gliva.
No. 13 Ridge Lovett (14-6) may just be the Husker with the most momentum heading into the postseason. The true freshman has won six straight matches, including a win against then-No. 19 Jordan Decatur of Ohio State. In a way, Lovett announced his presence and forced the Huskers to pull his redshirt earlier in the season after beating then-No. 9 Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley 6-1 on the way to a third-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invite, a very stacked and competitive tournament. Lovett is 6-3 in Big Ten duals with his lone losses to the top three wrestlers in the country at 133 pounds. Watch out for this freshman heading into the Big Ten Tournament coming up next weekend.
No. 7 Chad Red Jr. (15-6) is another Husker on a hot streak, as he’s won his last three matches via pinfall. After pinning two unranked conference foes in under a minute each, Red finished the dual season in style with a second-period pin over then-No. 6 Mitch McKee of Minnesota. Red has faced a serious gauntlet of a schedule this season, with nine matches against ranked opponents. In those matches, Red has struggled at times to with a 3-6 record. The Husker junior has shown the ability to beat top-level competition this year but has also had some lackluster performances, but he’s seemingly clicking at exactly the right time. After making it to the Big Ten final at 141 pounds a year ago, it’s entirely possible Red can do it again.
No. 20 Collin Purinton (13-8) sat out the season-ending dual against Minnesota, but faced four straight ranked opponents to end his dual season, going 1-3 in those matches. All-in-all Purinton struggled against ranked opponents after beating then-No. 3 Max Thomsen of Northern Iowa early in the season. He’s gone 2-7 against ranked foes on the year and is carrying a two-match losing streak into the postseason.
No. 18 Peyton Robb (16-5) has had a solid freshman season, but he’s struggled against ranked opponents. In only five matches against ranked foes, Robb is 1-4. His lone win was by injury default against Purdue’s then-No. 7 Kendall Coleman, a match Robb was leading at the time of Coleman’s concussion. Regardless, Robb’s largely handled the rest of his competition, including a 5-3 record in conference duals. The Husker freshman did miss weight in the season finale against Minnesota, but I don’t see that being an issue in the postseason.
No. 5 Isaiah White (16-3) is riding a four-match win streak into the conference tournament, including two wins by pinfall with one coming against No. 14 Ethan Smith of Ohio State to finish Nebraska’s upset victory over the Buckeyes. White’s three losses came to wrestlers currently ranked 1, 2 and 4. The Husker senior is positioned nicely for a run through the conference and national tournaments.
No. 7 Mikey Labriola (17-7) has had a fairly inconsistent sophomore year after earning All-American honors as a freshman. Labriola has faced ten ranked foes, going just 3-7 in those matches. Two of his ranked wins came against Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero, but the Husker hasn’t been able to get over the hump against guys in the top five. After finishing the season with an ugly 7-2 loss to Minnesota’s No. 8 Devin Skatzka, Labriola will face a stacked field at the conference tournament, so he’ll need to pull off a few upsets to make some real noise.
No. 10 Taylor Venz (16-7) brings a four-match win streak into the postseason, including back-to-back wins over then-20th-ranked wrestlers in Jelani Embree (Michigan) and Owen Webster (Minnesota). Another Husker that’s faced the who’s who in the country, all of Venz’s losses came to wrestlers that are currently ranked, with six of the seven losses coming to guys currently ranked in the top-eight. Much like Red, Venz has proven extremely inconsistent this season. He’s shown an ability to compete with top-notch competition in wins - such as his pin of No. 4 Lou DePerez of Cornell - as well as losses, like his 8-7 loss to then-No. 1 Zahid Valencia. Valencia, a two-time national champion who was wrestling’s best collegiate wrestler this season up until he was suspended indefinitely by Arizona State for a failed drug test, barely edged the Husker junior. Venz gave Penn State’s Abe Assad his only career loss yet lost to a then-unranked Rocky Jordan of Ohio State. You never really know what you’re going to get with Venz, but lately he’s been solid in beating quality competition.
For as much inconsistency abounds this Husker squad, the most steady contributor has been No. 3 Eric Schultz (21-3). The junior All-American is 13-1 in dual competition with his lone loss coming to No. 1 Kollin Moore. Schultz has won four straight since that loss with three of those wins coming via major decision. After a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invite, Schultz has put together an 8-1 conference dual record and picked up big wins against No. 5 Jacob Warner of Iowa and No. 19 Shakur Rasheed of Penn State. As an obvious No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, Schultz is on a collision course to face Moore again, this time for a conference championship.
At heavyweight, Nebraska has been flipping between seniors Christian Lance (10-7) and No. 15 David Jensen (13-4). It’s unclear who the Husker staff will go with this postseason. Jensen is 3-1 in conference duals with his lone loss coming by pinfall to No. 2 Mason Parris of Michigan. Lance, on the other hand, is 1-4 in conference duals with two losses coming to No. 1 Gable Steveson of Minnesota and No. 3 Tony Cassioppi of Iowa.
Neither wrestler has proven themself against ranked opponents, as they’re a combined 1-6 in those matches, so whomever Nebraska chooses will have an uphill climb to score postseason points for Nebraska.
Next up for Nebraska
Nebraska will travel to The RAC in Piscataway, N.J. March 7-8 to compete in the Big Ten Championships.