Determining a wrestler’s ceiling can be a difficult proposition, especially when you consider that Nebraska’s wrestlers are at different points in their careers. So different criteria will be used based on what each wrestler has accomplished as well as potential and time left in the program.
For instance, a senior-to-be who’s already secured All-American honors has hit a certain level and maybe has shown more definitively what his ceiling is. On the other hand, an incoming freshman hasn’t accomplished anything at the collegiate level, but their experience and accolades in high school and on the junior circuit can generally give a good indication of how good they can be in college.
Beginning our Top 10 Huskers with the highest ceilings, we have senior Taylor Venz.
No. 10 Taylor Venz
Taylor Venz is going into his fourth year as Nebraska’s starter at 184 pounds and has a 73-25 career record. Venz also went 28-4 during his redshirt year, but those wins don’t count toward a wrestler’s career record. If not for the cancelled NCAA tournament this past March, Venz had a real shot at earning All-American honors (finishing in the Top 8) for the second time. He was named a National Wrestling Coaches Association First-Team All-American (top 8), so he technically is a 2x All-American. He was seeded No. 7 in the 184-pound bracket after finishing third at the Big Ten Championships. And he’ll pick up where he left off as he’s ranked No. 7 going into the 2020-21 season.
As a freshman in the 2017-18 season, Venz finished with a 29-9 record and had some impressive wins. Venz started the season and his career 10-0 before falling to No. 2-ranked Myles Martin of Ohio State in the final round of the Cliff Keen Invitational. Before losing to Martin, Venz beat four other wrestlers ranked in the Top 11 at that tournament, but couldn’t get past Martin, the 2016 NCAA champion at 174 pounds.
Venz finished in fourth place at both the conference and NCAA meets as a freshman, giving him All-American status. At the NCAA tournament, Venz dropped his second-round matchup but stormed back by defeating three straight Top-10 opponents before falling in the third-place match to No. 7 Emery Parker of Illinois.
Venz again started the season 10-0 as a sophomore, cruising through to the Cliff Keen final where he once again faced Ohio State’s Martin. Martin again handed Venz his first loss with an 11-5 decision. Venz finished the season with a 24-9 record, but had his best dual season of his career. He went 13-4 in duals with big wins over No. 2 Parker and No. 6 Drew Foster of Northern Iowa.
At the Big Ten Championships, Venz went 3-2 to finish in fourth place again. He fell in the third-place match to Illinois’ Parker 5-1. At NCAAs, Venz dropped another match in the second round before putting together a couple wins. He fell one win short of All-American status as he fell to No. 3 Zach Zavatsky of Virginia Tech 5-4.
This past season, the junior went 20-8 on the year and was for a time ranked as high as third in the country. In what was a very up-and-down season for Venz, he showed just how good he can be. But he also showed that he hasn’t found his consistency. He can compete with anyone in the country, but sometimes he drops a match he has no business losing.
For instance, in Venz’s fourth match of the year, he wrestled Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, considered by many to have been the best college wrestler last season. Venz was literally inches away from beating Valenzia with a takedown that was ruled out of bounds but ultimately lost an 8-7 decision. At the Cliff Keen Invite, Venz beat both No. 7 Ben Darmstadt of Cornell and No. 5 Lou DePrez. Both wins were by pinfall.
But during the middle and end of the season, Venz struggled with his consistency. He lost matches he was favored in to Michigan State’s then-No. 17 Cam Caffey (video below) and Ohio State’s Rocky Jordan. He was also pinned in the Big Ten semifinal match by Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, a wrestler Venz beat in the dual season (video below), giving the Nittany Lion freshman his only career loss. Venz then avenged dual-season losses with wins at the conference tournament in the consolation bracket against Jordan and Iowa’s Abe Assad on his way to a third-place finish at the conference tournament.
With the loss of the NCAA Championships, it’s hard not to feel bad for these wrestlers who have been trying to improve their college resumes. Many guys were looking for national championships or to add another year of All-American status to their names. It’s easy to guess that guys like Venz who was seeded No. 7 would have probably earned All-American status, despite the fact he was named an All-American. The NWCA All-American honors are nice but there will always be an asterisk without the NCAA tournament.
If Taylor Venz figures out how to be the same guy that almost beat Valencia and beat Assad for an entire season, he’ll certainly have a chance to compete for a conference crown and even a national title if he goes on a torrid run. In a stacked 184-pound field, he has the ability to beat anyone in the country, and it’s up to him and this Husker coaching staff to get him to realize that potential.