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Wrestling: Season-Opening Observations

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Nebraska was dominant at times but also showed areas that still need to be ironed out

Nebraska’s Taylor Venz made a statement to open his final season for Nebraska.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

Well, the wrestling season has officially begun.

Nebraska took care of business as it was expected to against a pair of in-state NCAA Division II schools at the Nebraska Duals. Nebraska downed Chadron State 31-9 before taking out Division II No. 2-ranked University of Nebraska-Kearney 45-6.

These dual wins don’t mean all that much for No. 9 Nebraska. They don’t exactly move the needle as far as the national DI landscape goes. But you can learn a lot from these kinds of duals. They give you a look at who has the upper hand in some roster competitions, a look at some of the younger talent, and a chance for some big names to exert their dominance.

So what did we learn on Thursday night?

Husker Hammers Dominant

To open the season, Nebraska trotted out six bona fide starters who could challenge for All-American honors this year, and they were all dominant.

Those six guys were Chad Red Jr. at 141 pounds, Ridge Lovett at 149, Peyton Robb at 157, Taylor Venz at 184, Eric Schultz at 197, and Christian Lance at 285. They combined for an 8-0 record with all of their wins coming with bonus points. More impressively, six matches were won via pinfall with a technical fall and a major decision as well.

In fact, Venz won two matches by pinfall, giving him his 24th and 25th pins of his career.

Red also won via pinfall for his 21st career pin. Joining them with pinfall wins were Lovett, Robb and Schultz. Robb and Schultz won their lone matches with pins, while Lovett had a 19-0 win via tech fall to go with his stick.

Rounding out the Husker starters was Christian Lance, who in his only match downed DII No. 5 Lee Herrington 14-4 by major decision.

Starters Emerging at 133 and 165?

Nebraska only wrestled one match at 133 pounds with UNK forfeiting the weight, but Alex Thomsen looked as good as he’s ever looked in a Husker singlet. Now maybe it was due to the level of competition, but Thomsen put on a top-work clinic against Chadron State’s Kobe Lepe in a 9-0 major decision victory.

At 165, redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson got both starts for Nebraska and had mixed results. Wilson starting off by downing Chadron State’s Preston Renner in his first career varsity action. Wilson showed solid defense and some decent offense on the way to a 6-4 decision win. Against UNK’s Matt Malcolm, a former DII National Champion and the No. 2-ranked wrestler this year in that division, Wilson started things off strong in taking a 5-1 lead in the second period. However, it seemed that Wilson’s gas tank ran out as he looked noticeably tired as Malcolm put up nine unanswered points for an eventual 10-5 win, giving Wilson his first career varsity loss.

Also listed at 165 on the roster is Tahjae Jenkins-Harris who wrestled two matches up a weight at 174 on Thursday. With two-time All-American Mikey Labriola out for these opening duals dealing with “health issues”, Jenkins-Harris took the mat in his absence. Apparently, Labriola is expected back in the lineup for Nebraska’s upcoming dual against No. 13 North Carolina.

So, the true freshman Jenkins-Harris did an admirable job against bigger competition as he went 1-1 with a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Chadron State’s Darwin Hull and a 6-3 loss to former Omaha Skutt standout Billy Higgins of UNK.

Mixed Results from Backups

For the most part, the Husker backups did pretty well. Jevon Parrish, a backup at both 149 and 157, wrestled a match at 157 and took home a 10-1 major decision win. Also, Daniel Monahan won a match 7-5 in overtime at 141 pounds.

As already mentioned, Jenkins-Harris went 1-1, while backup heavyweight Austin Emerson earned a 6-4 decision win against Chadron State’s Mason Watt. At 125 pounds, freshman Jeremiah Reno got the start in both duals, dropping his first match via pinfall to Chadron State’s Quade Smith before downing UNK’s Jackson Nielsen via injury default. With Reno up 9-1, Nielsen injured his right knee and wasn’t able to continue.

At 197, sophomore Anthony Gaona, who hasn’t wrestled a match for Nebraska in two seasons, dropped his lone match 6-2.

Notable Redshirt Burns

As per NCAA rules, a wrestler cannot redshirt if they take part in a varsity dual or compete in a tournament attached to their school. Therefore, Nebraska burned a pair of redshirts on Thursday. Both technically true freshmen, Reno (class of 2020) and Jenkins-Harris (class of 2021) will no longer be able to redshirt this season.

Obviously, Nebraska wants to preserve as many redshirts as they can in this huge freshman class. With last season’s free year of eligibility meaning no redshirts, Nebraska technically has 16 true freshmen (2020 and 2021 classes combined) on a roster with 37 wrestlers. That’s nearly half.

And with all these senior studs coming back for another go, it’s probably smart for Nebraska to redshirt everyone they can then reload after this year. The Huskers have brought in some serious talent the last few years. They’ve signed a Top-8 class each of the past five years.

Non-Participants

There were a few key wrestlers who did not participate at the Nebraska Duals. Obviously, Labriola’s absense is concerning, as he’s arguably Nebraska’s top wrestler. Also not suiting up was senior Liam Cronin at 125 pounds. Wearing street clothes standing mat-side, Cronin looked fine as he cheered on his teammates, so I don’t think there’s an issue. It’s just notable, as he and Labriola were the only starters who didn’t suit up.

Also non-participants of note were transfer Boo Dryden at 125/133, redshirt freshman Kevon Davenport at 149, and junior Cale Davidson at heavyweight. Emerson got the start over Davidson. It makes you wonder if Emerson has emerged from the pack of heavies behind Lance.